UAE is third largest arms buyer in the world


Money spent on transfers of weaponry to the Middle East were 38 per cent higher over the five year period that ended in 2008, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The UAE is the third largest arms importer in the world, spending Dh28.63 billion on military equipment in the last five years.

Saudi Arabia and Iraq have both signed agreements or indicated plans for future purchases, according to Paul Holdom, the head of the arms transfers programme at the institute.

“This is a trend we anticipate,” Holdom said. “We’re going to see it in the Middle East.”

The organisation monitors military equipment transfers, and issues a report once every five years. In the last report, covering 1999-2003, the UAE was ranked the 16th largest importer.

The UAE, third behind China and India, obtained 54 per cent of its armaments from the United States and another 43 per cent from France. The remaining weapons systems have come from 11 other countries.

The spending increase represents an effort by the UAE to become more independent militarily, according to Dr Theodore Karasik, the director of development and research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.

“It serves as a model for some of the other countries in the region instead of relying on the US for protection,” he said. The institute is headed by General (Retd) Khaled Abdulla Al Bu Ainnain, the former commander of the UAE Air Force. The UAE’s role as a major importer, its cooperation with foreign governments and the large number of expatriates and foreign businesses based in the country make it a possible regional target for a provoked Iran, according to Karasik, a former analyst with the US military research organisation Rand.

“If Israel or the US launch a strike on Iran, what is the Iranian counterstrike going to look like,” he posited. “Is it going to be missiles? Is it going to be suicide speedboats?”

The country’s purchases reflect the regional nature of those threats. The armed forces signed Dh1.4 billion worth of agreements on items such as patrol boats and mortars at the end of February’s International Defence Exhibition and Conference.

The SIPRI report anticipated more increases. Holdom said announcements such as former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s statement late in the Bush administration that Israel and Egypt would receive more arms could spur other countries to look at increasing their military equipment.

SIPRI’s database only includes purchases once the weapons have been transferred and several more agreements have been announced.

A previously reported study by the US-based Homeland Security Research Institute estimated that the UAE will double its defence spending over the next 10 years.

In December of last year, the UAE signed contracts with US weapons companies to buy a missile defence shield worth more than $ 4 billion. The shield is comprised of a radar system to detect incoming missiles and Patriot missiles to intercept any imminent threats.

“It’s important to point out that this is about military expenditures for sophisticated weapons for protecting the UAE’s sovereignty from threats in the region,” Karasik said.

China and India both have populations of more than one billion but Karasik said the spending appears appropriate given the UAE’s resources and the regional threats.

“You are talking about a smaller country with very rich resources,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair to do the ratio.”

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