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Preparing for Peace?
Syrian Defense Expenditures and
Its Drive for Regional Hegemony

Shawn Pine
Policy Paper No. 98, in the book
Peace with Syria: No Margin for Error, 2000


Both supporters and opponents of the peace process agree that for Israel to take the requisite risks for peace it needs to understand the intentions of its neighbors. A critical component towards understanding their neighbors' intentions can be found in how much these countries are spending on defense. Supporters of the peace process claim that it is ameliorating the prospects for future conflict between Israel and its neighbors. If this is true, then we should expect a simultaneous reduction in arms expenditures by these countries as they divert resources from their military to attend to their acute social and economic problems.

Unfortunately, the peace process, rather than providing a peace dividend, has augured in an unprecedented era of weapons proliferation in the region. Most notable, has been the proliferation of weapons from the West which has been precipitated by competition among these western countries for lucrative sales contracts from Israel's Arab neighbors. This proliferation seems to cast doubt on the contention that the Gulf War and the subsequent Oslo peace process have ushered in a new era of peace and prosperity in the Middle East.

More important, it appears that Israeli strategic planners are making a fatal error in their strategic threat assessments of their two biggest contiguous neighbors, Syria and Egypt. Indeed, actual military spending by these two countries far exceeds that reported in standard sources such as The Military Balance; the Jaffee Center's Middle East Military Balance; and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. For example, these sources report that Syria spends approximately $1.7 billion in military expenditures. However, a cursory review of the size of Syria's military reflects that these figures are grossly underestimated and that actual expenditures are far greater than those reported. This paper analyzes Syrian military expenditures and examines these expenditures in the context of its declared willingness to make peace with Israel.

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