As world leaders gather at Vienna Friday to discuss Syria’s future, a report on how massive arms sales by big powers lead to corruption, extremism, conflicts and chaos in the region assumes significance.

The study based on two years of research by Transparency International (TI), a non-governmental organization that monitors political corruption, says western nations like the US, Great Britain, Germany and Russia have helped increase defense corruption among Arab states by selling them vast quantities of weapon.

This, in turn, has worsened the security situation in the region by further arming violent extremist groups.

Conflicts will deepen and spread to alarming levels if countries selling advanced weapons fail to monitor where their products end up.

“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,” warns Katherine Dixon, head of Transparency International’s Defence and Security Program.

Secrecy across security and defence establishments remains the norm in all the Arab states the research focused on.

This secrecy perpetuates a system where arms deals primarily benefit the countries selling the weapons. Such countries have an interest in maintaining obscurity over the deals.

Saudi Arabia, for instance, has often used defense purchases to strengthen alliances. It has used British and American weaponry to help Bahrain quash unarmed protesters in 2011, and is now using its sophisticated weaponry against impoverished Yemeni civilians.

Despite this, the British government invited them to its London arms fair in September.

No wonder, Saudi Arabia is slated to become the world’s fifth largest military customer by 2020.

The tiny peninsular state of Qatar bought more than 100 tanks, suggesting political concerns outweighed strategic concerns in its military purchases.

Next door, Kuwait has over-purchased Patriot missile batteries and struggles to train the personnel required to operate them.

It is said Arab states use networks based on family and business ties in the procurement of defence contracts.

In Yemen and Oman, for instance, senior positions in the intelligence services are filled on the basis of political patronage and family ties.

According to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Initiative, the three biggest arms dealers to the Middle East and North Africa from 2004 to 2014 were the United States ($86.4 billion), Russia ($70.9 billion) and Germany ($21.5 billion).

The TI report has classified Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Oman and Bahrain as critical risks because “there is virtually no accountability or transparency of defence and security establishments.”

The region’s overall lack of accountability in arms purchases — and sellers’ unwillingness to abide by international export controls to unstable countries — means many weapons are ending up in the hands of militant groups such as the Islamic State, Syrian rebel groups, Hezbollah and Houthi rebels in Yemen, fueling conflict in the region.

If Western governments are truly concerned about growing extremism, they should examine corruption in arms trade to countries in the Middle East and also the final destination of their arms supplies.

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