Saudi Arabia, which spends more on defense than any other nation in the Middle East (up to 10 per cent of its GDP, which amounts to $21 billion), is the world’s seventh biggest spender in military terms. The United Arab Emirates, the world’s fourth largest arms importer, fields an increasingly capable military, is a regional leader in command and control of air power, and has a “frontier” domestic defense hub that exports military items and displays its technologies at major defense exhibitions in several regions of the world. Yet issues of national defense in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are hardly local, as they impact US strategic interests and goals in the Middle East. To promote stability and security in the Gulf, the United States’ partnerships with Saudi Arabia and the UAE are as important as ever. To that end, the development of indigenous defense capabilities of US allies is crucial, and should be of interest to the United States.
Against this backdrop, the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security convened a working group on March 13, 2014 to examine defense industrialization in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The working group focused on the development of domestic military industries in Saudi Arabia and the UAE over the past decade. The participants discussed the nature of the defense partnership between the US and the two countries given their internal and external defense priorities, focusing on the strengths of the relationship and areas of improvement. The participants also broadly discussed the impact of defense modernization in Saudi Arabia and the UAE in regional terms, with a particular focus on medium and long-term trends.
The working group’s findings will contribute to a report authored by Bilal Y. Saab, Scowcroft Center Resident Senior Fellow for Middle East Security, due to be rolled out in the Spring.