Follow the Money

The Congressional Research Service – a public organization that supports the U.S. federal legislature – reported Friday that American weapons sales abroad tripled between 2010 and 2011. And, unsurprisingly, the U.S. continues to dominate the global market in military armaments. The American defense industrial complex accounted for 78 percent of worldwide weapons sales, for a 2011 total of $66 billion. This was a new U.S. record, and shattered the previous high ($31 billion in 2009).

From a geopolitical perspective, it is revealing to see where most of the growth in arms sales occurred. Here there is one basic answer: the Arabian Gulf (or Persian Gulf). Three U.S. allies stand out for acquisition of expensive weapons systems in 2011: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. Gulf states spent billions of dollars on advanced fighter jets, helicopters, missile defense systems, and other weapons. We already knew that tensions in the region are high. Tensions between Iran and most of its neighbors have escalated over the past year, but this data on weapons sales provides additional evidence of the arms race occurring in the region. And the data should give us additional cause for concern if Iran develops deployable nuclear weapons, and a more deadly arms race ensues in the region.

And, let’s not forget that about two-thirds of the world’s most accessible petroleum is located in the Arabian Gulf region. From the perspective of common sense, it is not a good trend that so many weapons are flowing into the region. Perhaps realism will win the day, leading to regional peace through a balance of power. Even so, the continued reliance of energy dependent countries on such a volatile set of states is foolish. Even with recent growth in petroleum production in places like North America, Africa, and Brazil, the Arabian Gulf remains the lynchpin in world oil markets, and that is unfortunate.

*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.

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