Saudi Arabia: biggest arms importer in the world

Saudi Arabia: biggest arms importer in the world
3 min read
08 March, 2015
Saudi Arabia bought $6.5bn of weapons last year as it raised its military budget to "unprecedented" levels, surpassing India as the world's largest arms importer.

Saudi Arabia has overtaken India to become the world's biggest importer of weapons as the kingdom attempts to maintain its dominance in the Middle East.

In the last year alone, Saudi spending rose 54 percent to $6.5bn, according to data released Sunday by IHS, a leading analyst of the global arms trade based in Englweood, Colorado.

Saudi arms imports are predicted to increase by 52 percent to $9.8bn in 2015, accounting for $1 of every $7 spent globally, according to IHS estimates based on planned deliveries.

"This is definitely unprecedented," said Ben Moores, the report's author. "You're seeing political fractures across the region, and at the same time you've got oil, which allows countries to arm themselves, protect themselves and impose their will as to how they think the region should develop."

The top five importers in 2014 were Saudi Arabia, India, China, the UAE and Taiwan. The 2013 rankings were India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Taiwan and China.

In 2014, Saudi Arabia and the UAE imported a combined $8.7bn on weapons - more than all of western Europe, IHS said. The biggest beneficiary of the spending was the US, with $8.4bn of arms shipments to the region last year, up from $6bn in 2013.

The biggest arms exporters last year were Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, all based in the US, according to the IHS report.

Saudi Arabia is building its arsenal amid concern about a geopolitical shift in the Middle East as the US looks for help in fighting the Islamic State group, said David Cortright, the director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

     Saudi arms imports are predicted to increase by 52 percent to $9.8bn in 2015. 

HS prediction.

It is also weary of a nearing deal to lift global sanctions on Iran in return for oversight of its nuclear programme, which would create new opportunities for economic development and threaten Saudi Arabia's longstanding ties with the US.

Buying more weapons could be an attempt by the Saudi government to remind the US of its importance as an ally, Cortright said.

"It may be a way of tempering that rapprochement with Iran," Cortright said. "You can think of it as... deepening ties in a time of uncertainty, as a possibly greater role with Iran looms on the horizon."

The Saudis are also worried about the rise of Islamic State group and are cooperating with the US- led coalition.

"From an objective security perspective, Saudi Arabia should be cooperating with Iran to deter and push back IS in Iraq. The old 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' approach," Cortright said.

"But Saudi Arabia has deep ideological and geopolitical differences with Iran that prevent it from considering such a temporary marriage of convenience."

A deal on Iran's nuclear programme may also fuel a longstanding power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

"We've all been waiting for the storm in the Middle East," Moores said. 

Until recently, Saudi procurement programmes were limited by the country's ability to use advanced systems, Moores said. But with a growing number of educated and technologically agile people, the Saudis can now make use of increasingly high-tech hardware.

Globally, trade in military hardware rose for a sixth straight year in 2014, pushing worldwide imports to $64.4bn from $56bn.

Saudi Arabia had the fourth largest military budget in the world last year, followed by France and the United Kingdom.