Mideast Arms Imports Grew by a Quarter in a Decade, Watchdog Says

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Soldier with the U.S. Air Force trains members of the Royal Saudi Air Force Police Wing how to use equipment to counter drone attacks.
Soldier with the U.S. Air Force trains members of the Royal Saudi Air Force Police Wing how to use equipment to counter drone attacks.Credit: Senior Airman Leala Marquez,AP

Arms imports to the Middle East rose by a quarter in the decade to 2020 even though arms sales globally remained stable over the same period, a Swedish watchdog said Monday.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, said the Middle East figures were driven chiefly by the world's largest arms importer, Saudi Arabia, which increased its purchases by 61 percent. Egypt's imports rose 136 percent and Qatar's 361 percent.

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SIPRI said the international sale of major arms stayed at the same level during the period from 2011-2020. The watchdog said “substantial increases in transfers by three of the top five arms exporters — the United States, France and Germany — were largely offset by declining Russian and Chinese arms exports.”

For the first time since 2001–2005, the volume of deliveries of major arms between countries had not increased, SIPRI said, but added that international arms sales remain close to the highest level since the end of the cold war.

"It is too early to say whether the period of rapid growth in arms transfers of the past two decades is over,” said Pieter D. Wezeman, a senior researcher with SIPRI in a statement.

“For example, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic could see some countries reassessing their arms imports in the coming years. However, at the same time, even at the height of the pandemic in 2020, several countries signed large contracts for major arms.”

Middle East countries imported 25 percent more arms in the second half of the decade than they did in the first, SIPRI said. It said it was chiefly due to regional strategic competition among several Gulf region states.

In its report, the body said that the United States remains the largest arms exporter and had increasing its global share of arms exports from 32 percent to 37 percent between the first and second halves of the decade. That further widened the gap between the U.S. and second largest arms exporter Russia.

France and Germany were the third and fourth largest exporters and they, too, experienced substantial growth.

SIPRI is a Stockholm-based independent think tank, partly funded by the Swedish government. Created in 1966, its research is focused on global security, arms control and disarmament.

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