- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2017

Mideast monarchies, spearheaded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are flooding their arsenals with foreign weapons at a staggering pace in the region now accounting for 23 percent of all global arms procurement.

Large-scale arms and equipment purchases by regional militaries in the Mideast shot up by 86 percent during a four-year period beginning in 2012, compared to a previous four-year period starting in 2007, analysts at the Sweden-based Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, said Monday.

Only Asia came close, in terms of regional powers, to keeping pace with the Mideast’s weapons buying, analysts say.

India led all major regional powers, increasing its global weapons procurement by 43 percent outpacing rivals China and Pakistan between the four-year periods, beginning in 2007 and 2012 respectively, reviewed by SIPR.

Vietnam has also emerged as a top weapons buyer on the international market, ranking 10th among all industrialized nations, jumping from 29th on the list, according to the report. The lack of regional arms control pacts in Asia, coupled with China’s rising militancy in the region, has contributed to Vietnam’s escalating status

Qatar led the regional weapons buying surge in the Mideast, tallying a 242 percent increase in arms procurement during the time frames analyzed by the Swedish defense think tank. Riyadh, the world’s second-largest weapons buyer, saw its global arms purchases grow by 212 percent during the same period.

“Over the past five years, most states in the Middle East have turned primarily to the USA and Europe in their accelerated pursuit of advanced military capabilities”, said Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.

“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,” he added.

U.S. lawmakers have attempted to curb Riyadh’s dealings with American weapons makers in the past, in protest of Saudi Arabia’s ongoing proxy war with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The Houthis, a Sunni separatist sect in the country, forced former President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power in 2015. Since then government factions loyal to the deposed Hadi regime, backed by primarily by Saudi forces, have been battling Houthi forces for control.

But Riyadh’s heavy-handed strategy to defeat the Houthis, punctuated by an devastating aerial campaign — which has reportedly included the use of cluster bombs, which have been banned under the international rules of war — has generated outrage among human rights groups.

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