Arab states biggest importers of Arms in the World

I was shocked this morning to learn that the biggest importer of military equipment in the world is tiny United Arab Emirates with 3.6 Billion worth of goods received in 2004. Then comes Saudi Arabia with 3.2 billion.
And then.. then comes China (2.7), India and Egypt (1.7bn), Israel (1.5bn though bearing in mind that Israel locally produce most of its military equipment), etc.
Check the facts here.
So I sent an e-mail to a specialist in arms trade in the Middle East Prof. Yahya Sadowski who tought me political science as well as useful modes of thoughts at the American University of Beirut. And this is what he answered:

Between 1975 and 1985 the Arabs exported more than a trillion dollars of oil to the world, more than the total value of Japanese exports. During the same period, they spent more than 350 billion dollars on arms imports. The Gulf states import more weapons than they can actually use: Saudi Arabia has three times more tanks than it has trained drivers. They pay for this equipment because it is part of the “deal” in exchange for which Washington agrees to guarantee their security.
I wrote a book about this back when I thought the Clinton administration might do something about it, but the Democrats are as addicted to foreign arms sales (America’s number one export) as the Republicans. Arms sales are an easy way to create jobs and patronage in critical states such as Texas and California.
Back in 2002, when Israeli attacks on Jenin using Apache helicopter gunships provoked outrage in the Arab world, I suggested organizing a boycott of Boeing Co., whch manufactures these weapons. Saudi Arabia actually buys more Apaches than Israel, and if a single Gulf state looked like it might drop its Boeing contract it might force a rethinking in Seattle. But my students in Beirut were much more interested in boycotting Starbucks.
The situation is fraught with ironies. The Arabs, who cannot effectively deploy these weapons, are the biggest customers in the global arms trade. And by buying them they underwrite the very American hegemony that they complain about.

I think that any responsible Arab in the region should know these facts by heart, just as I should.

3 Replies to “Arab states biggest importers of Arms in the World”

  1. Hold on a second, Bech. Put these numbers in perspective. First note that the recipient of arms list only includes “developing nations.” I was also surprised to see the Emrati at the top, but we would need other figures to understand this. My favorite is always military procurement as a percentage of GDP or national budget. I think this tells us a lot more, because we get to figure in domestic production — where UAE has to be pretty low. Still having said this, it is fascinating from the perspective of the international arms trade, although I wish developing countries had been included on the list for additional perspective. I do recommend Sadowski’s guns or butter book if you have not read it, perhaps a little dated now, but the dynamics are very similar.

  2. Another thought: should we really consider UAE or Saudia as a “developing country.” Given their GDP per capita, they are likely to top many such import lists despite their relatively small populations.

  3. For Israel, the accurate figure is probably higher. US military aid is 1.5 billions and it’s probably not counted in the figures.

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