Saudi Arabia increases sales of major weapons systems fourfold between 2010 and 2014, with global sales of drones soaring.
Sales of weapons to Gulf states have increased by more than 70% over the past five years, according to research that also pointed out that global sales of military drones are rising.
In a report published on Monday, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) said that countries in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia – heavily invested in their arsenals from 2010 to 2014. All six countries are potentially lucrative markets for British arms.
“The GCC states, along with Egypt, Iraq, Israel and Turkey in the wider Middle East, are scheduled to receive further large orders of major arms in the coming years”, said Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher at Sipri.
Saudi Arabia bought four times more major weapons systems between 2010 and 2014 compared with the previous five years, importing helicopters, armoured vehicles, and fighter aircraft. The UAE is also among the world’s five largest importers of arms. India was the world’s largest single arms importer.
Asia accounts for nearly half of all weapons imports, while China increased its arms exports by a staggering 143% over the same period. The sale of military drones worldwide is also rising, with increasing numbers of countries acquiring reconnaissance aircraft and showing an interest in weaponised models, Sipri said.
In all, 35 countries now have drones and 429 were sold in the past five years, compared with 322 sold between 2005 and 2009. Israel and the US were the main suppliers of drones worldwide, though other countries, including Austria, China, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, South Africa and Sweden, also exported them.
“There is a trend there of increasing interest,” said Siemon Wezeman , a senior researcher at Sipri. “The number of countries acquiring drones has been rapidly going up,” he told the Guardian.
“Most countries are looking at this technology,” said Wezeman, adding that there was particular interest in long-range aircraft, high-flying models and armed drones. “The interest is certainly there. The market is there. The suppliers are there.”
Arms imports to Gulf states are particularly controversial because of concerns about their human rights records. Sweden announced recently that it has torn up a decade-long arms agreement with Saudi Arabia after the two countries were embroiled in a human rights dispute. Despite concerns, the UK government has sold Typhoon jets to the Saudis and is promoting further weapons sales to Oman, the UAE, and Bahrain.
“It’s no surprise to see that the biggest buyers include some of the most oppressive dictatorships. Unfortunately, where there is war, conflict, repression and instability there will be arms companies looking to fuel it and profit from it,” said Andrew Smith from Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
“The UK is still the largest supplier of weapons to Saudi Arabia, and that is in no small part because of the instrumental role the government has played in promoting sales. Arms sales like these do not just provide military support for abusive regimes, they also send a clear sign of political support.”
The US last year resumed arms exports to Egypt that were frozen after the 2013 military coup. France also stepped up its arms sales to Egypt last year, Monday’s report says.
The US accounted for nearly half of all arms sales to the Middle East, followed up by Russia and the UK. Five Asian countries are among the top 10 largest importers of major weapons. Topped by India, they include China, Pakistan, South Korea and Singapore. “Enabled by continued economic growth and driven by high threat perceptions, Asian countries continue to expand their military capabilities with an emphasis on maritime assets”, said Wezeman. “Asian countries generally still depend on imports of major weapons, which have strongly increased and will remain high in the near future.” The world’s biggest arms exporters in the past five years were the US, Russia, China, Germany and France.
Russia significantly increased its arms exports , with India, China, and Algeria, accounting for 60% of the country’s exports in the five years up to 2014. African arms imports increased by 45% over the period, with China a major supplier.