Arms Procurement and Corruption in the Gulf Monarchies


The Burke Chair at CSIS is publishing a report by an affiliate of the organization. Dr. Zoltan Barany serves as a Senior Associate with CSIS, whose biography is summarized below.

By its very nature, defense-security spending is the thorniest part of most governments’ budgets. Social scientists have long established a direct correlation between military spending and arms procurement – as a share of GDP or share of total government expenditure – with corruption. In democracies, this corruption is limited though seldom eliminated by the role of legislatures and media exposure vis-à-vis the armed forces in the preparation, enactment into law, and disbursement of the national security budget. Elected parliamentary representatives publicly debate and vote on military outlays and then monitor their implementation. 

Even the budgets of democracies tend to conceal portions of disbursements for the security sector – individual items may be accessible only to parliamentary defense committee members – or offer only a few general numbers that pose an insurmountable test to the would-be auditor. States in transition from one regime type to another are especially vulnerable to bending the rules and procedures of transparency – the weapons procurement practices of post-apartheid South Africa provide perhaps the most egregious illustration of this point.

The Gulf monarchies – and, more broadly, the governments of the Arab world, Iran, and those of most developing states – need not observe such rules or operate under the restrictions that most democracies have in place. Aside from the partial exception of Kuwait, there are no authentic and/or effective popular legislatures in the Arabian Peninsula, and there are essentially no oversight mechanisms that could constrain defense spending or regulate arms acquisition standards. The Gulf governments’ decision-making processes in this regard, as in many others, remain opaque. In general, the perfunctory and/or hand-picked assemblies of several Gulf monarchies may offer input into social, cultural, or even economic affairs, but they have neither the information nor the invitation to contribute their views on military-security matters. Ordinarily, as Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal once noted, defense-related projects are “highly secretive and subject to no ministry of finance oversight or controls.”

This report entitled, Arms Procurement and Corruption in the Gulf Monarchies, is available for download at

Biography of the Author:

Zoltan Barany is the Frank C. Erwin, Jr. Centennial Professor of Government at the University of Texas and a (non-resident) Senior Associate of the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. His recent essays on Arab/Gulf military affairs were published by CSIS, the Carnegie Middle East Center, the Middle East Institute, and appeared in the Journal of North African Studies, the Middle East Journal, the Journal of Arabian Studies, and Middle East Policy. Barany’s books include How Armies Respond to Revolutions and Why (Princeton University Press, 2016), The Soldier and the Changing State: Building Democratic Armies in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas (Princeton University Press, 2012), and, as co-editor, Is Democracy Exportable? (Cambridge University Press, 2009) – all of which have been translated into Arabic.