The defense business as a new strategic weapon

Spain exported arms worth 4,347 million euros last year, more than double that just five years ago

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), one of the main centers of study of the scope and distribution of military expenditure, has recently published its latest global report analyzing the evolution of the purchase and sale of weapons, whose data it is extracted, as the first conclusion, the upward trend of the global arms market in the period 2013-2017, with an advance of 10% compared to the previous five years 2008-2012. According to the Swedish Institute, defense spending has reached 1,739 billion dollars in 2017 on a global scale, representing a minimum of 2.2% of world GDP, a percentage that could be much higher given the significant volume of expenditure that escapes to the statistical control and the plans of manufacture for “own consumption” on the part of the great powers in this section like the USA,

While there were always economic interests supported by military intervention, now the arms industry is presented as another industrial sector, which has to create and maintain its own demand and often acts as a catalyst to delimit the economic spaces of influence.

A clear example can be seen in the Middle East, where the recent suspension of the denuclearization agreement of Iran unilaterally by the United States, the unexpected escalation of tension between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the Yemen conflict, the role of Russia in the end of the war in Syria or the consolidation of military regimes in countries like Egypt are just a recent example of the endless list of conflicts that have turned the area into a large-scale weapons market.

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The countries of the Middle East have doubled their imports in the last ten years. Thus, although the news about the sale of arms by Spain to Saudi Arabia has jumped to the press a few days ago, the Arab country and many of its surroundings are, for a long time, potential customers of growing relevance, not only for our country.

Saudi Arabia is the second largest importer of large arms in the world, just behind India, with an increase in purchases of 225% in the last five years compared to the previous one. Equally spectacular was the increase in arms imports by Egypt in that period (215%), which places it as the third largest importer between 2013 and 2017, ahead of the United Arab Emirates. As can be seen, the area accumulates the main focus of demand worldwide, taking into account that countries also from the Arab world such as Iraq, Algeria, Turkey, Oman, Bahrain or Qatar also occupy prominent positions as importers and that Israel is also a military power with significant participation in international trade.

This framework of tension in the area is reflected in geopolitics, starting with the alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia, which in turn tries to lead the area as the visible head of the Sunni confession countries, as opposed to the axis of Shiite confession. which aims to lead Iran, a country that to date reflected a growing economic opening to Europe and Russia. The confessional struggle seems an alibi to divide a market where the United States wants to maintain the dominant position.

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The statistics in regard to Spain, even taking into account that its arms exports are directed mainly to European countries, are not alien to this trend. Already in 2015, the year in which the signature of the sale agreement of the 400 pumps that have now sown controversy, exports to Saudi Arabia already accounted for 14% of the total with annual growth rates above 80%.

In global terms, Spain exported arms worth 4,347 million euros last year, more than double that just five years ago, which places our country in seventh place in the world ranking of exporters, Saudi Arabia is the third client with greater weight

Regarding the reputation of the receiving states of the armament, it is difficult to set limits, given that many of the current or potential clients could be put into a different perspective and still a high percentage of countries in the world are imperfect dictatorships or democracies. In any case, we must not forget that it is a commercial game where the gap left by one competitor is occupied by another and the pragmatic vision of employment and the trade balance, not only in terms of arms sales but also to other economic sectors involved, it has a complex frame of discussion when it is opposed to moral factors without an overall vision.

Thus, perhaps it is not advisable to disseminate a simplistic assessment limited to the sale of weapons with a lot of media noise. If we focus on a possible balanced context, it might be advisable to take decisions at European level and to draw up a common strategy on defense issues, without forgetting, on the one hand, the competitive factor of the arms industry, but designing, at the same time, a position of greater prominence in the main sources of tension close to the European Union, starting with the Middle East and Africa, whose instability and proliferation of conflicts do not favor European interests, as they are areas of high strategic value for the continent, now in orbit of the United States and China, weapons through.