Will Saudi Arabia achieve self-sufficiency in weapons production?

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Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s largest importers of weapons, is shifting to manufacturing armaments with the goal of localizing over 50 percent of its military spending by 2030. Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman declared that the Ministry of Defense or other security and military bodies should make deals with foreign bodies only if they are linked to local industry.

The military strength of Saudi Arabia continues to grow, as the Kingdom is ranked 26 out of 136 countries worldwide according to the annual Global Firepower (GFP) list for 2018. Saudi Arabia focuses on four main defense categories: aeronautics, land systems, defense electronics and weapons and missiles. That covers all aspects of homeland security from weapons to research and development in all modern aspects of technology.

Realism has been the dominant theoretical tradition, based on sovereignty and competitive self-interest. Realism focuses on looking at world politics in terms of its international system. It is a theory that focuses on the national self-interest, zero sum and power; it remains the maximum powerful clarification for nations, and explains military force as the ultimate weapon for states.

Furthermore, realism assumptions view states as only being concerned with maintaining their survival. Defensive realism encourages states to maintain moderate and reserved policies in order to achieve security, according to its basic principle “Security Maximization”.

Defensive realism has long been the adopted strategy in Saudi Arabia, but as the Kingdom focuses on manufacturing weapons instead of importing them, it will make the country more powerful, affect the balance of power and make Saudi Arabia one of the world’s producers of weapons by 2030.

The localization of military manufacturing will help the Kingdom to create more job opportunities and enhance the capacity of the nation’s economy. However, Saudi Arabia has begun developing less-complex industries such as those providing spare parts and basic ammunition, and it will continue expanding this initiative in order to include higher-value and more complex equipment.

An example of a Saudi military industry company that supports and develops localizing military spending in the Kingdom is Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), which was launched in May 2017 as a sustainable platform for providing military services and products.

Saudi Arabia is investing more in youth education in this regard, as education plays a crucial role in increasing awareness through science. There are newly developed majors and fields in Saudi universities that prepare students to be part of local military industries. Saudi activity in aerospace is concentrated at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals and Saudi Aramco.

The localization of military manufacturing will help to provide transparency, as Saudi citizens will be able to have information about military deals, the company’s performance and the industry in general. As a result, the younger generation will focus more on protecting and enhancing homeland security.

In addition, Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir said Saudi Arabia would seek to develop its own nuclear weapons capacity. Saudi Arabia is currently in the process of selecting a company for the construction of the first nuclear power plant in the country, as nuclear power provides a boost for the development of the local economy.

With the creation of a local defense industry, Saudi Arabia will be able to look beyond its traditional Western allies in this regard. The Kingdom has made it clear that it has other options and that every deal will be evaluated very carefully.

The prospect of such defense agreements is likely to alarm American policy makers, who worry about losing ground to China and Russia in the Middle East. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia and the United States have deeper roots and President Trump has assured Saudi leaders that he is keen to sign more defense deals.

Saudi Arabia aims to achieve a domestic arms industry, which could alter its position in the world economy. However, the Kingdom has both powerful land and air forces and will improve its naval forces in line with its newly developed Amaala and Red Sea projects as new global leading destinations in Saudi Arabia.

The author is a Saudi political analyst specialized in International Relations. She can be reached at: ekleel.sallam@hotmail.com Twitter: @EkleelBS


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