The Saudi war machine put to the test by its own ambitions

20 May 2020

This report aims to present the major features of Saudi Arabia’s defence and security apparatus. One of the main findings of this study is that, especially since Prince Mohammed bin Salman became head of the Ministry of Defence in 2015, the kingdom is no longer content to be the best customer of arms dealers in the world, as it has been for decades. Contrary to the oracles which defended the supplies of the most sophisticated armaments to Saudi Arabia by claiming that they were not intended to be used, these weapons are daily used for external interventions in a context where Saudi Arabia is seeking to assert itself as a major Middle Eastern military power.

The aim of this study is therefore to examine, on the basis of open sources, the evolution of Saudi Arabia’s military spending and its place in the international arms market, as well as its development of a domestic defence industry. Next, it aims to describe the structure of its defence and security forces (armed forces, national guard, intelligence agencies and internal security forces), identify recent changes in the chain of command and the supervisory authority of each of them, as well as the manpower and equipment at their disposal. The reforms and upheavals since 2015 suggest a growing hold on the entire military-security apparatus by Prince bin Salman. Finally, the study looks at the intervention of the Ryad-led coalition in Yemen, in particular in terms of equipment and personnel engaged, and at the admission of failure that can hardly be hidden by pro-Saudi forces.

Photo credit: Saudi Arabia Ministry of Defense

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