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Saudi remains biggest global arms importer, as US heads exporter list

March 15, 2021 at 4:33 pm

Protesters demonstrate against selling arms to Saudi Arabia on 8 September 2017 [AlisdareHickson/Twitter]

Countries in the Middle East were among the biggest arms importers in the world in the decade leading to 2020 according to the latest report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The findings based on the periods between 2011-2015 and 2016-2020 showed that major arms imports globally remained stable, however the Swedish watchdog reported that the Middle East saw imports grow by a quarter, with Saudi Arabia being the largest importer with a 61 per cent increase between 2016 and 2020 compared to the five previous years. Egypt’s imports grew by 136 per cent while Qatar increased its purchases by 361 per cent in the same period.

According to SIPRI, the growth in imports in particular “reflected regional strategic competition among several states in the Gulf region”. The report also noted that arms imports by the UAE fell by 37 per cent, although several planned deliveries of F-35 combat aircraft from the US agreed last year indicate that the UAE will continue to import large volumes of arms.

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The world’s largest arms exporter, the US also increased its global market share of exports to 37 per cent over the past five years, the report said, highlighting that “substantial increases in transfers by three of the top five arms exporters — the United States, France and Germany — were largely offset by declining Russian and Chinese arms exports.”

Saudi Arabia, which has been leading a coalition of mostly Arab states in its war against Yemen since 2015, is said to account for 24 per cent of total US arms exports.

“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, a senior researcher at SIPRI.

“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,” he said.

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