Both sides in the Gulf war have had to import billions of dollars worth of weapons, ordnance and military services in order to maintain and expand their battle forces. As the tables show, the number of military suppliers to both belligerents has expanded greatly in the period since the war began. Before the war, the.US and the USSR were the major suppliers to Iran and Iraq respectively, although Iraq had already made efforts to diversify its suppliers. The present roster displays the extent to which European, South American and Asian industrializing countries have taken advantage of the war to boost their arms exports and improve their positions for other sales and contracts as well.

Several other features stand out from the data provided by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). One is the extent to which both superpowers have supplied both belligerents, directly or indirectly, since the war began. Over the past year, the Soviet Union has resumed its prewar role as major supplier to Iraq, but both Washington and Moscow have otherwise preferred to maintain relatively low profiles and use allies and clients instead of direct sales. Both the US and the USSR appear interested in keeping post-war military supply and political alliance options open in the region.

Israel and South Korea have been major suppliers of spare parts for Iran’s US-supplied weaponry. (The foreign minister of Brazil, itself an important supplier to both sides, claims that South Africa has also provided Iran with spares for US weapons.) [1] For Iraq, France has been the major Western supplier, providing an estimated $5 billion worth of arms since the war began, with Iraq taking 40 percent of total French arms exports in this period. French officials claim, and Washington denies, that the US tacitly endorses the French-Iraqi military supply relationship. Italy has been another significant Western supplier to Iraq. Washington’s most important Arab allies — Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia — have transferred arms, financed military purchases, and provided critical maintenance and training personnel.

Since the war began, China has been a major arms source for both sides. Chinese jet fighters have been assembled in Egypt and Jordan for shipment to Iraq. [2] Chinese supplies of fighters, tanks and heavy artillery to Iran were being transferred via North Korea, but there are recent reports of a $1.3 billion direct supply deal between Peking and Tehran. [3] Iran also has a considerable capacity to produce its own ordnance and spare parts for less advanced weaponry. In the case of Iran, the private arms market has been particularly important, and has heightened the difficulty of pinpointing arms shipments to the combatants.

When this war ends or winds down, both belligerents will no doubt engage in massive rearmament projects, especially expensive, high-technology weapons systems. Both the war itself and this prospective rearmament cycle have increased military acquisitions in the region, especially among the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. All in all, the prospects for arms trade restraint in the years ahead in this region look bleak indeed.


Major Weapons Before War        Major Weapons During War           Other Support

US                                                 US                                                    US
USSR                                             USSR                                                USSR
France                                            China                                               Greece
Italy                                               France                                              Great Britain
Great Britain                                   Italy                                                 Israel
East Germany                                    Syria
Switzerland                                       South Yemen
Israel                                                North Korea
Syria                                                South Korea
North Korea                                      Taiwan
South Korea                                      Vietnam
Algeria                                              Algeria
Libya                                                Libya
Argentina                                          Argentina

Notes: US support during the war is not officially sanctioned; it comes from private dealers and individual companies, often via Israel. Russian support goes via Libya, North Korea, Syria and Warsaw Treaty Organization countries. France supplied the last three of 12 Kaman Class Fast Attack Craft. British support is small arms, ammunition or spares. South Korea has sent US-made anti-aircraft missiles for F-4 Phantom fighters. Brazil has sent armored vehicles via Libya. Argentina has sent small arms, ammunition or spares; training, military advisers or troops.

Source: SIPRI Yearbook 1984


Major Weapons Before War        Major Weapons During War           Other Support 

USSR                                                US                                                 USSR
France                                              USSR                                             Belgium
Brazil                                                China                                             France
France                                           West Germany
West Germany                                Italy
Italy                                              Portugal
Spain                                             Spain
Czechoslovakia                               Great Britain
East Germany                                Czechoslovakia
Hungary                                        East Germany
Poland                                           Poland
Yugoslavia                                     Egypt
Austria                                           Jordan
Switzerland                                    Kuwait
Egypt                                            Saudi Arabia
Jordan                                           UAE
North Korea                                   Pakistan
Brazil                                             North Korea
Chile                                              Philippines

Notes: US support has been 60 Hughes helicopters; Learjet 35A reconnaissance aircraft; SAMs from Euromissile; tank transporters. Austrian support has been GHN-45 155-mm howitzers via Jordan. Ethiopia, Belgium, Portugal and Britain have sent small arms, ammunition or spares. Spain has sent Roland-2s. Egypt and Jordan have sent small arms, ammunition or spares; training, military advisers or troops. The Gulf states and the Philippines have given financial support. Sudan has provided training, military advisers or troops. Chile is not listed by SIPRI. See Tim Frasca, “Iraq Buys Cluster Bombs from Chile,” MERIP Reports 122 (March-April 1984).

Source: SIPRI Yearbook 1984


[1] Financial Times, June 8, 1984.
[2] Aviation Week and Space Technology, April 11,1983.
[3] Washington Post, April 3, 1984.

How to cite this article:

Joe Stork "Arms Merchants in the Gulf War," Middle East Report 125/126 (July-September 1984).

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