Trading Fire: The Arms Trade Network and Civil War

29 Pages Posted: 8 Sep 2016

See all articles by Brett Benson

Brett Benson

Vanderbilt University

Kristopher Ramsay

Princeton University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: September 6, 2016


The last fifty years have seen two big changes in world politics. First, the most important violent conflicts now largely play out within states rather than between great powers. Second, the decrease in transportation cost has pulled even the smallest and remote countries in the the global exchange of goods and services. In this paper we study how these two fundamental elements of modern world politics interact by analyzing the effects of the trade in small arms on the severity of civil war measured in terms of battle deaths. Using an instrumental variables approach we provide credible evidence that the trade in small arms increases the deadliness for combatants in civil war. Our results also show that sanctions and arms embargoes decrease the loss of combatant life. In addition, our estimation strategy implies an effect of markets and the arms trade network on the transmission of violence to civil war locations. In essence the results show that the arms trade produces a law of conservation of violence. As one civil war ends, the resulting changes in the international market leads other war torn countries’ imports to increase, which in turn increases the number of casualties in ongoing civil wars.

Keywords: Small Arms Trade, Civil War

Suggested Citation

Benson, Brett and Ramsay, Kristopher, Trading Fire: The Arms Trade Network and Civil War (September 6, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Brett Benson

Vanderbilt University ( email )

2301 Vanderbilt Place
Nashville, TN 37240
United States

Kristopher Ramsay (Contact Author)

Princeton University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Fisher Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544-1012
United States

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