When will the House of Saud feel safe?
Arabia and Military Expenditure
“Passing 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 insignificant.
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”. [[i]]
are 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 that Saudi Arabia needs more
May 18, the general in charge of U.S. arms sales told Reuters
that United States was talking to Iran’s neighbours, including
Saudi Arabia, 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.
1990 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 these countries.
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
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 them.
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. [[iii]]
of these weapons are offensive. On May 22, DebkaFile reported
that U.S. is considering arming Israel and Saudi Arabia with its
largest bunker busting bombs.
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 installations.
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”.[[iv]]
the 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 offensive weapons.
Saudis 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 wrote:
“In the 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:
Unique equipment types and one-of-a-kind modifications.
“Glitter factor” weapons; “developmental” equipment and
Arms buys made from Europe for political purposes where there is
no credible prospect that the seller country can project major
land and air forces.
Non-interoperable weapons and systems.
Submarines and ASW systems.
Major surface warfare ships.
Major equipment for divided or “dual” forces.
New types of equipment that increase the maintenance,
sustainability, and training problem, or layer new types over
of equipment which strain the financial and manpower resources
of Saudi Arabia, and overload military units that are already
experiencing absorption and conversion problems in using the
equipment they possess or have on order.” [[vi]]
apparently no amount of analyses and reports by individuals and
organisations make any impression on the Saudi government, for
shopping spree continues unabated.
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.
The 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 terrorism." [[vii]]
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%.
what 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 against?
The Threat Within
truth 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. [[viii]]
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 [[ix]]
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 what?
now, many international human right organisations have been
reporting of abuses in Saudi Arabia, without anything
happening. In 2000 Amnesty International reported the
- Saudi Arabia
systematically violates international human rights standards
even after agreeing to be bound by them. For example, in
September 1997 Saudi Arabia acceded to the Convention
against Torture. Yet, torture is widespread in Saudi
Arabia's criminal justice system.
- In Saudi 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.
- Criminal 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 system.
- Prisoners 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.
- Detained 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 in Saudi Arabia
because their employees at all levels can be affected.
- Migrant workers,
recruited from other countries by businesses operating in
Saudi Arabia, are particularly vulnerable, with their
embassies unable to provide adequate support.
- Saudi Arabia does
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
year 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
“Human 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 poor.
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 groups”. [[xi]]
why 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. Aburish.
“The House 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
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
However, 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 Arabia.
look 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
we 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
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, Norway.
Copyright Abbas Bakhtiar, all rights reserved.
Paine Thomas, “Rights of Man”,
United States Federal Research
Division of the Library of Congress, “Saudi
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 76
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