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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why Is Saudi Arabia Spending So Much On Arms?

Saudi Arabia figured among the top 15 arms spenders as global military spending rose 3.5 percent last year to $1.2 trillion with US costs for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan mounting, a Swedish research institute said Monday. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in its latest yearly book that five Middle Eastern countries were also among the top ten importers of weapons.

The United States spent $529 billion, slightly less than the entire GDP of the Netherlands, on military operations in 2006, up 5 percent over the previous year, it said. The US government also provided a total of $432 billion in supplemental appropriations for the "war on terrorism" between September 2001 and June 2006.

"Taking both immediate and long-term factors into account, the overall past and future costs until year 2016 to the USA for the war in Iraq have been estimated at $2,267 billion," it said.

Britain and France were second and third, respectively, while China's growing military expenditures reached nearly $50 billion, making it the fourth biggest arms spender in the world, SIPRI said. Japan was fifth with $43.7 billion.

Saudi Arabia was ranked ninth, spending some $29 billion in 2006, which accounts for 3 percent of world expenditures on arms. The top 15 countries accounted for 83 percent of spending.

The United States and Russia were the largest arms suppliers in 2002 through 2006, each accounting for about 30 percent of global shipments, while deliveries from EU members made up another 20 percent, the institute said.

Among the top 10 importers were five Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey. China and India remained the largest arms importers in the world.

"While much media attention was given to arms deliveries to Iran, mainly from Russia, deliveries from the USA and European countries to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were significantly larger," the institute said.

SIPRI said sales by the world's 100 largest weapons manufacturers rose by three percent in 2005 to $290 billion, spurred primarily by the United States. US companies and those in Western Europe dominated SIPRI's Top 100 list, together accounting for 92 percent of arms sales in 2005, the latest year for which figures are available, the institute said.

Forty US firms accounted for 63 percent of sales, while 32 western European companies accounted for 29 percent and nine Russian companies accounted for 2 percent. Companies based in Japan, Israel and India accounted for most of the remaining 6 percent.

The institute, which conducts independent research on international security, armaments and disarmament, said Japan cut military expenditure in 2006 for a fifth year running and was focusing its military budget primarily on missile defense.

"It is worth asking how cost-effective military expenditure is as a way of increasing the security of human lives," SIPRI researcher Elisabeth Skons said. "Millions of lives could be saved through basic health interventions that would cost a fraction of what the world spends on military forces every year."

The institute said the United States, Russia, France, Britain and China together held more than 26,000 nuclear warheads at the start of 2007.

"Although the total number of warheads is gradually being cut, all five countries are undertaking or planning major programs to update their nuclear arsenals," SIPRI said.


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