If you are in Doha, Katara is the place to be in. The National Day festivities have begun and the cultural village is awash with not just local, but foreign visitors, too. The 8-day event, from December 12 to 19, is meant to stimulate a feeling of nationalism and brotherhood. But there appears to be nervous energy beneath the celebration.
Performances by paratroopers from Joint Special Forces and military parades, a first-of-its kind event, reflects Qatar’s changing mindset. Historically considered to be unassuming as far as its armed forces is concerned, it is now trying to beef it up with hi-tech weaponry. It is the effect of the continuing Arab blockade, which has gone on for over six months now. But it’s only doing what the rest of its neighbours are doing – Stockpiling for any eventuality. Every country in the Gulf is arming itself to the teeth. It’s an unprecedented phenomenon.
The arms rat race
Qatar has made two deals, with France and UK. Both came after the blockade took effect. It has signed a deal to buy 24 Typhoon fighter jets worth $8bn from the United Kingdom, the biggest order for the formidable Typhoon fighters in more than a decade. Qatar is also purchasing 12 Dassault Rafale fighter jets from the French in a contract worth $1bn.
The others have been scampering, too.
Saudi Arabia, in late November, agreed to buy approximately $7 billion worth of precision guided munitions from U.S. defense contractors. It was a transaction that many lawmakers were skeptical about, though. They feared American weapons could further contribute to civilian casualties in the Saudi campaign in Yemen. In October, the Kingdom signed a memorandum of understanding on the purchase of S-400 air defense systems from Russia. In late May, just before the blockade began, the Saudis sealed a deal worth $350 billion over 10 years. It’s buying almost on a monthly basis. It imported 144 per cent more arms from the EU since 2012 than it did in the five years preceding that.
The United Arab Emirates is not too far behind.
In very early August, the UAE condemned North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile launch into Japan’s special economic zone. It described the rogue nation’s actions as posing a real threat to international security. Despite this harsh rhetoric against Pyongyang, a leaked U.S. State Department memo revealed that Abu Dhabi purchased $100 million worth of weapons from North Korea in June 2015 to support the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen. In May this year, the US approved a $2 billion arms sale to the United Arab Emirates.
Egypt spent the most on arms. The Arab republic, which spans North Africa and Asia, spent a grand total of £971.6m. Remarkably, it’s a 118 per cent increase from the 2007-2011 period.
According to data, the Middle-East kingdom splashed £790.4 million on EU arms in 2016, making it the world’s second-largest arms importer in the past five years.
Atmosphere of unease
While Qatar’s need for weapons may be a reaction to its GCC colleagues’ drive to weaponise, the fact remains that the Middle-East is heading for a paradigm shift, in which there can be no winners.
The Gulf has started looking at security in technological terms, wanting advanced surveillance, mechanized firepower, missiles, jets, drones and more. There is very little dialogue and mutual understanding. There is no meaning and hope.
An ancient lesson teaches that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. That remains true in a world of guns, bombs and fighter jets. An armed Middle-East is bound to escalate insecurity, anxiety and fear in the peoples of its region.
It’s important to look for options to violence and the arms race. Security and peace entail more than military power.