When will the House of Saud feel safe?: Saudi Arabia and Military Expenditure
By Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar, Norway
over, for the present, all the evils and mischiefs which monarchy has occasioned
in the world, nothing can more effectually prove its usefulness in a state of
civil government than making it hereditary. Would we make any office hereditary
that required wisdom and abilities to fill it? And where wisdom and abilities
are not necessary, such an office, whatever it may be, is superfluous or
succession is a burlesque upon monarchy. It puts it in the most ridiculous
light, by presenting it as an office which any child or idiot may fill. It
requires some talent to be a common mechanic; but, to be a king, requires only
the animal figure of man – a sort of breathing automaton”. 
the words of Thomas Paine written in 1791. His logic and reasoning is as sound and
pertinent now as it was then. But if Thomas Paine was alive and expressed
similar sentiments in Saudi Arabia
today, he would face imprisonment and torture. The very idea of republicanism
which the founding fathers of United States so cherished is seen as subversive
in Saudi Arabia, and is actively discouraged by the government.
Arabia is a
special country. It is the place of two of the Muslims’ holiest sites. It is a
major oil producer. It is the only country in the world that is named after its
founder: Ibn Saud. It is one of a few countries in the world that is run as a
family business. It also has the world’s highest military expenditure per head.
In the period 1990 to 2004, Saudi
Arabia has spent more on its military than
Iran, Pakistan, or even India with a
population of over 1 billion people. Yet, they (Saudis and friends) still feel
Arabia needs more military
On May 18,
the general in charge of U.S.
arms sales told Reuters that
United States was talking to
Iran’s neighbours, including
Kuwait, and The United Arab Emirates
(UAE), about ways to bolster their defences.
interesting to note that although United
States has large military bases in the Persian Gulf, none of these countries ever feel secure.
The Persian Gulf countries have one of the
highest military expenditures in the world.
to 2004, Saudi
Arabia, with a population of 21.4 million has
spent a whopping $ 268.6 billion dollars on Arms. It is over $12 million dollars
for every man, woman, and child in Saudi Arabia. One would have thought that with this
kind of expenditure the Saudis would have felt safe by now. But apparently they
don’t, or at least this is the view of U.S. and U.K., two major arm suppliers to
Arabia is not alone in this. Take the tiny
country of United Arab
Emirates. This country with a population of 2.6
million souls has spent $38.6 billion dollars for defence in 1990-2004 period.
Kuwait with the population of 1.1
million people, at the same period, has spent $ 73.1 billion dollars on arms.
When Iraqis crossed the border on
August 2, 1990, the Kuwaiti generals used their mobile phones to gather all the
top ranking military officers in a convoy and drove to Saudi Arabia.
The only soldiers who actually put-up some resistance were the military students
who had not been warned about the situation. The military cadets, however, did
put-up heroic resistance at their military academy. What happened to all that
money that had been spent on shiny military hardware until 1990 is anyone’s
guess. What is known is that, no-one was there to use
three countries (Saudi
Arabia, UAE, and Kuwait) combined, have spent over
$380 billion dollars in 14 years. And yet they still feel insecure. Compare this
with the Iranian military expenditure of $49.5 billion dollars for the same
period. Even India with a population of over 1
billion people has spent only $156 billion dollar on armament for the same
period. This in spite of the frictions that exist between India and its two neighbours: China and Pakistan.
already own more than 1015 Tanks including 315 high quality M1A2s, over 5000+
APCs/AFVs, 780 artillery pieces, over 2000 anti-tank missile launchers, over 340
high quality combat aircrafts including F15S/C/Ds and Tornados, with 48 Typhoons
(Eurofighter) to be delivered in 2008. On top of this they own over 228
helicopters, 160 training and liaison aircrafts and 51 transport aircrafts.
Saudi navy operates over 27 major combat vessels including missile frigates and
missile corvettes. 
these weapons are offensive. On May 22, DebkaFile reported that
U.S. is considering arming
Arabia with its largest bunker busting
intention is to arm US allies with a deterrent against Iran by sharing
with them the means for striking the Islamic Republic’s underground nuclear
Massive Ordnance Penetrator – MOP – known as BIG-BLU - weighs in at 13,600 kilos
and can destroy 25% of its targets in bunkers buried beneath 60 meters of
reinforced concrete, a depth greater than any other bomb of its type”.
Americans seriously think that Saudi Arabia will ever use these
bombs? The answer is no. Possibly these will end-up in storage with other Saudi
already have problems absorbing the huge military hardware that they purchased
in the 1980s and 1990s. Yet the purchasing goes on without any interruptions. An
early glimpse into the absorption problems was provided in 1984 by Said K.
Aburish (author of several authoritative books on the Middle East). In his excellent book, “The House of Saud”
he pointed out the problems that were facing the Saudis in 1990s. He
wake of the Gulf War, the hardware being purchased for the Saudi armed forces
will continue to outstrip their ability to use it. Saudi Arabia has embarked on
an armaments shopping spree which includes contracts to buy American Patriot
Missiles; F15s; laser bombs; a Hughes Aircraft aerial-defence system; Canadian
Halifax frigates, French Helec torpedo boats and British aircraft; and
helicopters and boats from British Aerospace, Westland Helicopters and Vospers
problems apparently continued to persist into 2002, For Anthony H. Cordesman and
Arleigh A. Burke of Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
reported the same problems as Aburish did in 1994. In their report on Saudi
security problems (2002), they stated the following:
should never be another set of massive arms package deals with the
US or Europe of the kind that took place during the Gulf War or
a purchase like Al Yamama. Barring a future major war, purchases should be made
and justified on a case-by-case basis, off budget and oil barter deals should be
illegal, and all offset deals subject to annual public reporting with an
independent accountant and auditor. Saudi Arabia must also take every
possible step to eliminate the waste of funds on:
equipment types and one-of-a-kind modifications.
factor” weapons; “developmental” equipment and
made from Europe for political purposes where
there is no credible prospect that the seller country can project major land and
weapons and systems.
and ASW systems.
surface warfare ships.
equipment for divided or “dual” forces.
of equipment that increase the maintenance, sustainability, and training
problem, or layer new types over old.
of equipment which strain the financial and manpower resources of
Arabia, and overload military units that are
already experiencing absorption and conversion problems in using the equipment
they possess or have on order.” 
apparently no amount of analyses and reports by individuals and organisations
make any impression on the Saudi government, for shopping spree continues
December 2005, The Guardian reported the signing of a multi-billion dollar sale
contract for the above mentioned Typhoons or Eurofighters. The interesting thing about the sale was
the reference to global terrorism.
MoD said: "The understanding document is intended to establish a greater
partnership in modernising the Saudi Arabian Armed Forces and developing close
service-to-service contacts especially through joint training and exercises.
"The partnership also recognises the key objectives shared by the two
governments with regard to national security and actions to combat global
It is very
interesting to find out how Saudi Arabia is going to use these
fighters in its war against global terrorism. But even if this sale does not
help the war on terror, at least it provided jobs for the 9000
UK based BAE employees and pushed
BAE’s share price up by 6%.
is it that compels Saudis to spend so much money and resources on arms? Which
wars are they preparing for and who are they going to defend themselves
is that the only threat to Saudi Arabia comes from within. The
recent threats by Alqaeda would not have been so dangerous if large segments of
the population were not so sympathetic to it. Saudi volunteers and finance is seen
behind attacks on US from US to Iraq to North
Africa. But the threat does not come only from the Jihadists. There
have been other sources of threat within the general population as well.
been several coup attempts in Saudi Arabia, and not all of them
from the Muslim extremists. There have been actions against the House of Saud by
various Saudi groups in 1969, 1972, and 1979. For example since the Air Force
rebellion of 1969, pilots are recruited primarily from the “dependable” families
and the extended royal house (over 8000 princes). Saudi princes occupy all top
military and political positions. Until late 1980s Pakistan was
providing a protection force of 11000 to 15000 troops to the Saudi government.
 After the relocation of US troops from
Saudi Arabia to Qatar and other places, the Saudis are looking to Pakistan again
for troops. According to Financial Times 
Pakistan is to send fresh troops to
the kingdom for security duties and training of Saudi military troops. There are
also plans for purchasing of Pakistani-assembled tanks by the Saudis.
interesting question here is why the Saudi government needs foreign troops on
its soils? Whom are the Pakistani troops are going to protect and from
now, many international human right organisations have been reporting of abuses
Arabia, without anything happening. In 2000 Amnesty International reported
the following: 
systematically violates international human rights standards even after
agreeing to be bound by them. For example, in September 1997
Arabia acceded to the Convention against
Torture. Yet, torture is widespread in Saudi Arabia's
criminal justice system.
Arabia, trials are held in secrecy. Detained
prisoners are often not told which offences they are alleged to have
committed, and their relatives, colleagues or managers are often left in the
dark about the charges, the trial or its outcome.
trials do not comply with international fair trial standards, and judicial
proceedings generally–which include financial and other administrative cases
which affect businesses–do not take place in a free and fair atmosphere. This
affects not only Saudi Arabian nationals, but also foreign businesses which
are active in Saudi
Arabia. In fact, Saudi Arabia
does not meet some of the standards of governance identified by international
institutions because of its failure to establish an independent judicial
are routinely denied access to lawyers. The Saudi criminal justice system does
not allow consultation with a lawyer as a matter of a prisoner's right at any
stage. This denies the prisoner's right to a fair trial.
employees can be, and often are, subjected to a wide variety of abuses,
including: prolonged solitary confinement, torture, flogging, amputation and
the death penalty. These abuses are of direct concern to businesses operating
Arabia because their employees at all levels
can be affected.
workers, recruited from other countries by businesses operating in
Arabia, are particularly vulnerable, with
their embassies unable to provide adequate support.
not allow free association for employees, both for foreign and local
businesses, although it has signed some core conventions of the International
Labour Organization. In such an environment, companies have an important
the same charges are levelled against Saudi Arabia and every year new arm
sales are made. Once again In 2005 Human Rights Watch repeated the same charges
against the government of Saudi Arabia and pleaded with Saudis
to do something about these violations.
rights violations are pervasive in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy.
Despite international and domestic pressure to implement reforms, improvements
have been halting and inadequate. King Abdullah’s succession to the throne after
King Fahd’s death in August inspired some hope among Saudi citizens for future
reform. King Abdullah quickly pardoned three prominent reformers who had earlier
been sentenced to long prison terms for voicing criticism of the government, and
announced a new labor law promising increased rights for women and migrant
workers, but overall human rights conditions in the kingdom remain
does not protect many basic rights. The government does not allow political
parties, and places strict limits on freedom of expression. Arbitrary detention,
mistreatment and torture of detainees, restrictions on freedom of movement, and
lack of official accountability remain serious concerns. The kingdom carried out
some seventy-three executions as of late September 2005, more than double the
thirty-two executions in the whole of 2004. Saudi women continue to face serious
obstacles to their participation in the economy, politics, media, and society.
Many foreign workers face exploitative working conditions; migrant women working
as domestics often are subjected to round-the-clock confinement by their
employers, making them vulnerable to sexual abuse and other mistreatment. The
government continued to harass independent Saudi Arabian human rights defenders
and stifle their efforts to establish independent rights monitoring
don’t we see any campaign against Saudi Arabia? Why don’t we hear
presidents and prime ministers condemning these atrocities? Why don’t we see
articles urging a regime change in Saudi Arabia? How come it is OK to
have thousands of people killed to remove a dictator in Iraq, yet it is not OK to even publicly call for
change of the system of government in Saudi Arabia? The answer is provided by Mr.
of Saud is willing to provide the world with cheap oil and political support in
their problems with the Arabs and Muslims in return for elimination of all
criticism. It goes further and uses the awarding of huge defence contracts for
the same purpose. In reality, the twin policy of using oil and awarding defence
contracts is no more than blackmail; they protect the Western economies from
high oil prices and buy arms in return for silence”.
How is it
possible to have an absolute monarchy in 2006? Especially in the age of internet
and satellite TVs. The answer is terror of course. Only absolute terror can
maintain an absolute monarchy. And we in the West, while shouting about human
rights in Burma,
Sudan, and other places, keep
silent about Saudi
history shows that no amount of oppression is going to stop the inevitable from
happening. It happened in Iran, it is happening in Nepal, and if Saudis are not careful, it can
happen in Saudi
at the statistics. Nearly 40% of population (2005) is below 14 years of Age. The
median age of Saudi population is 21 years. Imagine a country with such a large
teenage population, strict religious and social codes and no democracy. These
people will demand participation in the political process. If the government
suppresses them (as it is doing now); they become easy recruits for extremists.
should be aware of is the fact that people see the cause of their plight in the
support that the West provides the regime. If they overthrow the government, in
all likelihood, the new government will be extremely anti-western. To avoid this
it is advisable to begin seriously pressuring the Saudi government to
author: Dr. Abbas
Bakhtiar lives in Norway. He is a consultant and a
contributing writer for many online journals. He's a former associate professor
of Nordland University,
Abbas Bakhtiar, all rights reserved.
 Paine Thomas, “Rights of Man”, Great
States Federal Research Division of the Library of
Congress, “Saudi Arabia”,
 Aburish Said K., “ The Rise, Corruption and
Coming Fall of THE HOUSE OF SAUD”,
Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 38 Soho
Square, London W1v
5DF, UK, 1994. Page
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