While Saudi Arabia is moving on the path of making peace agreements with neighboring countries such as Iran and Syria, a new report revealed this Monday that the Kingdom was the world’s fifth-largest military spender in 2022.
According to a newly-released report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on the trends in world military expenditure for 2022, Saudi Arabia was ranked among the largest military spenders in the world. This is while the Persian Gulf country has been trying in recent months to normalize relations with its neighboring countries including Iran and Syria.
“Saudi Arabia was the world’s fifth-largest military spender in 2022, overtaking the UK, Germany, and France,” the report said, adding also that “the Kingdom’s military expenditure reached $75 billion last year, an increase of 16 percent from the previous year when it was ranked as the eighth largest military spender globally”.
The report also noted that in 2022 and at a 7.4-percent rate, Saudi Arabia spent more of its GDP on purchasing military equipment than any other country except for Ukraine. Giving more details on the defense budget in the Middle East, the report said that the region spent $184 billion on defense in 2022. But this was not the case for Israel, with one of the largest military expenditures in the region. Israel’s defense spending, as the report noted, fell by 4.2 percent to $23.4 billion as it had to make cuts to balance its budget.
The world is getting unsafe as military expenditures increase
Countries in 2022, as the SIPRI report noted, have moved towards more hostility as global military spending rose by 3.4 percent to reach an all-time-high of $2.2 trillion. In this regard, “European military expenditure saw its steepest year-on-year increase in 30 years as the war in Ukraine rages on. The three highest spenders – the US, China and Russia—accounted for 56 percent of the world’s total defense spending, while Saudi Arabia made up 3.3 percent. Ukraine, which placed 11th overall, increased its spending by 640 percent to $44 billion, or 34 percent of its GDP,” the report explained.
Increased spending “is a sign that we are living in an increasingly insecure world,” Dr Nan Tian, Senior Researcher with SIPRI’s Military Expenditure and Arms Production Program said following the release of the report, adding that “states are bolstering military strength in response to a deteriorating security environment, which they do not foresee improving in the near future”.
Peace and dialogue, or militarism and rivalry, which one Saudi Arabia puts first?
During recent months, Saudi Arabia has been moving on the path of making peace agreements with neighboring countries such as Iran and Syria, moves that signal positive changes in the Kingdom’s foreign policy and its willingness to bring peace to the region.
In a deal brokered by China, for example, Saudi Arabia agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations with Iran in March. Under the new deal, the two countries have committed to reopening their embassies and missions in June and implementing security and economic cooperation agreements signed over 20 years ago.
The same has been pursuing with Syria as Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on April 18 to talk about restoration of ties. Prince Faisal’s visit came days after Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad visited the Kingdom on the first such trip since the deadly Syrian civil war broke out back in 2011.
But the recent diplomatic efforts by Saudi Arabia to end years of rivalry with neighbors and spread peace in the region stand in contrast with the huge money that the Kingdom spends on military equipment. Therefore, if Riyadh continues to increase defense budget as before, then the risk of an arms race in the region would be inevitable, which in turn can end the wave of peace between Middle East countries that has just began.