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Mideast, North Africa leads in 'opaque' defense spending: NGO

Weapons seized by the Nigerian forces from Islamist extremist group Boko Haram weapons in Borno state are displayed for the press on June 5, 2013 at the Maiduguri Nigerian military headquarters
Quentin Leboucher (AFP/File)
Overall lack of accountability in arms purchases leads to weapons ending up in hands of armed militant groups

The Middle East and North Africa region is a leader in the field of 'opaque' defence spending without proper oversight, corruption watchdog Transparency International said in a report Thursday.

Katherine Dixon, head of Transparency International’s Defense and Security Program, said that "this is one of the most unstable and conflict riven regions in the world. Over a quarter of the world’s most secretive defense spending is in the Middle East. Corruption puts international security at risk, as money and weapons can be diverted to fuel conflict."

"The $120 billion (109 billion euros) spent on defense and security last year was matched by the near-universal absence of independent scrutiny, with no legislature receiving detailed or timely information on the defense budget," the report said, giving a total figure for the region excluding Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Transparency International said "secrecy across security and defense establishments remains the norm", with only Jordan and Tunisia publishing their defense budgets.

Transparency International

"Oversight is weak. There is no evidence in any countries in the region that parliamentary defense committees can exert meaningful influence on defense decision making," it said.

The report argues that rampant corruption has helped mobilize popular support for non-state militia groups, using Yemen as a prime example.

"There’s examples of planes and ships going missing that have been provided by the US," Dixon was quoted by The Intercept as saying. "It feels pretty difficult to lose a ship and a plane."

"Arms don’t disappear when militaries collapse," Dixon said. "When the Huthi rebellion arrived in the capital, Sanaa, the armed forces were unable to respond effectively. Some of the weaponry currently in the hands of the Huthis was acquired straight from those elements of the Yemeni army which had received security equipment."

The overall lack of accountability in arms purchases in the region and the unwillingness of sellers to adhere to international export controls to unstable countries leads to many weapons ending up in the hands of armed militant groups such as the Islamic State, Hezbollah, Syrian rebels and the Huthi rebels.

"If they haven’t got strong corruption controls, and they haven’t got strong oversight, then I think it’s hard to be sure what’s going to happen in the future to those weapons," Dixon said.

Transparency International

A report published by IHS Global Defense Trade in March also found that the Middle East is the biggest regional market for arms importation, with "$110 billion in opportunities in coming decade," according to the report's author Ben Moores. The biggest beneficiary of the strong Middle Eastern market continues to be the United States, with $8.4 billion in arms exports in 2014.

"This is definitely unprecedented,” stated Moores. "You’re seeing political fractures across the region, and at the same time you’ve got oil, which allows countries to arm themselves, protect themselves and impose their will as to how they think the region should develop."

Amid increased tensions in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has become the world's largest arms importer, spending $6.5 billion on arms, rising 54 percent as compared to last year.

David Cortright, director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, said that Saudi Arabia is building up its weapons supply amid increased tensions in the region.

The worldwide military arms trade also rose for a sixth straight year in 2014, with imports rising from $56 billion to $64.4 billion.

The United States remains the largest arms exporter, with $23.7 billion in sales. Russia came in at second at $10 billion. France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Israel, China, Spain and Canada also making the top ten arms exportation countries.

Israel dropped from the sixth-largest arms exporter in 2013 to the seventh slot in 2014.

(staff with AFP)

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