Iran Military Expenditures and Arms Imports

In a recent publication, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute or SIPRI has released a fact sheet that looks at military spending by four of the key nations in the Middle East.  In the first part of this posting, I focussed military spending and arms imports by Saudi Arabia and in this posting, I will focus on Iran and its military spending and imports, a nation that is regarded by both Israel and Saudi Arabia as the greatest threat to stability in the region.

In case you missed my first posting on the subject, let's look at data which will help us set the stage for this posting. Here is a graphic that shows the trend in international transfers of major weapons going back to 1979:

According to SIPRI, United States arms exports grew by 29 percent between 2009 – 2013 and 2014 – 2018 with its share of total global arms exports rising from 30 to 36 percent over the same time period.  

Now, let's focus on Iran and its arms imports.  As you can see on this graphic, when measured in terms of constant 2017 United States dollars, Iran's military spending has remained relatively consistent since the mid-2000s, unlike Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates:

Spending on Iran's military peaked in 2006 and fell by 30 percent between 2006 and 2014 and feel most steeply between 2012 – 2013 thanks to economic sanctions that the European Union imposed on Iran.  When these sanctions were lifted in 2015, Iran's military spending grew by 25 percent over the two year period between 2015 and 2017.  In 2018, Iran's military spending once again fell by 9.5 percent to $13.2 billion as the nation's economy went into a recession.  The 2018 spending of just over $13 billion (or 2.7 percent of GDP – 25th place in the world)) by Iran pales into insignificance compared to Saudi Arabia's military expenditures of $67.6 billion (or 8.8 percent of GDP – 1st place in the world).

As shown on this graphic, Iran's imports of arms have declined significantly since the early 2000s, especially when compared to Saudi Arabia:

The level of arms imports by Iran decreased significantly over the two and a half decades since 1994 and remain at levels that are very, very small compared to its regional peers.  Between 2009 and 2018, the total value of Iran's arms imports was just 3.5 percent of Saudi Arabia's arms imports over the same period.  This is largely due to Iran's economic issues and the imposition of arms import restrictions by the United Nations in 2010 which will remain in place until the end of 2020. 

Here is a graphic showing the nations that supply arms to Iran over five year periods from 1994:

As you can see, Russia and China have both been major suppliers of arms to Iran over the past two and a half decades.  In the most recent period from 2014 to 2018, Russia has supplied 96 percent of Iran's arms imports and China has supplied a rather meagre 4 percent.

Iran is in the fortunate position to be able to arm itself.  It has the capability to develop its own ballistic and cruise missiles, submarines, naval vessels and drones which have allowed it to offset the impact of American-led sanctions.

The information provided by SIPRI leads us to one conclusion; the United States arming of Saudi Arabia (and Israel) has led to a significant geopolitical and military imbalance in the region.  With Washington selling tens of billions of dollars worth of high-tech arms to Saudi Arabia and its  annual military assistance and its Excess Defense Articles program which have benefitted Israel to the tune of $125 billion, it is no wonder that Iran feels a need to protect itself from potential hostilities launched by its heavily armed neighbours who are essentially vassal states of Washington.

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