Most reports on international arms sales focus on the biggest sellers. That inevitably means the United States, the largest exporter by far in the growing market. You can’t have sales without buyers, however, and that side of the equation centers heavily on the Middle East.
Middle Eastern countries now buy more than a third of all global arms. The biggest customer not just in the Middle East but in the world, is Saudi Arabia,whose purchases have soared 192% over a five year period.
Locked in an endless war in Yemen, and always looking toward a war with Iran, Saudi Arabia has seen its military spending soar in recent years. Recent estimates have put Saudi Arabia at the third costliest military on Earth, behind on the US and China, and ahead of Russia.
“Weapons from the US, the UK and France are in high demand in the Gulf, where conflicts and tensions are rife. Russia, France and Germany dramatically increased their arms sales to Egypt in the past five years,”
Unlike the US, China, or Russia, however, Saudi Arabia lacks a huge decades-old military-industrial complex to make all their weapons of war. Instead, the Saudis are pouring into overseas contracts, buying vast amounts of arms from the US and Britain.
The Saudis show no sign of slowing down on this, but it isn’t clear how sustainable this is either.
Jeff Abramson, a scholar at the Arms Control Association, an advocacy group, said the US should follow Germany’s example.
“Instead of being challenged, the US continues to claim a larger share of an expanding global arms market,” Abramson told MEE.
“As such, the US should take the lead in promoting responsible behaviour, rather than encouraging trade to repressive and irresponsible regimes, such as those in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.”
Already, Saudi war crimes are fueling a lot of calls to rethink arms sales to them. On top of that, the Saudis are spending 10% of their annual GDP on a mostly-imported military, which is a heavy burden for their economy to bear.
In the US, lawmakers in both houses have passed resolutions to end US support for the Saudi-led coalition, though US President Donald Trump has vowed to veto the document if it reaches his desk.
In Britain, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for a ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Last month, a parliamentary committee concluded that the UK was on “the wrong side of the law” by arming Riyadh.