I would first like to note that this is not comparing the relative value of either indicator. What I mean is that instead of comparing the Human Development Index and military spending relative to other Middle Eastern countries, these values can be compared to any country for the year 2007. I found the data on spending from SIPRI and HDI values from several sources (for more on these look here and here). you can find both of these on really cool graphs on google’s public data explorer here and here. Secondly, I want to note that this map cannot conform to our previous definition of the Middle East due to a lack of complete data in several countries. The omitted countries are Iraq, Oman, and Lebanon.

This map is a little bit less intuitive as each index is measuring something different. The reason they matched up evenly was because excel used tenths for HDI (best value being 1.00) and hundredths for military spending (10% being the max)

This map blows away the notion HDI has anything to do with how much countries will spend on their military in the Middle East. It becomes clear that countries have different security strategies especially when you look at the GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council). Smaller countries like Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait all spend a relatively low amount on their military. While Qatar dedicates the lowest amount (% of GDP) in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia spends the most; both in terms of percent of GDP and as an overall amount. These GCC countries all have a relatively high HDI values and nothing about Saudi Arabia or the UAE distinguishes their scores. Saudi Arabia’s military spending is puzzling for many reasons but lets look at some other observations before exploring this further.

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East (only the Gaza Strip has scored lower on recent HDI scores) yet it dedicates more of its GDP than Egypt, Syria, or Iran on its military. Why is this? One possible explanation could be that in order to maintain a competent military organization one needs to spend a certain base amount. Yemen’s population is about the same size as Syria, but its GDP is ~45-60% the size (depending on whether you use Nominal or Purchasing Power Parity). So 4% of GDP means as little as half as much money spent for Yemen compared to Syria. To examine this idea further I used the SIPRI’s numbers for 2007. Yemen spent $1.2 billion on its military while Syria spent $2.1 billion. Does this mean that for a country w/ a population of ~22 million one can expect no less than ~$1 billion to maintain a credible military? well it get’s more complicated than that unfortunately.

The Middle East as a region spends an enormous amount of its GDP on military spending. The countries we list here average 4.6% of GDP on military spending, nearly double the world average of 2.4%.

It would be foolish to assume that every country in the Middle East was compelled by one reason to spend so much on the military. Iraq and Iran were at war for 8 years in the 80s, with over a million lives lost, Israel has been in over 5 interstate wars, Saudi Arabia owns 25% of the world’s oil. Instead I think it would be wise look at every country’s spending and ask this question: What strategy would do the most to preserve this state’s future? I’m not advocating for militarism just trying to explain the mindset that might motivate actors in the region to spend so much on their militaries.