The Buzz

The 5 Deadliest Weapons That Saudi Arabia Has In Its Military

Like their allies in the U.S. military, Saudi Arabia’s special forces are highly proficient in what they do: assisting proxy forces with training, equipment, money, and the critical enablers that are so important for a successful mission.  The introduction of Saudi special forces within pro-Hadi units this summer was perhaps the biggest factor in allowing the Yemeni government to push Houthi rebels out of Aden.  Combined with the kind of battlefield equipment that allows a land force to protect their soldiers during offensive operations (MRAP’s and Emirati-manufactured Enigma fighting vehicles specifically), Saudi Arabia’s covert training program for Southern Resistance fighters enabled anti-Houthi forces to recapture a number of Aden’s districts—including the Aden international airport.

With the U.S.-led training and assistance program for moderate Syrian opposition fighters struggling to get off the ground, Saudi Arabia’s participation in the effort will be even more vital for the coalition trying to roll back territorial gains made by the Islamic State.  If Saudi special operations troops prove to be as professional and valuable as they have been around Aden over the past two months, the annual $500 million Syria training program could still have some hope of working as intended.

4.  Cash:

As the world’s primary crude oil exporter to international markets, Saudi Arabia is blessed with a whole lot of money.  And the Saudi leadership has not been shy about using it.

The Saudi defense budget is expected to grow to the fifth largest on the planet by 2020, powered by hefty foreign exchange reserves, tens of billions of dollars in monthly oil revenue, and a desire among the Saudi leadership to outspend its Iranian rivals across the Persian Gulf.  This projection holds despite the fact that crude oil prices have decreased by roughly 50 percent over the last year and the Saudi government pulling $62 billion out of its reserves this year alone.

Saudi Arabia is by far the biggest weapons buyer in the Middle East, and its share of the national budget devoted to defense is steadily increasing with each passing year.  Riyadh’s defense acquisitions in 2014 increased 17 percent from 2013 levels, but the trend goes further than that.  In 2002, Saudi Arabia’s defense spending was just under $20 billion; today it’s over $80 billion, a rise of 300 percent.  When a country spends this much, money is no longer a resource: it’s now a weapon against your competitor.

5. Diplomatic Heft:

Saudi Arabia’s most potent weapon is its ability to write checks and convince allies around the region to do its bidding.  Middle East scholars have called this approach “checkbook diplomacy,” and it happens to be an incredibly accurate description for how Riyadh tends to pursue its regional ambitions: through soft power and coercion rather than military force.

Whether it’s Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi locking up members of the Muslim Brotherhood (a pan-national Islamist movement that the al-Saud family reviles as a dangerous threat to its power), the Pakistanis owning favors if the time comes for Riyadh to acquire a nuclear weapons capability of its own, or a Syrian insurgent group basing its war strategy on the wants and desires of its Saudi donors, the Kingdom has a canny talent of pulling the strings of other actors behind the scenes in order to meet its national security or foreign policy interests.  

Sisi, the Pakistanis, the Bahraini monarchy, the Jordanians, and even the Americans to some extent owe the Saudi royal family down the line due to its monetary assistance, help in hosting training facilities for anti-ISIL fighters, or participation in kinetic attacks on ISIL targets.  And oftentimes, these types of arrangements are just as important to a nation’s security as a military bursting with F-15’s.

This first appeared in 2015 and is being reposted due to breaking events.