Middle East sees biggest import of arms in last 5 years: Report

Report says US remains world’s largest arms supplier; Middle East countries imported 25 percent more weapons compared with 2011-15.

In this March 20, 2018 photo, then-US President Donald Trump shows a chart highlighting arms sales to Saudi Arabia during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [Evan Vucci/AP Photo]

International arms sales and purchases have levelled off after years of sharp growth, with deliveries of major weapons staying at the same level between 2011-2015 and 2016-2020, according to a leading defence think-tank.

The United States, France and Germany substantially increased their weapons exports in the last five years, according to a new report, released on Monday, by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The biggest growth in arms imports was seen in the Middle East where countries imported 25 percent more weapons in the past five years than in the 2011-2015 period.

SIPRI said this reflected regional strategic competition among Gulf states.

Saudi Arabia increased its arms imports by 61 percent while Qatar did so by 361 percent.

But the total volume of global arms deliveries flat-lined, largely because of a fall in Russian and Chinese weapons exports.

Still, SIPRI cautioned that international arms transfers remain close to the highest level since the end of the Cold War in 1991.

“It is too early to say whether the period of rapid growth in arms transfers of the past two decades is over,” said Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.

“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.”

The US remained the world’s largest arms exporter, supplying major arms to 96 states in the past five years, with nearly a quarter of its transfers going to Saudi Arabia.

Russia, the second-largest arms importer, saw its exports drop by 22 percent, largely due to a fall in deliveries to India.

SIPRI said New Delhi is seeking to reduce its dependence on Russian arms, although its imports of US arms also fell significantly in the same period.

China’s exports, meanwhile, decreased by 7.8 percent.

Pakistan, Bangladesh and Algeria were the top recipients of Chinese arms.

Egypt, which is involved in a dispute with Turkey over hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean, also increased its arms imports by 136 percent. Turkey’s imports, however, fell by 59 percent – mainly because the US halted the deliveries of F-35 aircraft to the country after Turkey brought in Russian air defence systems.

The Asia Pacific region was the largest importing region for major arms, receiving 42 percent of global arms transfers between 2016 and 2020.

India, Australia, China, South Korea and Pakistan were the biggest importers in the region.

“For many states in Asia and Oceania, a growing perception of China as a threat is the main driver for arms imports,” said Siemon Wezeman, senior researcher at SIPRI.

“More large imports are planned, and several states in the region are also aiming to produce their own major arms.”

Source: Al Jazeera