A recent report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on global weapons sales revealed that arms sales to countries in the Middle East/West Asia have increased by a whopping 87% between 2009-13 and 2014-18. The report, which was released on March 11, also stated that the United States of America (US) retains its position as the world’s largest arms exporter. The US arms exports grew by 29% between 2009-13 and 2014-18, while its share of the total global exports increased from 30% to 36%.
Among the key reasons, cited by the report, behind these increases is the ongoing ‘Iran threat narrative’ in the region, which lead to the US providing large number of arms to its allies. It also cited the ongoing war against Yemen since March 2015 to be one of the reasons, along with the Saudi-UAE blockade of Qatar by air, sea and land since 2017, which has led to a steep decline in relations between those countries.
The report stated that the US, along with the United Kingdom and France, is the major supplier of weapons to the Saudi Arabia-led international coalition offensive in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates together make up around 28% of the US global arms sale. This brings out the fact that the US and other western countries are playing a crucial role in the international coalition bombing campaign in Yemen, which many experts call war crimes.
According to Aude Fleurant, director of the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Program, “It [the US] exported arms to at least 98 countries in the past five years; these deliveries often included advanced weapons such as combat aircraft, short-range cruise and ballistic missiles, and large numbers of guided bombs.” The report highlighted the fact that the gap between the two top arms exporting countries increased, with US arms exports recorded to be 75% higher than Russia’s in 2014-18, compared to being 12% higher in 2009-13. Majority of the US arms exports, 52%, were headed towards the Middle East in 2014-18.
Global arms sales witnessed an increase of 8% in 2014-18 compared to 2009-13 and 23% compared to 2004-2008. The five largest weapons exporters for a five-year period were reported to be the US (36%), Russia (21%), France (6.8%), Germany (6.4%) and China (5.2%), collectively accounting for almost 75% of the total volume of arms exports in 2014-18.
The increase in arms sales to the Middle East resulted in the region accounting for 35% of the global arms imports in 2014-18. Saudi Arabia emerged as the world’s largest arms importer, with a 192% increase in 2014-18, and a 12% share of the total arms imports in the world. Other Middle Eastern countries also saw massive increase in arms imports, including Egypt (an increase of 206%), Qatar (225%), Iraq (139%) and Israel (354%), with the notable exception of Syria, which saw a 87% fall in its arms imports. Iran, by comparison, accounted for only 0.9% of arms imports in 2014-18. Iran is under a United Nations arms embargo since 2010 that is supposed to last until 2020.