This year, Arab governments in the Middle East and North Africa are expected to spend a staggering $50bn on their military forces. While a portion will pay wages of soldiers and officers, much of that money will be used to purchase complex, high tech weapons systems. This arms build up, encouraged by the West, has made the Middle East, in the words of one leading defence expert, "the most militarised region in the world."
There are now almost 2.5m Arab men and women serving in the military units of 16 Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
In the past decade Saudi Arabia has invested over $100bn to create a modern air force, elaborately equipped security forces, and an army with the latest computer-driven weapons systems and communications equipment.
But other Middle East powers have poured significant amounts of national treasure into weapons systems. According to the CIA and other sources, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have spent upwards of $325bn on arms over the past decade. A breakdown of this figure shows that the Saudis spent approximately $10bn, followed by $80bn by Iran (still rebuilding armed forces shattered by the Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War), $80bn by Israel, and $55bn by Turkey.
In addition to domestic military production, these countries rely heavily on purchasing sophisticated systems from European and American defence contractors.
While much of this is done through direct purchases from large multinational arms merchants, the US and Europe also provide generous official military aid packages; According to the IRC (the Interhemispheric Resource Centre, a Washington-based think-tank) the US government alone, through its military aid programmes, has supplied over $50bn.
Participation in official military aid programmes is often necessary in order to obtain export licences to purchase the latest military technology. Although the granting of such export licences is generally a mere formality, the licence procedure gives "donors" detailed information about supply conditions and the military mindset of recipients. It gives official government suppliers leverage to control the military of recipient countries.
While the US accounts for over half of all military aid being poured into the region, governments in Europe and Canada are also major suppliers.
Another potentially major player in this market is Russia, which has both economic and political interests in the region. Until the early 1990s, the...