Alleged incursion by a drone flying over highly sensitive locations and the recent attacks on oil installations in Saudi Arabia have raised fears about security in Kuwait. Any news of a threat to national security causes panic among the public, especially so since people are already on tenterhooks due to ongoing tensions in the region.

Security concerns on the country’s borders and its airspace have been voiced by many, including by the media and by members of parliament. One parliamentarian alleged that missiles and drones that hit targets in Saudi Arabia last week, flew over Kuwait’s airspace without the country’s defenses detecting or attempting to intercept them. He questioned the rationale behind spending billions of dollars on cutting-edge defense technology, if they are incapable of effectively monitoring and protecting the country’s borders and sovereignty.

Though he did not provide any proof to back his statement, lawmaker Shu’aib Al-Muwaizri asserted that around 16 missiles flew over Kuwait’s airspace during last week’s attack on Saudi oil installations. He criticized the government for its failure to monitor the borders and prevent the missiles from flying overhead, despite there being an agreement among Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states to intercept any threat to member countries.

The parliamentarian also questioned the benefit in spending billions of dinars over the years on defense and security, “when there have been multiple incidents of infringements of our borders by external forces in the last few years alone,” said the lawmaker.

He also demanded to know what preparations the government had taken in case of a similar attack to the one that occurred in Saudi happening in Kuwait, or if one of the missiles that allegedly flew overhead had crashed into one of the residential districts of the country. For his part, the Chairman of Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee MP Abdulkareem Al-Kandari urged the government to intensify efforts to ensure national security, internal stability and border integrity. He said recent news of an unidentified drone breaching Kuwait’s air space contradicts what the government had disclosed about security protocols in the last session of parliament. He called on all ministers to prioritize protection of national security and sovereignty, stressing the need to implement all the security protocols presented to the Assembly.

In response to growing security concerns voiced by lawmakers and in a bid to allay any panic and restore confidence among the public, Kuwait Army Chief of Staff released a statement in which he assured the people that the security apparatus in the country was in a state of combat readiness to meet any exigencies in light of recent incidents. “All military and security authorities are fully prepared to preserve the security of the country and the safety of its land, water and airspace from any possible dangers,” said the army chief. He urged the public “not to pay attention to any information or rumors circulated from any source except official sources represented by the directorate of moral guidance and public relations of the ministry. With heightened tensions in the region and security discussions making the round, now would probably be an appropriate time to take a look at some of the facts and figures behind Kuwait defense infrastructure.

Kuwait maintains one of the highest per capita spending on defense in the world, motivated by past experiences and the desire to ensure the sanctity of its borders and sovereignty, as well as to play a meaningful role in support of international peace and regional relations.

According to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Kuwait is the fourth highest spender on defense, when calculated as a percentage of its total Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The country spent 5.1 percent of its GDP on defense in 2018, with expenditure for defense increasing to US$7.2 billion from the $6.8 billion in 2017. Saudi Arabia, which spent 8.8 percent of its GDP on defense in 2018 topped the list, followed by Oman which spent 8.2 percent of its GDP and Algeria which spent 5.3 percent of GDP.

In dollar terms, the biggest spender without any challenge close by was the United States that spent a whopping $649 billion (3.2% of GDP) on defense, followed by China which allocated $250 billion (1.9 % of GDP) to defense and Saudi Arabia in third spot having spent $67.6 billion (8.8% of GDP) on arming itself. When calculated on the basis of per capita expenditure on defense, Kuwait with a spending of $1,738 per person came in fifth position globally, only trailing Singapore ($1,872), Israel ($1,887), the United States ($1,986), and top per capita spender, Saudi Arabia, which spend $2,013 per person in 2018.

Over the past 45 years, military expenditure in Kuwait has averaged $5.6 billion, going from an all-time low of $611million in1972 to a record high of $25 billion in 1991, in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion and subsequent revamping of the country’s defenses. Despite a sharp fall in oil prices in mid-2014, Kuwait has consistently increased its military and security expenditure over the 2015-2019 period, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.9 percent over this period.

Air defense systems accounted for the largest share of imports during this heavy defense procurement period. Incidentally, the US was the biggest supplier of defense equipment during this period, including through the sales of F-18 Hornet fighters, M1A2 main battle tank (MBT), ADVS Desert Chameleon armored personnel carriers (APC), PAC-3 Patriot anti-missiles, and 10 Mark V patrol boats.And, there are no signs that defense procurement in on the wane. Capital expenditure on defense is forecast to increase at an average of 20.7 percent during the 2020-2024 period, mainly on account of the need to procure new missile defense systems, military aircraft and naval vessels, as well as in view of growing regional instability.

Last week’s incident in Saudi Arabia should be an eye-opener to the authorities. Despite having the third highest outlay for defense in the world and spending billions on cutting-edge missile protection systems, a rag-tag militia with relatively unsophisticated drone technology evaded detection and took out nearly half the kingdom’s oil production capability. In this era when warfare has apparently become ‘democratized’, and even non-state actors are able to launch successful asymmetrical attacks using off-the-shelf equipment, perhaps it is time to take a deep second-look at our defenses.

On another note, notwithstanding the huge outlays on defense, Kuwait has very little to show in terms of growth or development of a domestic defense industry. A local defense industry is apparently an initiative that the authorities seem to have ignored in their ambitious drive to diversify the economy, by moving it away from its over reliance on hydrocarbon revenues, and transform the country into a cultural, financial and commercial hub in the region.

Developing a local defense industry, especially one focused on incorporating modern electronic defense technologies, has the potential to create employment for nationals, engage the private sector and help in the economic diversification of the country. Of course, this could mean less money for disbursement to local middle-men; but then, where would we be without our middle-men.

Read Today's News TODAY... on our Telegram Channel click here to join and receive all the latest updates