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Supply and demand: North African military expenditures raise stakes for global defense suppliers

A Royal Moroccan Air Force CH-47 Chinook military helicopter takes off during the second annual "African Lion" military exercise in the Tan-Tan region in southwestern Morocco on June 30, 2022. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP) (Photo by FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images)

As a column of Wagner mutineers bore down on Moscow in June 2023, imperiling President Vladimir Putin’s grip on power, Russia’s capital was only a few days removed from receiving a far more welcome guest: Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who arrived in Moscow on June 13 for a state visit.

It wasn’t without consequence. At a time when Putin has few friends left following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Algeria has remained committed to its strategic partnership with Russia, and the two leaders pledged to deepen that relationship during Tebboune’s visit. “Algeria is a key partner for us in the Arab world and in Africa,” Putin said then, adding that Russia wanted to strengthen already-strong military ties with the North African country, which imports around 75% of its arms from Russia

Yet, this strategic partnership’s future looks increasingly complex following Wagner’s failed revolt, which further called into question Russia’s ability to serve as a reliable partner and weapons supplier at a crucial moment. Algeria’s rivalry with Morocco has escalated recently, amplifying a long-running arms race, with Rabat loading up on Western weaponry as Algiers sizes up Moscow’s support. It’s a glimpse of the geopolitical complexity at play in North Africa — a region on the frontlines of a new era of competition in the global arms trade.

North Africa features three countries that rank among the world’s top 30 arms importers, but the region currently lacks any significant arms exporters, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). However, local governments seek to change that, headlined by Egypt’s ambitions to revive its domestic defense manufacturing capabilities. That comes alongside a unique situation in conflict-ridden Libya, which has become an incubator for foreign weaponry and private military companies. Combine all this and North Africa is a region where global superpowers and regional players alike are all set to compete for defense deals, partnerships and influence.