Detecting Illegal Arms Trade

52 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2007 Last revised: 30 Jun 2021

See all articles by Stefano DellaVigna

Stefano DellaVigna

University of California, Berkeley; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Eliana La Ferrara

University of Bocconi - Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research (IGIER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Date Written: August 2007


Illegal arms are responsible for thousands of deaths in civil wars every year. Yet, their trade is very hard to detect. We propose a method to statistically detect illegal arms trade based on the investor knowledge embedded in financial markets. We focus on eight countries under UN arms embargo in the period 1990-2005, and analyze eighteen events during the embargo that suddenly increase or decrease conflict intensity. If the weapon-making companies are not trading or are trading legally, an event worsening the hostilities should not affect their stock prices or affect them adversely, since it delays the removal of the embargo. Conversely, if the companies are trading illegally, the event may increase stock prices, since it increases the demand for illegal weapons. We detect no significant effect overall. However, we find a large and significant positive reaction for companies head-quartered in countries where the legal and reputation costs of illegal trades are likely to be lower. We identify such countries using measures of corruption and transparency in arms trade. We also suggest a method to detect potential embargo violations based on stock reactions by individual companies, including chains of reactions. The presumed violations are higher for conflicts with more UN investigations and for companies with more Internet stories regarding embargo.

Suggested Citation

DellaVigna, Stefano and La Ferrara, Eliana, Detecting Illegal Arms Trade (August 2007). Available at SSRN:

Stefano DellaVigna (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

Economics Department
549 Evans Hall #3880
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States
510-643-0715 (Phone)
510-642-6615 (Fax)


National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Eliana La Ferrara

University of Bocconi - Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research (IGIER) ( email )

Via Roentgen 1
Milan, 20136
+39 02 5836 3328 (Phone)
+39 02 5836 3302 (Fax)

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

United Kingdom

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