A small Arab Gulf country arms up
By Brian Katulis In less than three years, the United Arab Emirates has achieved a remarkable turnaround in its image in the United States. After seeing a proposed 2006 deal that would have given operational control of several U.S. ports to a Dubai-based firm get killed in the face of strong public opposition, the Emirates ...
By Brian Katulis
By Brian Katulis
In less than three years, the United Arab Emirates has achieved a remarkable turnaround in its image in the United States. After seeing a proposed 2006 deal that would have given operational control of several U.S. ports to a Dubai-based firm get killed in the face of strong public opposition, the Emirates embarked on a full court press inside the Beltway to change its image. As a result, when Emirati investors bought a stake in the NASDAQ stock exchange and invested $7.5 billion in the troubled Citigroup in 2007, hardly anyone took notice.
In our discussions on this trip, a common talking point we’ve heard is that the UAE is now the single largest export market for U.S. goods in the Arab world. One lesser known fact is that good bit of this U.S. export growth to the Emirates comes from rapidly expanding military sales.
The Emirates is a small country about the size of Maine, and it has a total population of nearly 5 million people – about 15 to 20 percent are actually citizens (the rest are guest workers from places like Pakistan, India, and Egypt). The country’s small size hasn’t prevented it from embarking on a tremendous military buying spree that rivals much larger countries in the region.
Though the actual numbers are difficult pin down, according to this Congressional Research Service report, the Emirates purchased a total of $11.5 billion in defense sales and services from the United States from 2000-2007. A good chunk of this went to the purchase of the F-16s I discussed in yesterday’s post — the 80 F-16s along with the more than 60 Mirage 2000 fighters give the Emirates more advanced fighter planes than Iran.
Egypt, a country with a population of about 80 million, purchased slightly more than the UAE during the same time period, $11. 9 billion. The Emirates purchased more than Israel and Saudi Arabia, which both came in at a little above $9 billion.
The flow of arms to the country and the region as a whole continues. In the summer of 2007, President Bush announced a series of arms deals in the region totaling at least $20 billion. In late 2008, just before Bush left office, the Emirates announced that it would purchase a $3.3 billion Patriot missile defense system. Last month, the Emirates announced more defense purchases at the IDEX 2009 arms show in Abu Dhabi.
No doubt, the increase in military sales in large part is motivated by regional threat perceptions about Iran. But it is fair to ask in the early months of a new administration the question: how do these increased arms sales to the Emirates and other Middle Eastern countries, combined with what has essentially been a 10-fold increase in the U.S. military presence in the broader Middle East and South Asia since early 2001, add up to a comprehensive strategy for this part of the world? Do all of the pieces fit together?
My discussions on this trip leave me with the distinct impression that there’s a long road ahead in the effort to develop an integrated, coherent regional strategy. As the Obama administration concludes its multiple policy reviews, including an examination of Iran policy and an “Af-Pak” review that is concluding shortly, it has a tough task in making sure all of the different elements of a strategy fit together in this complicated part of the world.
Brian Katulis is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where his work focuses on U.S. national security. His past experience includes work at the National Security Council and the departments of State and Defense under the Bill Clinton administration. He also worked for Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Freedom House, and former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey. He is the co-author of The Prosperity Agenda, a book on U.S. national security. Twitter: @Katulis
More from Foreign Policy
Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?
The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.
It’s a New Great Game. Again.
Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing
The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.