In terms of money spent, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the world's 2nd and 3rd top buyers of weapons, respectively. The top buyer India's spending seems justified given India's size and rivalry with its neighbors.

Why do Saudi-Arabia and the UAE spend this seemingly large amount of money on arms given their relatively modest country sizes?

  • 5
    Are you asking why they want weapons or why buy vs build? – user4012 Oct 6 '17 at 10:38
  • 2
    @FrankCedeno What always puzzles me is how we have arrived at Iran being the devil incarnate, and Saudi Arabia a loyal and trusted ally. It surely cannot be based on any rationale concerning human rights. I guess Saudi is just a more reliable oil shipper. – WS2 Oct 17 '18 at 9:06
  • 1
    @WS2 Saudi had huge loads of oils and more importantly agreed to sell it in dollars. Iran try too much to be an independant country. – xrorox Oct 18 '18 at 12:14
  • 2
    @FrankCedeno Umm. In so many ways Saudi behaves like a model ally - reliable, consistent, not subject to violent revolutionary upheaval, and spends billions on buying defence equipment from America and Britain. And she pays for this by shipping oil by the 500,000 ton tanker load (one such vessel fully loaded, keeps Britain operational for 24 hours). She is also the one bulwark (apart from Israel) around which the West can maintain a semblance of a Middle-East policy. Only problem is that she is about the most rigidly reactionary, anti-democratic, human-rights abuser on earth. – WS2 Oct 18 '18 at 20:53
  • 1
    @WS2, I agree with you, my point is I hope people will know that the relationship between US and SAudi is not "They got the oil the US needs" It is complicated like walking through a mine field. It will take a talented diplomat to navigate the issues. There is the possibility of the Saudi to unite Islam like never before, but is that really realistic? I really don't know and I doubt anyone does who has western up bringing. Saudi and some of the Islamic world absolutely live in a different century. They are more similar to medieval Europe than 21st century western world – Frank Cedeno Oct 21 '18 at 14:41

Saudi Arabia has been engaged in a proxy/cold war with Iran for decades. This Wikipedia article is a reasonable summary of an extremely complex situation, but the short version is that the anti-monarchist revolution in 1979 threatened Saudi power, as does Iran's independent oil production.

The destruction of Iraq has made the situation worse, as there's now a huge number of armed groups in the region funded by one or more of the conflicting proxy parties. States engaged to some extent include at least Israel, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Yemen, Saudi, Russia and the US.


At least four factors seem worth mentioning here:

  1. Conflict with Iran, as explained by @pjc50.
  2. Close relationship with the United States, as explained by @user2501323
  3. Oil money. Not that many countries can afford to spend so lavishly.
  4. Lack of a domestic defense industry. By contrast Iran produces much of its own arms and is a significant exporter in its own right.

If you're interested in understanding the larger context of the first two points, the excellent two-part documentary from Frontline, Bitter Rivals: Saudia Arabia and Iran is available as streaming video or a full transcript, and both are free.


This is payment for US support, this is not motivation. Saudis buy US weapons(giving money to US military industry), US providing support and buying oil. Stability of these countries without heavy US support is a discussible question.

In modern world, it couldn't be said, that one independent country pay tribute to another country. So, in terms of interacting with US, it is usually military spendings for US satellites. And when Trump claims "more spendings on military for NATO countries! up to 2%!" he, in fact, claims "give more money to US military industry", and if a bit more simple, "give more money to US!".

Fresh example: last Trump actions on Saudis (after this situation with Saudis embassy and killing): Trump rejected sanctions to protect control on Saudis and prevent them to buying weapons and spending money in other countries. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/10/11/trumps-billion-arms-sales-saudi-arabia-still-fake/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ec25f0cc69a8)

Links are in progress..


The US gives them an arms deal they need to Fight their proxy wars all over the middle East, in return they are a valuable ally to the US and reliable seller of oil.

  • 3
    Welcome to politics, please add a source to support your answer. – JJJ Oct 17 '18 at 21:31

You must log in to answer this question.