Defence spending by Middle East countries is some $44 billion a year less than previously thought, according to analysis by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
Government expenditure in the region is often opaque and that is particularly true when it comes to defence and security, where the line between the two has often been particularly blurry. As a result, some domestic security spending, such as on policing or anti-narcotics, has ended up being included in defence budget assessments.
The IISS said it had conducted an audit of defence spending in the Middle East and found some large anomalies in the figures previously reported for some countries.
In a blog post published on November 27, the think-tank said it had reviewed governments’ defence spending in light of greater transparency by some countries in recent years.
The Saudi government, for example, has since 2016 separated out its military spending from its security and regional administration expenditure – the latter includes non-military security organisations under the Interior Ministry, including the police force.
In the case of Israel, the IISS said research had shown that annual military aid from the U.S. of $3.3 billion was actually being counted twice.
In other cases, some additional defence-related spending has been added to the figures for Bahrain, Kuwait and Morocco, such as funding for the National Guards.
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As a result of all these adjustments, the amount of defence spending by six Middle East countries has been revised down by a combined $46.3 billion.
The biggest cut is for Saudi Arabia, where the new estimate of $48.5 billion is some $27.2 billion less than previously thought, a reduction of 36%, due to the removal of security and regional administration spending.
Previously, Saudi Arabia was thought to have the third biggest defence budget in the world, behind only the U.S. and China. However, the latest estimate places it in the same league as mid-sized powers such as Germany (spending of $46 billion in 2019) and Japan ($47 billion) and behind the likes of Russia and India.
In percentage terms, Iraq’s figure has fallen by even more. Its defence budget is now estimated to be $10.3 billion, 51% less than the previous figure of $20.9 billion, after spending by the Interior Ministry on police, highway patrols and the like and by the National Security Council was removed.
The estimate of Iran’s defence spending has been reduced by 20% or $3.6 billion to $14.1 billion, after spending by the Interior Ministry’s law-enforcement arm Naja was removed.
Defence spending by Israel is $3.3 billion less after the removal of the double-counting of the U.S. assistance, leaving it at $16.6 billion – which could push it outside the top 15 defence spending countries in the world. Oman’s defence budget is $1.5 billion less at $7.5 billion, a 17% drop, after spending for the Royal Oman Police and other items was deducted.
Bahrain’s defence outlay is now thought to be $1.4 billion, some $100 million less than previously estimated, after the National Security Agency’s budget was removed.
Two other countries have been given higher figures for their defence spending. Kuwait’s is now $1.5 billion more, at $7.8 billion, due to the inclusion of National Guard expenditure. Morocco’s is $1.2 billion higher, at $6 billion, after equipment costs for the Royal Armed Forces were added.
Overall, the changes to these eight countries represent a cut of $43.6 billion in defence spending this year, equivalent to a 28% reduction on the previous estimates.
The figure for the region as a whole remains shrouded in doubt though, given that some countries with extensive spending power such as the UAE and Qatar do not release any information on their defence budgets.