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Research Report

THE GULF RISING: Defense Industrialization in Saudi Arabia and the UAE

Bilal Y. Saab
Copyright Date: May. 1, 2014
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 57
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-1)
    Fred Kempe

    Shrinking budgets and downsized militaries. Those are some of the characteristics of the challenging defense environment in which the United States and its transatlantic friends and allies have to live for the foreseeable future. The long-term viability of many national defense industries in the transatlantic community and around the world is currently in doubt due to increasing political, financial, and fiscal pressures as well as dramatic changes in the world of defense. Even the most advanced US industrial allies are having difficulty pursuing their defense and security goals, and, as a result, they have been forced to make tough choices...

  2. (pp. 7-8)

    Domestic military industrialization is an incredibly demanding enterprise that is typically reserved for an elite group of highly advanced nations around the world. But because of their sizeable financial resources, close relations with Washington, and privileged access to the top transatlantic defense companies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are in a unique position to explore opportunities and make important strides in the military-industrial domain. Furthermore, today, the global defense market is less hierarchical and exclusive because of globalization and the information technology (IT) revolution in military affairs (RMA). This allows Saudi Arabia and the UAE to overcome...

  3. (pp. 9-12)

    For Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the building of modern national military industries that could compete in the international defense market promotes a set of domestic and foreign policy interests—some tangible, some symbolic—including national security; political independence; economic diversification; prestige; military credibility; and, finally, diplomatic leverage.

    Saudi Arabia and the UAE seek to acquire and manufacture modern weapons to address a range of perceived national security threats. Both states live in a dangerous regional environment and see security threats emanating primarily from two sources: externally from Iran, and internally from al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists and organized political Islamists who can...

  4. (pp. 13-27)

    Although there is no linear path to or universal formula for success in domestic defense industrialization, some pillars, or critical attributes, must be made available to get off on the right foot and sustain the process. These include, but are not limited to, political stability; wise national leadership; strong institutional capacity; human development (education, scientific and technical manpower, research and development); a civilian industrial base; an information base; investment in science and technology; and a viable defense production policy. Financial capital, without which the creation of a domestic defense industry is virtually impossible, is deliberately excluded from this list because...

  5. (pp. 28-43)

    Only a decade ago, it would have been difficult and almost pretentious to speak of indigenous defense industries in Saudi Arabia or the UAE. The two countries’ attempts at developing their national defense capabilities would typically be limited to the purchasing of the most modern arms from primarily Western sources, many of which they would have to rely on expatriates to utilize and wouldn’t be able to maintain themselves. However, at present, both countries’ military personnel have drastically enhanced their military training and can operate some of the most sophisticated weapons systems, while also successfully absorbing some technology transfers and...

  6. (pp. 44-47)

    Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s defense-industrial accomplishments notwithstanding, embarking on a successful path to domestic military industrialization could, depending on the desired objectives, require nothing short of a total state effort and a societal transformation. Political stability, national leadership, and relative abundance of financial capital in Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been crucial to getting military industrialization off the ground, but to develop, rationalize, and sustain the process for the long term both countries stand a better chance of succeeding if they implement the following set of recommendations:

    Clarity of Purpose and Strategy: For the process of Saudi and...

  7. (pp. 48-51)

    The Obama administration’s 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance and US Central Command (CENTCOM)’s 2013 Posture Statement call, among other things, for shifting the focus of US military planning to the Asia-Pacific. Successful implementation of US global reposturing strategy requires, in part, that the United States revise its defense strategy, shape its military presence, and recalibrate its level of political engagement in the Middle East, and specifically, in the Gulf. Doing so necessitates, among other things, the support of willing, politically stable, and capable regional partners that can effectively share the burden of Gulf security. Given their wealth, modern armed forces, increasing...

  8. (pp. 52-52)

    Military industrialization in Saudi Arabia and the UAE is a natural consequence of both countries’ ambitions to affirm their rising regional status as well as their efforts over the years to modernize their societies and diversify their economies.

    Despite Saudi and Emirati achievements in the defense sector over the years, many in Washington remain unimpressed or skeptical. Some express serious doubts over either country’s ability to reduce its technological dependence on the United States and heavy reliance on foreign expertise and manpower. Some also do not believe that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are capable of making the necessary political...