Nearly half of US arms exports over the past five years have gone to the war-stricken Middle East, with Saudi Arabia consolidating its place as the world’s second biggest importer, a report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) said. The Middle East, a region where in the past five years most countries have been involved in conflict, accounted for 32% of global imports of weapons. Arms imports to the region doubled between 2013 and 2017 and in the five-year period before that. The US, the UK, and France were the main supplier of arms to the region, while Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE were the main recipient countries.
The global transfer of major weapons systems between 2013 and 2017 rose by 10% compared with the five-year period before that, in a continuation of an upward trend that began two decades ago.
The US, which is the world’s biggest exporter, increased its sales between those two periods by 25%. It supplied arms to as many as 98 states worldwide, accounting for more than a third of global exports. US exports were 58% higher than those of Russia which saw a decrease of 7.1% in its overall volume of arms exports.
France, Germany and China were also among the top five exporters. The UK is the sixth biggest weapons exporter.
Sipri’s report noted that Saudi Arabia uses its imported weapons in large-scale combat operations, particularly in Yemen. “Widespread violent conflict in the Middle East and concerns about human rights have led to political debate in western Europe and North America about restricting arms sales,” said Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher with the Sipri’s arms and military expenditure programme. “Yet the USA and European states remain the main arms exporters to the region and supplied over 98% of weapons imported by Saudi Arabia.”
In contrast, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, Iran, which is propping up Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, did not even make the list of the 40 largest importers – only accounting for 1% of arms imports to the region. Iran, which is under an international arms embargo, spends a fraction of what its Arab neighbours spend on weapons, instead relying on proxies and soft power to advance its policies.
Israel increased its imports by 125%, receiving arms mainly from the US, Germany, and Italy.
India, which receives most of its arms from Russia, heads the list of top importers. Egypt, UAE and China were also among the world’s top five importers.
“The tensions between India, on the one side, and Pakistan and China, on the other, are fuelling India’s growing demand for major weapons, which it remains unable to produce itself,” said Siemon Wezeman, senior researcher with Sipri’s arms and military expenditure programme.