Dubai: Today, the world is witnessing the most aggressive arms race in nearly three decades because of the growing number of unresolved conflicts in mainly two regions: the Middle East and the South East Asia, military experts said.
According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research (SIPRI), arms sales over the last five years have reached unprecedented levels since 1990, in what some researchers believe is because of continuous development in the past few years. But many experts describe the trend as an “alarming spike”.
“I was not really surprised,” said Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher with SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure, in a telephone interview with Gulf News, in response to the results of the report.
“It is a development that has been going on for a while. We have seen countries buying arms, and this [report] is showing that the trend is continuing,” he added.
The volume of international transfers of major weapons has grown continuously since 2004 and increased by 8.4 per cent between 2007—11 and 2012—16, according to SIPRI.
Arms sales increases were recorded mainly in two regions: the Middle East and some parts of Asia, where there is “increasing tension between states and growing economy in many of these countries,” he added.
“Areas from the Indian subcontinent to the Middle East are volatile,” said Riad Kahwaji, founder and CEO of Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA)
Apart from the arms race among countries including India, Pakistan, North Korea and China, ongoing war in Arab countries, including Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and the insurgency in other countries like Libya “are all elements that drive for defence spending tremendously,” Kahwaji said.
Despite low oil prices, oil-rich Arab countries continued with their plans to buy arms, as a tool to deal with conflicts and regional tension in 2016, said Wezeman.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar came in second and third respectively as arms buyers after India, according to SIPRI.
“We are likely to see a rise in spending on defence in Europe this year,” said Kahwaji, “because of the situation we have today vis-a-vie Russia, Ukraine and the Baltics,” he added in reference to the increasing tension between many European countries and Russia.
Moreover, the new US administration calls on Nato European countries to play a more active role in their own defence. Increasing terrorists’ attacks in different parts of Europe could also prompt more arms purchases there.
Arms producers in US, Russia, Germany, France and China top the list of world arms suppliers.
Experts explain that to sell more weapons, arms suppliers promote the perception that arms are a “key source for solving” security threats between states and within states, said military experts.
“They are not going to promote the idea that there are other ways to achieve peace and security in the region,” said Wezeman.
“It is in their interest to do otherwise,” he added in reference to arms suppliers.
One of the main features of the new global arms map is the emergence of China as an arms supplier.
It is not as big as US and Russia, but China stands today in the same league of France, UK and Germany, SIPIR report said.
“Chinese technology is improving. They don’t put conditions like the Americans or Europeans on their arms sales,” said Kahwaji.
China also does not link arms sales to politics.
“Therefore, it [China] is a much better option for many countries with limited resources. Chinese systems are much cheaper than those produced in the US and Europe,” Kahwaji said.
Meanwhile, the spike in arms sales worldwide is alarming to many military experts; especially because it coincides with bad economic conditions.
“It could eventually lead to a third world war, but would it be in our lifetime? We don’t know,” said Kahwaji.
Responsible world leadership capable of diffusing tense situations is critical to fending off another world war.
While some leaders flex their muscles “now and then”, none have an adventurous mentality, expansionist policy and miscalculated actions, Kahwaji said.
At a glance:
*The five biggest exporters — the United States, Russia, China, France and Germany — together accounted for 74 per cent of the total volume of arms exports.
*Arms imports by states in Asia and Oceania increased by 7.7 per cent between 2007—11 and 2012—16 and accounted for 43 per cent of global imports in 2012—16.
*India was the world’s largest importer of major arms in 2012—16, accounting for 13 per cent of the global total. Between 2007—11 and 2012—16 it increased its arms imports by 43 per cent. In 2012—16 India’s imports were far greater than those of its regional rivals China and Pakistan.
*Imports by countries in South East Asia increased 6.2 per cent from 2007—11 to 2012—16. Vietnam made a particularly large jump from being the 29th largest importer in 2007—11 to the 10th largest in 2012—16, with arms imports increasing by 202 per cent.
*Between 2007—11 and 2012—16 arms imports by states in the Middle East rose by 86 per cent and accounted for 29 per cent of global imports in 2012—16.
*Saudi Arabia was the world’s second largest arms importer in 2012-16, with an increase of 212 per cent compared with 2007—11.
*Qatar arms imports went up by 245 per cent. ‘Despite low oil prices, countries in the region continued to order more weapons in 2016, perceiving them as crucial tools for dealing with conflicts and regional tensions.’
*Arms exporters: the USA accounts for one-third of total exports in 2012—16. Its arms exports increased by 21 per cent compared with 2007—11. Almost half of its arms exports went to the Middle East.
*Russia accounted for a 23 per cent share of global exports in the period 2012—16. 70 per cent of its arms exports went to four countries: India, Vietnam, China and Algeria.
* China’s share of global arms exports rose from 3.8 to 6.2 per cent between 2007—11 and 2012—16. It is now firmly a top-tier supplier, like France and Germany, which accounted for 6 per cent and 5.6 per cent, respectively.
* Despite a spike in arms exports in 2016, German arms exports — counted over a five-year period — decreased by 36 per cent between 2007—11 and 2012—16.
* Algeria was the largest arms importer in Africa, with 46 per cent of all imports to the region.
* The largest importers in sub-Saharan Africa — Nigeria, Sudan and Ethiopia — are all in conflict zones.
* Total arms imports by states in the Americas decreased by 18 per cent between 2007—11 and 2012—16. However, changes in import volumes varied considerably. Colombia’s arms imports decreased by 19 per cent, while Mexico’s arms imports grew by 184 per cent in 2012—16 compared with 2007—11.
* Imports by states in Europe significantly decreased by 36 per cent between 2007—11 and 2012—16. Initial deliveries to Europe of advanced combat aircraft as part of major contracts started in 2012—16 and further deliveries will drive import volumes up in the coming years.
* Imports by Azerbaijan were 20 times higher than those of Armenia in 2012—16.
Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).