Procurement: Trying To Bury Iran

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October 24, 2013: The Arab Persian Gulf states have ordered another $13 billion in weapons and military support services from the United States. About half of this is for Saudi Arabia, the rest goes to Kuwait, Iraq, and the smaller Gulf states (in that order). This round of purchases contains a lot of smart bombs and air-launched missiles (SLAM ER, Harpoon, JSOW) as well as billions for maintenance and upgrades for existing equipment.

Arms sales like this are not unusual for the Middle East. Over the last 3 years annual arms exports to this region have averaged over $60 billion a year and most of it has gone to the 6 oil-rich members of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council). Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait are the big buyers and the main reason for that is fear of Iran.

On the face of it all those purchases appear to be overkill because Iran must smuggle in its arms imports, as legitimate purchases are banned by international embargoes. Iranian military procurement is less than 10 percent what their Arab neighbors are spending. But the Iranians have a long tradition of doing much with little when it comes to military equipment. In addition, the Arabs have a much less impressive combat record, especially in the last century. So the oil-rich Arabs are trying to equip their troops with a lot of the best stuff available and hope for the best.

The U.S. continues to be the leading arms exporter followed by Russia, France, Britain, China, Germany, and Italy. The sharp growth in arms exports is largely because in the past decade global defense spending has increased nearly 50 percent to over $1.4 trillion. That's about 2.5 percent of global GDP. After the Cold War ended in 1991, defense spending declined for a few years to under a trillion dollars a year. But by the end of the 1990s it was on the rise again. The region with the greatest growth has been the Middle East, where spending has increased 62 percent in the last decade. The region with the lowest growth (6 percent) was Western Europe. The current recession may get global defense spending stalled at, or maybe even a little below, $1.4 trillion for a year or two. But the spending growth has resumed now that the recession is over in many parts of the world.

 

 


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