12/17/2018, 17.40
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Saudi arms race threatens the Middle East

SIPRI report notes that Saudi Arabia was the world’s second largest importer between 1998 and 2017 with military spending rising 74 per cent, now accounting for about 10 per cent of GDP. The United States and the United Kingdom are the main suppliers. Western policy undermines peace and security in the region.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) – Saudi Arabia’s weapons splurge – not only in self-defence or deterrent but also in pursuit of an offensive military strategy from Syria to Yemen – has fuelled tensions and conflicts in the Middle East, this according to a background paper released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an independent international institute that researches military spending and arms control in the world.

The kingdom’s lack of transparency makes it hard to estimate its military strength, the latte’s role as a domestic deterrent, and whether its arms procurement is driven by defensive or offensive motives. However, it is clear that Saudi leaders not only want weapons but are also ready to use them on a large scale in war, like in Yemen.

Across the Middle East, governments have placed great importance on military strength as the cornerstone for their foreign policy. The region’s level of militarisation has hit an historical peak: In 2017, seven of the ten countries in the world with the highest military burden were in the Middle East with Saudi Arabia leading the way.

The kingdom has paid billions of dollars to boost its military, especially to the United States under Trump, with whom it has developed a close relationship despite human rights violations.

Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands and wounded hundreds of thousands of people, triggering one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent history.

According to SIPRI, huge military spending has also led to Saudi Arabia’s militarisation. According to recent estimates, the country is ranked first in the region and third in the world for military spending. In the 2008-17 period, spending grew by 74 per cent, reaching US$ 90.3 billion in 2015, the highest level ever.

Last year Riyadh invested 10 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in military spending, far above the other 15 big military spenders in the world, which dedicate less than 4.2 per cent of GDP to the military. In 2017, Saudi military spending per capita was higher than any other country in the world.

As part of his Vision 2030 economic and social reform programme, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia wants to boost the domestic arms industry. However, its technology and know-how remain limited, which is why Riyadh is largely dependent on imports. The only achievement so far has been the creation of the Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI). 

As the second largest arms importer in the world in the period 1998–2017, Saudi Arabia has built up the region’s largest military, bigger than Iran’s, which both the United States and Israel view as the main threat to peace and stability in the region.

In 2013–17, 61 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s arms imports – planes, ships, missiles – came from the United States and 23 per cent from the United Kingdom. Several other West European countries supplied most of the rest, including Germany and Italy.

Both China and Russia have their eyes on the lucrative Saudi market, but they have not been able to dent US and British dominance, this despite a recent US Senate vote against Trump’s support for the kingdom.

Lastly, the SIPRI backgrounder highlighted the medium- and long-term consequences of the ongoing arms race in the Mideast, stimulated by Saudi policy. It urges the region’s governments to re-examine their actions, which are undermining peace in the region and the world.

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