Arms spending continues to soar in the Middle East despite a slump in oil prices, amid growing concern about a regional ballistic missile arms race. The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states alone are expected to spend $60 to $80 billion on defence equipment between now and 2010. Excited about the prospects, arms manufacturers from all over the world will display weapons at the International Defence Exhibition (Idex '99), scheduled to be held in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), between 14 and 18 March.
The Middle East remains by far the world's biggest arms importing region. Regional military expenditure increased by an estimated five per cent in real terms in 1997, significantly more than in any other region. The Middle East nations spent $15.6 billion on new weapons purchases in 1997, or 33.7 per cent of the world arms market.
Between 1989 and 1996 the Middle East was also the largest arms importer in the developing world. During that period the states of the region imported arms and military equipment for a value of $100 billion.
The U.S. has been the main arms supplier to the Middle East. Exporting in 1997 $15.2 billion worth of weapons to Middle East states, a 44 per cent share of the shrinking global arms market.
Although the arms bazaar in the Middle East has now calmed, mainly because of dwindling oil prices, analysts believe the general level of arms imports remains high and can be expected to increase further in the immediate future.
TOP ARMS PURCHASERS
In the Gulf region, France, Britain and the U.S. continue to dominate the arms market. Other smaller weapon suppliers have been attempting to break the stranglehold with little success. South Africa has been particularly active, as have some of the countries of the former Eastern Bloc. Oman was the first state in the Gulf to take orders of South African artillery, with 25 155mm pieces delivered in 1996.
Russia has placed itself in greater direct competition with U.S. military producers for large systems. But with so much Soviet hardware in the inventories of potential opponents, and matters such as maintenance unsolved, Gulf states are still wary of buying Russian kit.
Among the Gulf states the UAE was the top purchaser of arms in 1997 with $3.5 billion worth of new deals. It was followed by Saudi Arabia ($2.9 billion). For agreements in the period 19941997, Saudi Arabia retained first place with deals worth $14.1 billion, followed by the UAE ($5.1 billion).
Saudi Arabia, the largest weapons buyer in the world, has now begun to manufacture its own weapons with apparent success. During an exhibition in Paris in June, the Kingdom put on display two versions of the country's armoured personnel carriers that it is now producing.
Kuwait was the Gulf's second largest weapons purchaser in 1996, buying an estimated $1 billion worth of arms from an overall budget of $3.5 billion.
BIGGEST DEFENCE SHOW
Despite the steep drop in oil prices, which is forcing Gulf Arab states to slash budgets and cut spending, the GCC arms market remains attractive to international weapon makers.
Saudi Arabia, which has ordered a halt to new contracts, frozen state hiring and curbed new purchases, has recently announced that it was rationalising spending in all fields, including arms purchases. Oman, Kuwait and Qatar are also reviewing state spending.
Analysts, however, do not seem to be convinced that the oil price crisis was affecting arms purchases. They believe that governments of the region will somehow find the means to finance their defence requirements, considering that the instabilities in the region are still dominant.
International defence companies are also convinced that the region will remain one of the biggest regional markets in the world. In fact some 437 arms manufacturers from 41 countries are expected to display …