F15 Fighter bombers, Apache and Black Hawk assault helicopters are just some of the arms bought recently by the Gulf States worried by rising tension in the Middle East.
This was confirmed by research published between 2010 and 2012, which estimates the arms trade in the monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula at more than 40 billion dollars in 2012 alone. “There is a real arms race under way in the Persian Gulf,” says Jan Grebe, a research worker of the Bonn International Centre of Conversion (BICC), a German organisation specialised in observing the global arms trade. In 2012, Saudi Arabia signed a contract with the USA for more than 34 billion dollars. Among the items purchased were 84 F15 fighter planes and 132 Black Hawk helicopters. The Saudi monarchy invested in much more besides aircraft and armoured vehicles. In early February, the American Lockheed Martin company, leader in the aerospace and military sector, signed an agreement with the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, the leading Saudi company in technological development. The American giant also opened its first office in the Saudi capital. Up to 2020, it will sell strategic expertise on the construction of weapons and information systems for defence.
Following in the wake of Riyadh, other Gulf States have also begun to make agreements to renew and train their armies. In November, the United Arab Emirates acquired an anti-missile shield with high-precision radar and ballistic systems worth 3.49 billion dollars, as well as 16 Chinook helicopters worth 939 million dollars. Oman (with 2.8 million inhabitants) has replaced its old Tornadoes with 18 F15 fighter-bombers and spent 1.4 billion in just one year. Qatar, one of the largest supporters of the crisis-stricken European economy, spent 9.9 billion dollars in 2012 on systems capable of launching Patriot missiles and is said to have already prepared further military contracts with the USA for 2013. Recently, the German government sold 200 Leopard tanks and other war material to Saudi Arabia and Qatar with a contract for 2 billion dollars. Following Germany’s example, London is also negotiating the sale of fighter-bombers to the Saudis. “In recent years – the German BICC expert continues – European countries have realised the strategic importance of the Gulf States and have become partners of the Sheiks.” He believes western countries want Gulf States to be more stable and militarily autonomous and capable of resolving any crisis in the region that could arise from the Syrian civil war, the Iranian nuclear programme, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Grebe emphasises that there are two major reasons for rearming: to defend against attacks from Iran and to reinforce internal stability. However, he does not exclude the use of Leopard tanks to suppress revolts inside the country or in neighbouring states, like Bahrain in 2012. The fact remains that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates are among the ten most militarised countries in the world. One of the first victims of this military escalation is social spending.
During the last five years, each monarchy spent, on average, 10% of GDP on the military. This is the highest rate in the world, compared with the USA (4.5%) and the global average (around 2.5%). It is even more alarming when compared with spending on health and education. The prize for the worst performance goes to Qatar, which spends only 1.8% of GDP on health and a miserable 2.5% on education, despite an annual increase of 18.8%. Saudi Arabia spends 4% on health and 5% on education. These figures are not very different from those of Iran, which maintains a better proportion between expenditure on arms and social works than many Arab states. Surprisingly, the Islamic Republic is ranked 34th by the BICC in military spending. Among the ten countries that spend most on armaments are Israel – in first place – and the Gulf States. (A.N.)