Iran: Military Spending, Modernization, and the Shifting Military Balance in the Gulf
(Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies; issued Sept 04, 2018)
By Anthony H. Cordesman
The military balance between Iran, its Arab neighbors, and the United States has been a critical military issue in the Middle East since at least the rise of Nasser in the 1950s. Iran, Iraq, and the other Gulf states have been the scene of a major arms race since the mid-1950s. The fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979 and rise of Khomeini helped trigger a major war between Iran and Iraq that lasted from 1980 to 1988, and came to involve every Gulf state and the U.S.

The economic impact of the war helped trigger the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and a subsequent war to liberate Kuwait in 1990-1991. Its aftermath then led to the U.S. led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the rise of violent Islamist extremism, and ongoing struggle against ISIS.

The risks this arms race presents in terms of a future conflict have not diminished with time, and many elements of the regional arms race have accelerated sharply in recent years. Clashes with Iran in the Gulf, struggles for influence in Iraq and Syria, and the war in Yemen all act as warnings that new rounds of conflict are possible. The Iranian reactions to the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran, and the U.S. response also indicate new rounds of conflict are possible.

CSIS is issuing a new major new 185-page report that uses a wide range of tables and graphs to trace the history of the Gulf arms race in terms of military expenditures, arms transfers, and comparative rates of military modernization. In the process, it examines the economic burden on the Gulf states of these military expenditures and arms transfers, the recent shifts in the balance in terms of the major elements of conventional warfighting capability, and the impact of a steady shift towards options for asymmetric warfare.

The report is divided into twelve main sections.

It draws heavily on both official open source reporting and the work of major research centers like the International Institute for Security Studies (IISS) and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), as well as variety of other think tanks and commercial research centers. It notes the critical role of the United States and European forces like those of Britain and France in shaping the balance, as well as the emerging role of Russia, but focuses on the detail trends in Iran, Iraq, and the Southern Arab Gulf states - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

A detailed Table of Contents is provided at the start of the report. The introduction addresses its broad contents, and each major section then provides the Figures with tables, graphs, and maps that explain the evolution of military spending, arms transfer, modernization and their impact of the balance in more detail.

In each case, the text addresses the issues in going from comparisons of spending on conventional forces and major arms to the analysis of capabilities for asymmetric warfare.


Click here for the full report (185 PPT pages), on the CSIS website.

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