Global military spending has been gradually rising, notes the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). According to the Department for International Trade (DIT), Britain is second in the global rankings for international arms sales, behind the United States.
SIPRI estimated world military expenditure at US $1,822 billion in 2018. It was 2.6% higher in real terms than in 2017. A 2019 SIPRI report identified the United States, the United Kingdom (UK), Russia, France, Germany and China as the main arms exporters and manufacturers.
According to a 2015 Global Peace Index (GPI) report, 13% of global wealth or GDP is spent on issues that are related to wars and violent activities. The GPI report underlies that expenditure was equivalent to the annual wealth of the countries of Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, and the UK.
UK arms exports exceeded Russia and France for the second year in a row, according to official figures released by the DIT this month. The Middle East remains the largest destination for British arms. Whilst the UK is ranked second in global arms sales behind the US, the US has continued to respond to the increasing demand for military aircraft purchases. The data indicates that more than a third of weapons produced and sold in the world have come from the US. Britain exported £86bn worth of arms from 2010 to 2019, with 60% going to the Middle East. UK weapons sales could have been used in the war in Yemen, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) has reported. UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia that could be used in Yemen, the Gulf states of Kuwait, Qatar and Oman, have continued despite court orders.
Turkey’s arms trade
Turkey remains a “priority market” for the UK government’s arms export unit. It was revealed in a written parliamentary question that the UK has been providing military training to countries with serious breaches of human rights, including Turkey. Since May 2013, UK arms sales figures have risen to £1.3bn for arms exports to Turkey. “Turkey is a major customer for UK arms. The rapid growth of its domestic arms industry is aided by UK technology”, a CAAT report confirms.
Turkey is one of the original partners of the A400M Atlas military transport aircraft, and took delivery of seven such aircraft between 2014-2017, according to the SIPRI Arms Transfers Database. Turkey also uses laser targeting systems manufactured by British Aerospace and Marconi Electronic Systems to produce components for the F-16 fighter jet. Turkey launched an offensive against Afrin in northeast Syria and many human rights campaigners have been concerned about the weapons and arms technology that was used during this military campaign.
Turkey’s military expenditure and arms industry is growing rapidly. The Defence Industry Manufacturers Association (SaSaD) published a 2019 report on Turkey’s arms exports. It reported total turnover of the Turkish arms industry at over $9 billion, with exports totalling $1.9 billion. Turkey was the 14th biggest arms exporter of major conventional weapons in the world over the period 2015-19. This represented an increase of 86% in sales compared to the 2010-2014 period, as identified by SIPRI’s Arms Transfers Database. Turkey’s biggest customers were Turkmenistan (25% of Turkish exports), Oman (12%) and Pakistan (12%).
‘Turkey uses drones against its own citizens’
In recent years,Turkey has become a major player in the production and use of unarmed aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones), including military drones. Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan led several initiatives to buy military drones from the US, but these were rejected by Congress. This led Turkey to search for an alternative path. It began to develop its own TB2 drones by Selçuk Bayraktar (who is married to Erdoğan’s daughter, Sümeyye). Unmanned combat aerial vehicles (SIHA) also produced by the friends and family companies of president Erdoğan have been produced using the component parts produced by many western countries.
In this respect, Turkey prefers to make licensed or joint production agreements to develop its own arms production industry: thus weapons can be produced in Turkey that are aimed at remote surveillance. Bayraktar TB2 military drones officially began being used within and also outside its own borders as of late 2016. Bayraktar TB2 drones have been used in strikes against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets and Kurdish civilians in Turkey’s provinces. “Such domestic operations are what separates Turkey from the other countries that have used UAV’s to conduct aerial strikes. In short, Turkey is the only nation to routinely use drones within its own borders, against its own citizens”, says journalist Samuel Brownsword.
Turkey has also used its armed drones extensively in its war against Kurds and Kurdish regions in northern Syria and Iraq as well as during its intervention in the civil war in Libya. TAI’s Anka-2 and Akıncı are two unmanned aircraft developed by Bayraktar Company and the Akıncı can fly for up to 24 hours. It will be operational with the Turkish military by the end of 2020.
Escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is arguably the most lively issue in the Caucasus today. Turkey is also engaged in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict due to its security interests in the region. Turkey has long standing and close relations with Azerbaijan due to ethno-linguistic ties and mutual economic and energy interests. Armenian officials have reportedly accused Azerbaijan of using Turkish drones to conduct attacks against its military forces as well as civilian infrastructure across Nagorno-Karabakh. Defence officials in Armenia recently displayed parts of the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone with its Canadian-made optical and target acquisition systems, as well as its Rotax engine. After these disclosures, Canada suspended its sale of military drone technology to Turkey.