The Middle East’s weapons of cash destruction
Reports claim that Saudi and the UAE are spending huge amounts of money stockpiling military weapons. Why?
June 10, 2009 12:14 by Aarti Nagraj
Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s top 10 military spenders, according to the 2009 edition of the Yearbook on Armaments, Disarmament and International Security, issued by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The kingdom apparently spent $32 billion on arms last year, securing it ninth position on the list.
According to the report, worldwide military expenditure in 2008 equaled more than $1.46 trillion, an increase of 4 percent compared to 2007. The five largest military spenders in the world were the US, China, France, the UK and Russia, with Saudi being the only Middle Eastern country in the top 10.
“Obviously [Saudi is] a country with a great deal of oil wealth. It’s one of the highest military burdens, at 9.3 percent, which is joint second-highest in the world,” Sam Perlo-Freeman, head of the Military Expenditure Project at SIPRI, told media provider The Media Line. “It’s a country that devotes a great deal of its wealth to military spending.”
“A lot of this money goes into very big-ticket weapons purchases like the Eurofighter Typhoons they’re buying from Britain, which they don’t necessarily have the technological absorption capacity to use properly,” he added. BAE, the company that sold Saudi these planes, in effect operates the kingdom’s air force, he said.
“One should not assume that being the ninth biggest military spender makes them the ninth most powerful military.”
According to the report, the Middle East was one of the largest recipients of conventional arms during the years 2004-2008, accounting for about 20 percent of all arms imports.
“[The Middle East is] obviously a region that has typically had high levels of conflict and international tension. The oil supplies in the Middle East supply a ready source of foreign currency for overseas arms purchases. As only Israel has a significant domestic arms industry, other countries are dependent on arms imports, and having this ready supply of resource revenue makes those arms purchases possible,” Perlo-Freeman said.
And arms deals could be linked to bureaucratic corruption, since “the weapons industry is often a good place to filter through corrupt money,” The Media Line quoted him as saying.
Earlier this year, the UAE announced deals worth around AED18.4 billion ($5bn) at the IDEX defense exhibition in Abu Dhabi.
The US Congress also recently approved the $7 billion sale of the Theater High Altitude Air Defense system (THAAD), and other military systems to the UAE.
According to United Arab Emirates Defense and Security Report Q2 2009 compiled by Companiesandmarkets.com, the country will continue to increase its defense spending. “Our projection is that this will likely grow at around 5 percent annually, in real terms, over the coming years. These increases will depend, however, on whether the economy can ride out the global financial crisis and downturn in oil prices,” it said.
General Khaled Abdullah al Bu-Ainnain, a former UAE Air Force chief who heads the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, told The National recently that the UAE was “simply seeking to protect itself rather than project an aggressive stance,” through its military spending.
According to SIPRI, the UAE is the third biggest arms importer in the world, accounting for 6 percent of the world’s military imports between 2004 and 2008.
Is spending all this money really necessary to protect oneself?