Saudi Arabia Defence and Security Report Q2 2012

Business Monitor International
March 13, 2012
83 Pages - SKU: BMI3809447
Countries covered: Saudi Arabia

The legacy of the Arab Spring continued to weigh heavily on the Saudi Arabian government in early 2012, as tensions remained high in the country’s eastern Shi’a areas especially.

Meanwhile, the regional crisis surrounding Iran’s nuclear programme had both external and internal implications for Saudi Arabia: externally, war between Iran and the US and Israel could badly destabilise a region already in a state of flux after the political upheavals of 2011; and internally, there was the potential for Iran to foment rebellion in Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a-dominated east.

As well as implementing gradual political reforms in response to 2011’s sporadic protests, Riyadh appears determined to try and spend its way out of trouble.

The fiscal stimulus begun in 2011 looks set to continue in 2012, as the government ploughs money into education and infrastructure in particular.

BMI sees only a minimal risk to Riyadh’s ability to afford these populist spending policies, thanks to high oil prices and, should they fall, the country’s large foreign exchange reserves.

Similarly, the analysis of BMI is that these measures, backed up by the threat of the security state, will keep Saudi Arabia politically stable in the short term; however, the long-term outlook is much less certain.

The government continues to invest heavily in the military and in the country’s security services.

Externally, besides Iran, Saudi Arabia has witnessed considerable, and in some cases ongoing, unrest in neighbouring Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq and Yemen.

This regional instability led the Armed Forces Chief of Staff, General Hussein al-Qubail, to announce in a speech delivered in November 2011 that the country’s armed forces, though already well equipped by regional standards, were about to ‘rebuild and modernise’ in order to attain ‘the highest degree of combat readiness’.

In what could prove to be just the first phase of this modernisation plan, a huge US arms package was announced in December 2011 under the terms of which Saudi Arabia is to acquire 84 Boeing F-15SA Eagle fighter aircraft for US$29.4bn, and also to have its existing F-15 fleet re-engined.

The procurement had previously been flagged up as part of a US$60bn package first outlined in 2010 but not enacted until now.

Other capabilities expected to be added in the coming months are new Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, light helicopter gunships and JDAM smart munitions.

In early 2012 BAE Systems was also reported to be in discussions with Saudi Arabia about improving its agreement to supply the country with 72 Typhoon fighter aircraft.

The Saudi Arabians had originally stipulated that they would assemble the final 48 aircraft locally, but it now seems as if BAE will supply all 72 planes off the shelf.

Late 2011 also saw additional investment in Lockheed Martin’s Patriot missile defence system, and in light armoured vehicles (LAVs) built by General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada.

However, in January 2012 the government’s focus was firmly on the east of the country, where clashes between Shi’a demonstrators and the security forces in the Qatif region resulted in several deaths, which only inspired still larger protests.

The January unrest followed similar protests that erupted sporadically throughout 2011; they, too, were met with a stern response from the security services.

In BMI’s assessment, the government’s security apparatus is capable of keeping a lid on these protests in the near term; however, the long-term future of the regime is very much threatened by the sectarian and political disaffection that exists within the country.



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