With so many conflicts around the world, the global arms trade continues to increase. The Middle East region leads the trend.
The geopolitical tensions which, in recent years, have destabilized the ‘hinge’ of Eurasia, the extensive belt of territories that stretches from the Middle East to the Caucasus and Ukraine, appear to affect the balance of the arms trade too.
The SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) data show that there has been a steady increase in the global arms trade since 2009, compared to that of the previous years, for the first time since the end of the 80s.
World military expenditure in 2014 was an estimated $1,767 billion (at current prices), showing just a slight decrease compared to the expenditure in the immediately preceding years, but still higher than that in the years before 2009.
The World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers (WMEAT) annual data for the 11-year period 2001-2011 show that global arms expenditure has steadily increased by about 43-49 percent, with the exception of a slight decline in 2011. Last year’s SIPRI data also reveal that a small number of countries spent the largest sums; in fact, the 15 countries with the highest military spending accounted for over 80 percent of the total, while another 157 countries accounted for the remaining 20 percent.
With defense spending totaling USD 610 billion, the USA ranked first, accounting for 34 percent of world total spending, followed by China (216 billion dollars), 12 percent of the world share, Russia (84.5 billion), 4.8 percent, Saudi Arabia (80.7 billion), 4.5 percent, France and the United Kingdom, both spending about $60 billion each, are responsible for 3.5 percent of world total spending.
Similar data were published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in the UK. According to the annual reference book, the United States remains by far the world’s largest military player spending $581bn in 2014, while China, the next most highly ranked player spent $129,4bn in the same period. Saudi Arabia was ranked third by the IISS report, spending $80.7bn, followed by Russia spending $70 bn.
The SIPRI report shows that, in 2014, US military spending fell by 6.5 percent compared to that in 2013, while China, Russia and Saudi Arabia’s spending increased. Saudi Arabia’s 17 percent increase was the highest of any country in the top 15 military spenders in 2014 which, with its military spending boosted to record level, confirms and leads the trend of the entire Middle East region.
This trend can be explained by the current situation in the Middle East, as the British journalist Robert Fisk has recently said. Over the past few weeks, in fact, Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates, has been conducting airstrikes and bombing raids in Yemen, and against ISIS locations in Syria and Iraq. The Syrian government is attacking several anti-government formations, including ISIS, within its territory. Iraq is also conducting military operations to drive the ISIS terrorists out of some areas of the country. Even Jordan and Bahrain are engaged in fierce battles with ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq, while Egypt is carrying out air strikes on armed Islamist factions in Libya. Iran is fighting in Iraq against ISIS, and the Israeli military has carried out air strikes on targets inside Syria. While the United States, France, England, Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia and Canada are conducting military operations against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
In such a situation, military spending in this region has obviously increased in recent years. In 2014, the major military spender countries in the Middle East were, besides the above mentioned, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (both spending about $22 billion), followed by Israel ($15.9 billion), and Oman and Iraq (both countries spending about $ 9.5 billion each).
Saudi Arabia is the biggest military purchaser in the Middle East, spending nearly 26% of the total public expenditure on arms in 2014, but also Oman and the Arab Emirates stand out for increasing public spending on weapons. In 2014, in fact, their military expenditure accounted for 25.5 percent (Muscat) and 23.9 percent (Abu Dhabi) of public spending, double compared to that of the other major arms purchasers of the region. The small and pacific Oman, in fact, spent nearly twice as much as troubled Egypt did.
In October 2014, Saudi Arabia purchased 202 Patriot missiles from US companies Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, spending about $1.75 billion. The trend to increase military spending seems destined to continue in 2015 as Egypt’s recent military purchases show. (F.L.)