In a further sign of its ramping up its military muscle, Saudi Arabia has become the biggest arms importer in the Middle East, and the second biggest in the world, after India, with an increase of 275 percent in 2011-5 compared to 2006-10.
Between 2011-15 Saudi Arabia was the world’s second largest arms importer, with an increase of 275 per cent compared to 2006-10. In the same period, arms imports by the United Arab Emirates rose by 35 per cent and those by Qatar went up by 279 per cent.
— Tran Truong Thuy (@TranTruongThuy) February 22, 2016
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), during 2011-15, 27 per cent of arms transfers to the region went to Saudi Arabia, 18 percent to the UAE and 14 percent to Turkey. The USA accounted for 53 percent of total arms supplies to the region, the UK for 9.6 percent.
— SIPRI (@SIPRIorg) February 22, 2016
The Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen by a coalition of Arab states, which began in 2015, was boosted by high levels of arms imports to several of the states leading the intervention, including Egypt, Qatar and the UAE.
“Although concerns have been raised in arms-supplying states over Saudi air attacks in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is expected to continue to receive large numbers of major arms from those states in the next five years,” the SIPRI report said.
“Arms on order include 150 combat aircraft and thousands of air-to-surface missiles and anti-tank missiles from the USA, 14 combat aircraft from the UK and an undisclosed but large number of armored vehicles from Canada with turrets from Belgium,” the report stated.
The London-based Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) says the UK government has licensed US$9.5 billion (£6.7bn) of arms to Saudi Arabia since David Cameron took office in 2010, including US$4 billion (£2.8bn) since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015.
“The humanitarian situation is getting worse and the UK government has been complicit in it. We agree that arms sales need to stop, but they should never have been allowed in the first place. Saudi Arabia has a terrible human rights record and has been supported by governments of all political colors for far too long,” said Andrew Smith of CAAT.
In January 2016, Law firm Leigh Day, representing CAAT, issued a pre-action protocol letter for judicial review challenging the government’s decision to export arms to Saudi Arabia despite increasing evidence that Saudi forces are violating international humanitarian law in Yemen. At the time of writing the government was yet to respond.
“The [UK] government is always telling us how rigorous and robust its arms export system is. This is further evidence that nothing could be further from the truth. The UK has continuously armed some of the most abusive regimes in the world,” said Smith.
A recent study by Opinium LLP for CAAT found that 62% of UK adults oppose arms sales to Saudi Arabia, with only 16% supporting them.