The Military Sector in Saudi Arabia

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As a result of the long-term conflicts and instabilities in the Middle Eastern and North African region (MENA), military became the primary interest of the MENA states. In this region, spending on defense and security has dramatically increased to be one of the highest regions in term of military spending [1]. In 2014, the MENA nations spent more than $196 billion on their military sectors [2]. The MENA governments allocate a large part of their budget for their military sectors. However, the economic statuses of the MENA countries are not the same. Some countries are enjoying high economies as a result of the large oil reserves that under their territories, while some others are not [1].

Saudi Arabia is one of these countries that spend very large amount of cash on military and security forces. The Saudi military expenditure has dramatically increased in the last few years due to its involvement in proxy wars with the state of Iran in the region. As a result, Saudi Arabia started to be interested in forming regional military alliances, which cost it billions of dollars. However, Saudi the large spending on the military is negatively affecting the economic and social developments of this country. In Saudi Arabia, the capital that is spent on the military and security services takes the largest share of the government spending, while education and healthcare sectors remain the secondary interests of the government spending [1].

The Military Spending and Developments:

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Saudi Arabia spending on defense and security has significantly increased in the last few decades. Saudi government started increasing its military spending after the Iraq invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Since then, the Saudi military spending has more than doubled. Between the years 2005 and 2014, the Saudi spending on military has increased by 112% [1]. In 2013, Saudi Arabia spent more than $62 billion on its defense and security. In the following year, the spending has increased by 17% to be more than $80 billion [3]. In the year 2014, Saudi Arabia ranked as the third largest military spender in the world just after the United States and China [4].

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According to IHS, in 2014, Saudi Arabia became the largest weapon and defense equipment  importer in the entire world. Between the years 2013 and 2014, the Saudi imports of weapon increased by 54%. In 2014, Saudi Arabia spent more than $6.4 billion on military equipment purchases [5]. Saudi Arabia imports most of its arms from the United States. Saudi Arabia is the largest exporter of the US weapons. In 2014, the United States sold $1.2 billion worth of arm equipment to Saudi Arabia [6]. In 2015, the U.S Congress approved a sale of  $1.29 billion worth of military equipment to Saudi Arabia for the aim of supporting its wars in Syria and Yemen [7].

According to the U.S Defense Security Cooperation Agency, “Providing these defense articles supports Saudi Arabian defense missions and promotes stability in the region… and enables Saudi Arabia to safeguard the world’s largest oil reserves.” The United States supports Saudi Arabia for the purpose of protecting the U.S interests in the region. Needless to say, the United States and its western allies import a large amount of the Middle Eastern oil. Therefore, keeping Saudi Arabia and other U.S regional allies strong will serve the interests of the United States in the region by stabilize the prices of oil [7].

The Role of Religious division in the MENA Conflicts:

Religious division played a significant role in the conflicts and instability in the MENA region. Today, the region is divided into two islamic religious sects that hold enmity toward each other. In the last few years, the MENA region became a field of a sectarian proxy wars between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. In fact, that was as a result of political conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Iran declared itself as the leader and protector of the Shiite world for the purpose of dominating the region. In return, Saudi Arabia declared itself as the head of Sunni Muslims to combat the Iranian hegemonic projects and to maintain its power position in the region. As a result, proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia started taking places in different parts of the region [8].

One of the hottest proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia is taking place in Syria. In Syria, Saudi Arabia is supporting a group of Syrian rebels for the purpose of overthrowing their Shiite regime, while Iran is supporting the Syrian Shiite regime to be in power. In this war, Saudi Arabia spends millions of dollars in form of military and financial supports to the Syrian rebels. Moreover, in the last few months, Saudi Arabia warned that is going to lead military intervention if the Al-Asad regime does not leave the power. In fact, hundreds of thousands people were killed and billions of dollars were burned as a result of the proxy war between these two countries [8].

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Other proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia also takes place in Yemen. However, in Yemen, the roles of Saudi Arabia and Iran are just the opposite, where Saudi Arabia is supporting the Yemeni Sunni regime and Iran is supporting Yemeni Shiite rebels called Al Houthi. In the end of the year 2015, Saudi Arabia and a number of other Sunni governments started declared a military operation called Decisive Storm military operation for the purpose of attacking the Houthi militias. Saudi Arabia and its allies started bombing the Al Houthi military campaigns and military bases push them back from taking over the Yemeni government [8].


Saudi Arabia spends billions of dollars on security and defense for the purpose of protecting its regional interests and stopping any external threat to its territories. The proxy wars that it is involving in are really weakening the Saudi government abilities of improving the country.  The huge amount of capital that it spends on the military can be used in the social and economic developments. In fact, the cash that is spent on the security and defense can turn Saudi Arabia to one of the most modernized countries. However, whether that huge spending is justified or not is not really clear. Saudi Arabia, like any other country, has the right to ensure its borders and maintain its power position in the region. The great threat that it is facing from its neighboring country, Iran, may justified its movements and actions in the region.


1] Cammett, Melani; Diwan, Ishac; Richards, Alan; Waterbury, John (2015-02-24). A Political Economy of the Middle East (Kindle Location 8759). Westview Press. Kindle Edition.








3 thoughts on “The Military Sector in Saudi Arabia

  1. I must admit that this is another country that spend a lot on its defense but as you said it is every right of a sovereign nation to ensure that its borders and citizens are safe. Although rich and has highly modernized army, Saudi Arabia heavily depend on overseas allies such as US, France and UK for its security and assistance in military training and development. In fact Saudi government is an important regional partner of the US, and there has been a continuous U.S. arms sales and related security cooperation programs. However, in as much as they have relations with the US, concerns have been voiced by U.S. about human rights and religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, and, in part, reflecting deeper concerns for its stability.


  2. This is a very interesting and well-researched post! It is interesting to me that Saudi Arabia’s military spending has increased so dramatically in the past decades. You cite the Iraq-kuwait invasion as the kick-starter of this investment. Do you think their increased emphasis on military has more to do with actually protecting their borders and their interest or with improving the global perception of their power and self-reliance? It is remarkable that only the US and China have bigger militaries!
    It is also interesting to note the fact that the US has been the supplier of the majority of their weapons and to acknowledge the military industrial complex that must arise out of this for the US, since they are profiting so much. .


  3. South Arabia spends a big amount of money in its military. South Arabia has been spending a lot of money because it has a proxy war with Iran. South Arabia has decrease money from education and health care system to provide more money to the military forces. Additionally, even though South Arabia is rich country because of its oil, it has not develop rapidly. It is sad that all the money that this country gain it is used for wars.


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