The Middle East region accelerated spending by 8.3 percent over the course of 2012 despite an overall slowdown in global military expenditure last year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Oman increased its expenditure by 51 percent in 2012, the largest hike posted by any country. Kuwait’s defence budget increased by 10 percent.
In Saudi Arabia, spending rose by 12 percent. The Stockholm agency put the kingdom’s military expenditure at $56.7bn last year, and estimated that spending had risen by 111 percent over the last decade. It is the world’s seventh biggest spender in military terms, with 3.6 percent of global expenditure.
SIPRI said that the total figure for the Middle East was uncertain due to a lack of data from the UAE, Qatar and Syria. Both the UAE and Qatar are expanding their armed forces considerably, investing in missile defence systems, combat aircraft and naval vessels.
In North Africa, where several countries are modernising their armed forces and attempting to combat the resurgence of Islamist groups in the Sahel, spending rose by 7.8 percent.
The Middle East and North Africa are the only two regions of the world in which the rate of military spending has accelerated between 2003-2012. SIPRI said that reasons for this could include “higher oil prices, tensions between the Gulf states and Iran, and possibly the effects of the Arab Spring”.
Overall global spending dropped by 0.5 percent last year to $1.75trn, the first fall since 1998. The decrease was largely driven by spending cuts in the US and Europe, as well as in Australia, Canada and Japan.
“We are seeing what may be the beginning of a shift in the balance of world military spending from the rich Western countries to emerging regions, as austerity policies and the drawdown in Afghanistan reduce spending in the former, while economic growth funds continuing increases elsewhere,’ said Sam Perlo-Freeman, director of SIPRI’s Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme.
US expenditure fell by 6 percent in real terms last year, and the superpower’s share of world military spending dropped below 40 percent for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Notable increases in military spending last year came in Russia (up 16 percent), Venezuela (up 43 percent) and Ukraine (up 24 percent).