Skip to main content

Saudi Arabia rejoins world's top five military spenders, says report

Riyadh spends estimated $75bn on its military in 2022, an increase of 16 percent from previous year
The US is the biggest supplier of weapons to Saudi Arabia.
The US is the biggest supplier of weapons to Saudi Arabia (AFP/File photo)

Saudi Arabia is once again one of the world's top five military spenders after boosting purchases for the kingdom's armed forces by 16 percent in the last year, according to a new report on global military expenditure.

The report, published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) on Monday, stated that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia ranked 5th in the world in terms of military spending, which made up more than three percent of the global share of spending.

In 2022, Riyadh spent an estimated $75bn on its military, according to Sipri, up from the $55.6bn it spent in 2021. This was more than seven percent of the country's gross domestic product.

In comparison, the Middle East as a whole spent $184bn on military-related spending in 2022, an increase of 3.2 percent from the year prior.

Saudi Arabia was last ranked in Sipri's top five military spenders in 2020.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


Saudi Arabia's increased military expenditure came during a period in which the kingdom's increased revenues from oil sales have boosted its purchasing power.

Last year, Riyadh received $326bn in revenue from oil, the largest amount since Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince. It is also the second-largest windfall in Saudi history, according to Bloomberg.

The country has also been among the fastest-growing economies in the G20, with a growth rate of 8.7 percent in the past year.

US-Saudi ties

The US is the biggest supplier of weapons to Saudi Arabia, with $126bn in active government-to-government sales with Riyadh under the foreign military sales (FMS) system.

While lawmakers have made an effort to try and curb arms sales to the kingdom, citing human rights abuses, military sales have largely continued unabated.

Last month, a small cadre of lawmakers - Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican Mike Lee - came together to introduce legislation that would require US President Biden's administration to report on Saudi Arabia's human rights record and possibly cut off all US security assistance to the kingdom.

Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman 'satisfied' with oil cuts
Read More »

In addition to purchasing hardware and equipment, Saudi Arabia has also benefited from US military expertise.

The Washington Post reported last year that Saudi Arabia was hiring retired US military officers, including former generals and admirals, to work for them as military contractors or consultants.

US President Joe Biden entered office promising to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state for its role in the gruesome killing of The Washington Post and Middle East Eye journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

But more than two years into his administration, the US has pursued an approach that has both scolded Saudi Arabia and sought to mend fences.

Meanwhile, Riyadh has seemed to be pursuing a foreign policy independent of the US, most recently when it signed a China-brokered deal to reestablish relations with its foe Iran.

Current and former US officials who previously spoke with MEE were back-footed by the agreement, which some analysts are calling a watershed moment for the region and China’s role as a geopolitical actor.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.