May 7, 2014
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been quietly but steadily developing their indigenous defense capabilities over the past decade, according to a new report by the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center. In The Gulf Rising: Defense Industrialization in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, senior fellow for Middle East Security Bilal Y. Saab argues that self-sufficiency is not a realistic goal for Saudi Arabia and the UAE. But in some limited security and defense areas both countries have made steps forward. Furthermore, both countries’ military personnel have drastically enhanced their military training and competency and can now operate some of the most sophisticated weapons systems. They have also steadily increased their defense spending as part of their gross domestic product (GDP) and successfully absorbed some technology transfers.

pdfRead the Report (PDF)

Yet these accomplishments notwithstanding, Saab maintains that embarking on a successful path to domestic military industrialization could require nothing short of a total state effort and a societal transformation. To develop, rationalize, and sustain the process for the long term, Saab recommends that both countries: 

Saab analyzes the implications of Saudi and Emirati defense industrialization and argues that “efforts by Saudi Arabia and the UAE over the past decade to upgrade their national defense capabilities by purchasing arms and pursuing domestic military industrialization contribute to US strategic plans and interests in the Middle East and are generally consistent with the broader US commitment to expanding its global partnerships and strengthening its friends and allies’ defense capabilities.” However, Saab cautions that “should current political uncertainties in US-Gulf relations persist and, more dramatically, a strategic rift between Washington and Riyadh develop in the future due to major policy differences, intensified defense industrialization in the Gulf could carry risks to US strategic interests in the Middle East.”