Saudi Arabia Overtakes India as World’s Largest Arms Importer

AP Photo/Amr Nabil
AP Photo/Amr Nabil

In 2014, Saudi Arabia passed India as the largest weapons importer in the world, according to a new report on world defense trade by the London-based IHS Jane’s organization. The figure covers all defense imports, except for munitions and small arms, leaving out anything under 57mm caliber.

Last year, Saudi arms expenditures rose by 54% to reach $6.5 billion, while Delhi’s arms purchases for the same period were $5.8 billion. Estimates for 2015 weapons spending are higher still, with Saudis expected to purchase arms with a value of $9.8 billion, a substantial increase of another 52%.

According to industry forecasts, in 2015 one out of every seven dollars spent on weapons in the world will come from Saudi Arabia.

“Growth in Saudi Arabia has been dramatic and, based on previous orders, these numbers are not going to slow down,” said IHS senior analyst Ben Moores.

“When we look at the likely export addressable opportunities at a global level for the defense industry, five of the 10 leading countries are from the Middle East,” Moores added. “The Middle East is the biggest regional market and there are $110 billion in opportunities in [the] coming decade.”

Thanks to oil revenues, the countries of the Persian Gulf region have been able to allocate considerable cash reserves to purchase weapons. At the forefront are the Saudis, who are setting up a veritable arsenal to respond to increased tensions in the Middle East.

Though the Saudis say that they have been victims of terrorism, others have tied them to Islamist militants and claim that the Kingdom has provided financial and logistical backing for terrorists, such as the Boko Haram group in Nigeria. Recent reports also suggest that Saudi elites gave extensive funding to the mosque where Boston Marathon bombers met and worshiped.

In the ranking of countries that import arms, behind Saudi Arabia and India are the United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, Australia, South Korea, and Indonesia. The combined arms expenditures of Saudi Arabia and the Arab Emirates total $8.7 billion, a figure that exceeds the weapons costs of all Western European countries combined.


Arms imports

The report released Sunday examines the defense market across 65 countries and states that the global defense trade currently stands at $64.4 billion.

In 2014, the defense trade increased for the sixth consecutive year, up from $56.8 billion in 2013. “Defense trade rose by a landmark 13.4 percent over the past year,” said Moores. “This record figure has been driven by unparalleled demand from the emerging economies for military aircraft and an escalation of regional tensions in the Middle East and Asia Pacific.”

The report said that China became the third largest arms importer in 2014, up from fifth place in 2013.

“China continues to require military aerospace assistance from Russia, and its total defense procurement budget will continue to rise very quickly,” said Paul Burton, director of defense industry and budgets at IHS.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.