US Arms Sales to the Middle East Soar
by Charles Lemos, Sat May 02, 2009 at 09:57:45 PM EDT
A new report (pdf.) released earlier this week by the independent Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows that the volume of arms transfers worldwide increased by 21 percent during the group's latest five-year reporting period. While that number is off a low base as arms transfers had been at their lowest level since the 1960's during the previous reporting period (1999-2003), the number masks a significant rise in arms transfers to the Middle East. The SIPRI report shows that arms transfers to the Middle East have increased by 38 percent during the past five years, compared to the base period.
It should come as no surprise that five biggest suppliers of major conventional weapons for the period 2004-2008 were the United States, Russia, Germany, France and the United Kingdom with these top five suppliers accounting for 78% of total world arms sales. Furthermore, the global arms trade is largely two nation game with the United States and Russia accounting for 56% of total arms sales. The US alone accounted for 31% of the world arms trade on sales to 69 different countries.
What should come as a surprise is who is buying these caches of weapons. The five biggest recipients were China, India, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea and Greece. That China tops the list is not surprising given the country's growth was bound to translate into increased military expenditures, not to mention that it is a country of 1.4 billion people. China was the largest recipient of major conventional weapons for the period 2004-2008, but even then the volume of its imports has declined dramatically since 2007.
That India and South Korea make the top five isn't earth-shattering either. Greece's spending in this period reflects investments made on security for the 2004 Olympics hosted by the Athens but remain driven by long simmering tensions with neighboring Turkey which have kept Greece's defense budgets high. The 2009 Greek defense budget foresees 2.2 billion euros in spending on arms purchases but Greece tends to spread its arms purchase to shore up diplomatic support.
But what to make of the United Arab Emirates as the world's third largest buyer of arms? The rise has been nothing short of dramatic with the UAE rising to third place from 16th place in the 1999-2003 period. Perhaps first I should note that the UAE is not a country but a federation of seven small emirates of which only two are of any size, the fast-flying Dubai and the more staid Abu Dhabi. Each Emirate is technically independent though there is an appointed Federal National Council consisting of 40 members, with members from each of the seven Emirates. Total population of the UAE is about 4.5 million but only 20% are actually Emiratis, the rest are foreigners most of whom are there as "guest workers." The OPEC-member country has total oil reserves of around 98 billion barrels of crude or about about 7.9% of the world's total stocks according to a report published last year by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The other salient fact about the UAE is its location at near the tip of Arabian peninsula directly across the Gulf from Iran. The UAE, however, does not control the vital Straits of Hormuz. The Musandam peninsula that forms the tip is actually the northernmost part of the Sultanate of Oman.
From the SIPRI report:
Middle Eastern states received 18 per cent of international transfers of major conventional weapons for the period 2004-2008 compared with 15 per cent for 2003-2007. Transfers to the region were 38 per cent higher in 2004-2008 than in 1999-2003. During 2004-2008, 34 per cent of all transfers to the Middle East went to the UAE, while Israel received 22 per cent and Egypt 14 percent. Despite significant speculation about Iran's arms import plans, it accounted for only 5 per cent of transfers to the Middle East for the period 2004-2008 and was the 27th largest recipient of major conventional weapons worldwide.
* During the period 2004-2008 the UAE was the largest recipient of major conventional weapons in the region and the third largest in the world. Imports in this period included around 80 F-16E combat aircraft from the USA and around 50 Mirage-2000-9 combat aircraft from France. The UAE placed a number of significant orders in 2008 and looks set to remain a significant importer in the coming years.
* During the period 2004-2008 Iraq was the world's 28th largest recipient of major conventional weapons, with 40 per cent of its imports coming from the USA. In 2008 Iraq ordered 140 M1A1 tanks from the USA and announced plans to obtain advanced combat aircraft and additional armoured vehicles.
* Israel's arms imports in 2004-2008 consisted primarily of 102 F-16I combat aircraft and related air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons. The vast majority of weapon systems ordered by or transferred to Israel during this period came from the USA. Israel also imported components for its weapon systems from a variety of countries, including EU members.
The above is data rich. For example, Iran's arms purchases are relatively low accounting for only 5 per cent of transfers to the Middle East for the period 2004-2008. It is important to note that the SIPRI report only covers arms transfer and does not cover domestic manufactures. Still it is the fact that the UAE was the largest recipient of major conventional weapons in the region and the third largest in the world for the reported period that stands out. Nor is this going to change any time soon. According to Mutar Jumaa, an Emirati analyst, the UAE has always been keen to send a message that it has a powerful army and internal security forces. Over the past few years, the UAE has been spending between seven to ten billion in US weapons systems. Furthermore the US only accounts for 54% of UAE expenditures. The UAE is buying advanced French Rafale fighter planes to replace its fleet of 63 Mirage 2000 jets.
According to Paul Holtom, one the SIPRI report authors, the increase in UAE purchases, which included 80 F-16E fighter planes from the US, may reflect a US policy of bolstering the defense capabilities of its Middle Eastern allies.
"They're one of the leading Mid-eastern members of the `coalition of the willing'," Mr. Holtom said, referring to the phrase coined by the US to describe its allies in the 2003 Iraq war. The US "is pushing the line that they should start supplying Mideast allies with more advanced equipment, let them have the means."
The US Defense Department (DoD) said last September that the proposed sale of a $7 billion missile defense system to the UAE would help improve "the security of a friendly country" and "the interoperability of a potential coalition partner." It should be noted that in 2006, the Bush Administration loosened the restrictions on the sales of advanced American-made weapon systems thus sparking this latest surge.
Furthermore arms purchases by Middle Eastern countries are set to remain high in the coming years. The UAE in February announced plans to buy 16 military transport planes worth about $3 billion from Lockheed Martin and Boeing. But that's nothing. According to the Arms Control Association, Iraq is now set to re-enter the world's arms market. Iraq is looking to make $18.7 billion worth of purchases, up from $4.45 billion in 2007 and $2.25 billion in 2006, included a wide range of military items, as well as technical and construction assistance. Combat-oriented equipment listed in the notifications included M1A1 tanks, light armored vehicles, armed helicopters, Hellfire and other missiles, coastal patrol boats, and more than 100,000 assault rifles. Nor is Iraq the largest projected buyer. That's Israel who has requested $20.82 billion in military hardware. I suppose that what's good for Lockheed Martin and Boeing is good for the United States but is it good for the world?