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Tags: trump | weapons sales | saudi arabia | yemen | iran

The Complicated Story of Weapons Sales in the Middle East

The Complicated Story of Weapons Sales in the Middle East

A general view shows the debris following a reported air strike on a plastic factory in Sanaa's Jeraf district on April 10, 2019. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)

Micah Halpern By Thursday, 02 May 2019 04:25 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

U.S. President Donald J. Trump has been urging NATO member nations to reduce their defense spending to 2% from about 5% of their GDP. This request, cum, suggestion, has become a regular trope of the Trump administration, ostensibly to allow NATO members to pay their fair share of the cost of NATO. A cost which includes the collective defense of all NATO countries.

This request might sound good on paper, but in practice, a problem arises. The problem is that while NATO is spending less on defense, countries in the Middle East spend more on defense than anywhere else in the rest of the world.

The entire scenario is a recipe for disaster.

Most countries in the Middle East spend approximately 10%, sometimes even more, of their GDP on defense — especially on the purchasing of weapons. Oman spends 11% and Saudi Arabia spends 10.8%. Afghanistan spends 10.1% of its budget on defense.

Seven out of the top ten defense spenders are Middle East countries and ten out of the fifteen largest spenders are from the Middle East and North Africa.

There are essential points that need to be noted given this information. First is that both the United States and Russia benefit from supplying these weapons. Next, is that it means that the Middle East is being armed way beyond their need.

Weapon sales in the Middle East are up 87% according to a study on global weapons by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). In the breakdown U.S. sales to the Middle East increased by 29%. Russia increased their sales dramatically, too. But the United States still maintains a significant lead in the world market share of weapon trade, controlling 36% of world trade while Russia sits at 21%.

There are only two exceptions to the increase of weapons acquisition in the Middle East. First is Syria which saw an 87% drop and then Iran, which accounts for just under 1% of weapon imports (0.9%). To lend some perspective, nearly half of the entire U.S. market for weapons goes to the Middle East. The largest client by far is Saudi Arabia. They are the purchasers of 18% of total U.S. weapon sales.

The biggest worry with the sale of weapons in general is that that the weapons sold to certain countries are then resold or simply given away. And when that happens those weapons may — and sometimes do, end up in the hands of enemies of the West.

Transferring, selling or in any way giving U.S. weapons that were officially purchased from the United States is a violation of numerous agreements as well as a violation of the weapons deal itself. But that itself is not enough of a deterrent for many nations. And besides, most of the purchased weapons are not essential and not needed for the defense of the countries that purchased them.

This, for example, is how a weapon transfer transpires: Saudi Arabia and other Sunni countries are supporting Sunni anti-Houthi forces in Yemen. The Houthi are being supported by Shiite Iran. That means a proxy war between Sunnis and Shiites is taking place in Yemen.

The Saudis and the United Arab Emirates funnel money and new U.S. arms to fight the Iranian backed troops. Those weapons are resold to ISIS, which is also fighting the Houthi. The weapons are fungible and so yes, ISIS, the arch enemy of the United States receives U.S. made and legally purchased weapons through this market. And those U.S. weapons are being used to kill United States soldiers and U.S. allies.

The sad reality is that all these weapons are not necessary. But everyone has their own rationale for over-weaponizing. The Saudis argue that they need parity in technology and power with their nemesis — Iran. The U.S. needs to make certain that the region stays secure and is providing weapons to check any aggression from Iran.

It is one big mess. And to top it all off, China is also selling weapons and their sales, too, are expanding.

The only positive outgrowth from this tinder box, at least for the United States, is that these weapon sales are so huge that they have had a positive impact on the U.S. economy. Despite the dangers the U.S. economy comes out a winner. But at what cost?

Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. To read more of this reports — Click Here Now.

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U.S. President Donald J. Trump has been urging NATO member nations to reduce their defense spending to 2% from about 5% of their GDP.
trump, weapons sales, saudi arabia, yemen, iran
Thursday, 02 May 2019 04:25 PM
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