Oil Keeps Middle East at Top of Arms Ladder
The Middle East remains the biggest arms market in the world and government spending could increase further this year on the back of soaring oil prices, a leading international think-tank said on Thursday.
Military spending in the region as a whole totaled 60 billion dollars in 1999, little changed from the previous year, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said in its annual report.
Although initial budgets for 1999 suggested that spending on arms might drop about five percent, "there was substantial supplementary spending during the year, probably stimulated by the continuing strength of oil," the research group said.
Planned budgets for 2000 differ little from those originally planned for the previous year, but spending could exceed official budgets this year following the surge in oil prices, IISS said.
The sharp increase in oil prices has filled the coffers of oil-exporting Middle Eastern countries, providing the necessary funds to increase arms spending.
Indeed, the region's gross domestic product grew by 4.7 percent in 1999, said IISS, "largely as a result" of increased oil prices.
Saudi Arabia, which spends more on arms than any other country in the world, plans a military budget for this year 2.2 percent higher than in 1999, at 18.7 billion dollars.
But real spending could turn out to be higher once again this year. The Saudi administration last year exceeded planned spending by 19.9 percent.
Israel, the second biggest buyer of arms in the Middle East, moderated its spending in 1999 as a percent of GDP to 8.9 percent, or 8.8 billion dollars, from 10-12 percent over the past five years.
However, Israel has budgeted for a 3.9 percent increase in spending this year, although including expenditure under the US Foreign Military Assistance programs, spending could rise by even more.
The IISS highlights the considerable increase in spending by the United Arab Emirates, which has more than doubled the amount of money spent on arms since 1996. UAE has drawn up an arms budget of 3.9 billion US dollars in 2000.
The experts at the IISS point in particular to the 6.4 billion dollar deal signed by UAE last July to buy 80 F-16 Block 60 fighter aircraft from defense manufacturer Lockheed Martin – LONDON (AFP)
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