The UAE has the lowest defence expenditure in the six-nation GCC although it has embarked on a drive to bolster its military capability for self-protection.

Defence spending accounted for 4.7 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 1990 and contracted to around 3.2 per cent in 1999, according to figures published in Public Affairs Bulletin of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince's office.

"In this field, the UAE is ahead of the other GCC countries in terms of low military expenditure with the exception of Qatar, which has provided no data," it said, quoting the United Nations figures.

It showed Saudi Arabia was the biggest defence spender in the GCC, with around 13.2 per cent of its GDP. It was followed by Oman with 10.1 per cent, Kuwait 8.3 per cent and Bahrain with around five per cent.

The UAE also ranked second in terms of spending on education, which accounted for 20.3 per cent of the total expenditure in 1999.

Saudi Arabia topped the list with allocations for education forming nearly 28 per cent. They stood at 16.4 per cent in Oman, 14 per cent in Kuwait and 12 per cent in Bahrain. Figures on Qatar were again not available.

The report cited other estimates that per capita defence expenditure in the UAE stood at $2,162 in 1985. It dived to $1,203 in 1999 and around $1,370 in 2000. It said a military recruitment drive boosted the UAE's armed forces from around 43,000 in 1985 to over 65,000 at the end of 2000.

Between 1990 and 1999, the UAE's GDP leapt around 166 per cent, one of the highest growth rates in the world.

Saudi Arabia recorded a growth of 172 per cent but this was mainly due to its high crude oil production, the largest in the world, the report said.

The report noted that the UAE was not included in the UN's list of 146 countries which are suffering from human poverty. Saudi Arabia, Oman and Iran were listed.