THE FLOW of foreign arms to the Arabian peninsula began in earnest 150 years ago. As European armies adopted modern breech-loading rifles, a stock of old-fashioned weapons was left surplus to requirements. Rivalries among Arab tribes created a ready-made market for ageing arms. A combination of the region’s chronic instability and oil riches has since continued to fuel weapons sales. Most of them still come from the West. Now the shifting sands of geopolitics have left an opening for others.
At the Dubai air show last November Viktor Kladov of Rostec, a state-run firm that handles exports from Russia’s defence companies, told The Economist that Russian weapons exports to the Middle East apparently hit an all-time high of $13.7bn in 2018. With a candour unusual in his industry, Mr Kladov put this down to Russia’s willingness to sell most things to most people. Europeans and Americans can indeed be queasy about sending some weaponry to places with mixed human-rights records. The war in Syria, Mr Kladov said, was a chance to “showcase” Russian arms. Chinese firms, similarly unconstrained, are also piling in. And Middle Eastern countries are keen to build their own defence industries. The battle for the world’s fastest-growing arms market may be about to heat up.
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