Military spending has increased in several countries of the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran. China uses the opportunity to flood their markets with cheap drones, as proxy-wars rage in the region.

Military expenditure increased up to 4.9 percent globally compared to the previous year - the largest growth in the last decade.

That can be read from the Jane’s Defence Budget published by the London-based global information provider IHS Markit.

Jane’s Defence Budget is an annual sharedreport on defense expenditure of every country, with a focus of bigger changes.

Top 20 defence budgets - 2017 and 2018 (USD billion)
Top 20 defence budgets - 2017 and 2018 (USD billion) (Jane’s Defence Budget)

Military expenditures in the Middle East

According to the IHS Markit report, higher oil prices in 2018 resulted in higher military budgets for oil-rich Gulf states - topping up to 180 billion.

Saudi Arabia became part of the top five expenditures globally, surpassing France.

The Saudi kingdom spent $52.1 billion in 2017, this number increased to $56.0 in 2018. This is an increase of 7.45 percent and the costs for arms is the highest for Riyadh. Around 10 percent of the total budget and more than spent for education and health care.

The United Arab Emirates stayed at the 14th place. But it's spendings grew from $19.3 billions to $21.4 billions, an increase of 10.8 percent in one year.

More interestingly, the Gulf kingdom is set to increase its costs for arms by 41 percent for the 2019 budget - compared to 2018.

And Iran, who was 17th in the top military expenditures in 2017 but became number 15th in 2018. With an increase of $16.2 to $17.4 billion, which is a change of 7.4 percent.

Israel’s military costs decreased and fall slightly from $16.4 to $16.0 billion, which is still very high.

These four countries mark the biggest states spendings on military measures or resources in the Middle East, who made it into the global top 20.

Proxy-Wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran

The reason of growing arms spending is not limited to more profit through rising oil prices and their gains.

Proxy wars shape the landscape in the Middle East; in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition, of whom the UAE is also part of, and Iran are in a ‘Cold War’ of proxies in several countries for years.

Especially Yemen, where this proxy-war is not more obvious than in any other war-zone.

And since the Saudi-led coalition and Iran do not necessarily let their own soldiers fight on the ground, they either use air planes or drones.

Source: Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies
Source: Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies)

Chinese Drones in the Middle East

Drones can be cheap weapons and they can be practical to use. Drones have the advantage to launch military operations without using and losing even one single man on the battle ground.

The US is the leading seller of drones in the world. But many states in the Middle East started to either build their own drones, like Turkey and Iran, or to find alternative suppliers to the US, for example China.

Chinese drones are even sold at a lower price than an average US-American drone. More importantly, China does not demand politically when it sells light weaponry, which is characterized as China’s “no questions asked” policy.

Therefore, drones fabricated in China are more and more demanded by governments from the Middle East.

And high supply floods the market, with results of more militarization and higher casualties in crisis regions.

As can be seen in Yemen.

Houthi rebels use Iran-made drones to destroy supporting radars of Patriot anti-missile defence systems used by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Such attacks missiles fired by Houthis to damage air defence systems in general, but do not put an end to the almost four year lasting conflict.

The Saudi-led coalition backs the Yemeni government with drones and air crafts. However, according to the Yemen Data Project, almost a third of drone attacks by the coalition target non-military zones, such as marketplaces, schools, hospitals and weddings- with dozens of civilian deaths as result.