According to IHS’ annual Global Defence Trade Report, in 2014 Saudi Arabia became the largest worldwide importer of defense equipment as well as the largest defense market for the United States. Saudi Arabia replaced India as the largest defense importer in 2014 after being the second largest defense importer in 2013. Saudi Arabia’s defense imports increased by 54% from 2013 to 2014.
According to the same report, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was the world’s fourth largest defense importer in 2014 and third largest in 2013. Combined, Saudi Arabia and the UAE imported $8.6 billion in defense systems in 2014, which is more than the imports of all of Western Europe combined.
World’s Largest Defense Importers, 2014 & 2013
The U.S. was the largest beneficiary of the increases in the Middle Eastern market, with defense systems exports to the region growing from $6 billion in 2013 to $8.4 billion in 2014. Other leading defense exporters to the Middle East in 2014 were the United Kingdom ($1.9 billion), Russian Federation ($1.5 billion), France, ($1.3 billion), and Germany ($1 billion).
According to data on international arms transfers published by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on March 16, 2015, U.S. exports of major weapons increased by 23% between 2005-2009 and 2010-2014, and account for approximately a third of international arms exports. The Middle East was the recipient of 32% of U.S. weapons exports and the U.S. accounted for 47% of total arms supplies to the Middle East from 2010-2014.
According to SIPRI, Saudi Arabia increased the volume of its arms imports by 417% between 2005-2009 and 2010-2014. Imports of arms to the Gulf Cooperation Council countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE – accounted for 54% of imports to the Middle East from 2010-2014.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is once again in Switzerland. He is there with his British, Chinese, French, German, and Russian counterparts with the continuing diplomatic assistance from the low-profile but effective good offices of the Sultanate of Oman. Their mission: to continue negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
Whether the negotiators will succeed remains to be seen. To be sure, a mutually acceptable agreement with Iran by six among the world’s most powerful and influential nations, on one hand, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, on the other, is no small matter. In substance as well as in procedure and desired outcome, the goals – ensuring that Iran does not produce a nuclear bomb and, to that end, agreeing on as intrusive a nature and range of inspections as any in history – are laudable. To many the world over they are in numerous ways also timely, urgent, and necessary.
Rising Arab-Iranian Tensions
Of course, not all agree. Some prominent Arabs, such as Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki Al Faisal, view these matters differently. For example, he has repeatedly stressed that any and all talks regarding nuclear matters should be aimed instead toward producing a regional nuclear free zone. He has proposed such an internationally administered zone encompassing, “not just Saudi Arabia or Iran but the whole area, from Iran all the way across to the Atlantic, including the Arab countries and maybe Turkey as well.”
Despite such divergences of perception among regional and other leaders, the negotiators are proceeding along the lines they have been following for the past several years in trying to reach an agreement with Iran. In so doing, they are keenly aware of a rise in regional tensions. Indeed, simultaneous to the ongoing talks has been the destabilizing influence of Iran’s interference in the domestic affairs of Arab countries, e.g., not just members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a six-state grouping comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, but also Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen.
In this regard, they are especially cognizant of the GCC’s resentment that the issue of Iran’s ongoing occupation of three UAE islands and its continuing intrusions elsewhere in Arabia and the Gulf – destabilizing interventions as yet unreciprocated – was not allowed to be part of the talks. The negotiators acknowledge these leaders’ irritation at the reasons for the omission of such issues from the discussions: namely, that Tehran was opposed to the idea. In the negotiators’ eagerness to pursue an agreement of some kind – however partial and limited in its scope and potential impact – it is clear in retrospect that they were inadequately empathetic to the legitimate concerns of neighboring countries and too quick to accommodate Iran’s objections.
Even so, the negotiators argue in their defense that their efforts should not be defeated in advance – certainly not by anyone with a sincere interest in advancing the legitimate goals of regional and global peace, security, stability, and the possible accompanying prospects for prosperity.
Opponents Outside of the Arab World
Juxtaposed to the motivations and desires of an accord’s proponents are the controversial and ultimate agendas and intentions of those opposed to a potentially acceptable agreement: a group largely comprised of American neoconservatives, their Israeli allies, and other likeminded individuals. These groups have loudly proclaimed that they would have the P5+1 negotiators – representing the Five Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council, i.e., China, France, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States, plus Germany – avoid reaching an agreement that may contain provisions not to their liking, which they believe may be imminently near to being concluded.
Make no mistake, these groups seek a profoundly different outcome. They would prefer to see America confront Iran.
In an interview on February 8 with BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad alluded to indirect and de facto coordination between his government and the Barack Obama Administration in the fight against the Islamic State group (also referred to as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh). Confident that the United States-led international coalition will continue its air campaign against the group without widening its operations to include his forces, the president appeared triumphant and convinced of his own survival and that of his regime. Whether the Syrian President was truthful remains to be seen since his regime thrives on misinformation and propaganda. Yet the possibility that he may at least benefit from the U.S. Administration’s perceived blindness raises serious strategic, tactical, and moral questions about the nature and direction of future developments in Syria.
The Atrocities of the Syrian Regime and ISIS
It is undeniable that the Syrian President has used the existence of ISIS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front as justification for his regime’s prosecution of a brutal military crackdown on all opponents. He has used tanks, bombers, helicopter gunships, field artillery, barrel bombs, and chemical weapons in pursuit of a military solution to what was originally and essentially still is a political crisis of profoundly and widely contested rule, and lack of representation and civil liberties. In the aforementioned interview, he even denied that his Russian-supplied flying war machines use barrel bombs against entire neighborhoods in areas outside of his control – that, despite innumerable media and eyewitness reports and raw footage videos available for anyone wishing to document such atrocities.
The 2015 Ohio Valley Model Arab League was held February 19-21 at Miami University in Oxford, OH. Through participation in the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ Model Arab League program students learn about the politics and history of the Arab world, and the arts of diplomacy and public speech. Model Arab League helps prepare students to be knowledgeable, well-trained, and effective citizens as well as civic and public affairs leaders.
Some pictures from the conference are available below.
It is no ordinary event for 26 countries’ representatives to be meeting to discuss how best to confront the challenge of ISIS. What the so-called “Islamic State,” or ISIS, or ISIL represents differs from one person to the next. To people immediately adjacent to lands in Iraq and Syria that ISIS has not yet conquered, the militant movement is a mortal threat. Whether Shia, Sunni, Christian, Arab, Kurdish, or other in nature and orientation, polities that neighbor ISIS-controlled areas have seen their national sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity threatened. Indeed, ISIS today may arguably be the greatest challenge facing the modern day nation state system in the Middle East.
The attributes of national sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity are no ordinary phenomena. Together they have been and remain the most important criteria for admission into and membership in good standing within the United Nations.
Unfortunately, the United States in the course of its invasion and occupation of Iraq beginning in 2003 had already smashed to smithereens each of these criteria. Simultaneously, the United States also blasted into nonexistence what exists in the American Constitution and was previously enshrined in the Iraqi Constitution as well, namely: provisions for domestic safety, external defense, enhancement of people’s material wellbeing, and the effective administration of a civil system of justice.
In so doing, the United States contributed mightily to the formation and focus of ISIS. The poignancy of this reality must not be lost. It is but one among other inconvenient truths that plague America’s predicament in seeking to navigate the shoals of the storm its shortsighted actions created.
Two weeks ago, the Zaidi Shiite-Houthi march to control the Yemeni state triumphantly arrived at its destination in Sanaa, and forced the resignation of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the country’s two-month old government headed by Prime Minister Khaled Bahhah. The withdrawal of the President and Premier was the natural end of an aborted political process that was derailed by a gradual Houthi military advance that brought their militia, Ansar Allah, to the streets of the capital. With the Houthis welcoming both resignations and proposing to form a pliant provisional Presidential Council, the country seems to be heading towards more domestic instability and disunity that will generate regional uncertainties. More importantly, perhaps, the pro-Iranian Houthi triumph in Sanaa is nothing short of a coup d’etat that may, in the end, deliver yet another Arab capital to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
An Unpredictable Yemeni Domestic Scene
In justifying their military putsch, the Houthis accused President Hadi of subverting an all-party agreement at a National Dialogue Conference in 2014 – part of a November 2011 initiative proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council in answer to widespread pro-reform protests. Participants in the dialogue had agreed to write a new constitution, the draft of which still awaits ratification by popular referendum. The new charter creates a federated Yemeni state composed of six regions to replace the current 22 administrative divisions.
The pro-Iranian Houthi triumph in Sanaa is nothing short of a coup d’etat that may, in the end, deliver yet another Arab capital to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
A delegation from the State of Qatar joined the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations to ring the NASDAQ Stock Market Opening Bell on January 29, 2015.
Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, shares a robust economic, defense, cultural, and educational relationship with the United States. The Qatari delegation included Sheikh Mohammed Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Special Envoy to His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani; His Excellency Ali Sheriff Al Emadi, Minister of Finance for the State of Qatar; Sheikh Abdullah Bin Saoud Al Thani, Governor of the Qatar Central Bank; Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Thani, Chief Executive Officer of the Qatar Investment Authority; and His Excellency Mohammed Bin Jaham Al Kuwari, Ambassador of the State of Qatar to the United States.
Mr. Patrick Mancino, Executive Vice President and Director of Development, and Mr. Nabil Sharaf, Public Relations Specialist, represented the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations.