Sharply different histories of two armaments industries have led to a confluence of political and commercial opportunity.


No doubt, as Derek Chollet wrote Tuesday on Defense One, “Ukraine’s Military Needs More Than Just Arms”. Training and organizational reform will be essential for recovering its fighting efficiency. But as we should remind Washington and Paris and Berlin, to fight Kiev does need arms. Perhaps, as the interview in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal with Saab’s Håkan Buskhe put it, Kiev is one of those new “Cost-Conscious Weapons Buyers”. Even if Washington did start selling, American arms might not be the affordable choice, and the route to delivery might not be speedy. So when Washington isn’t selling (just like Paris and Berlin), it’s all the easier for Kiev to look to a new source of supply. Hence it’s no surprise that Kiev was shopping at IDEX, and on second look, it’s no surprise that Abu Dhabi increasingly has arms to sell.

One of the first big relationships seems to be starting at the top, with a photo opportunity between Ukraine’s President Poroshenko and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Muhammad, the deputy supreme commander of the UAE’s armed forces. Thus we have a confluence of political opportunities, with the “UAE Seeking to Fill Defense Needs at Home”, and Ukraine shopping abroad for the weapons it can’t produce. At one point in that aforementioned five-year stretch, Ukraine was the world’s fourth-largest weapons exporter. Consolidation of governmental assets was useful there too, just for another purpose. From independence until quite recently, Ukraine’s almost entirely state-owned arms industry had been controlled by its Ministry of Economy. It was just treated as a cash cow to feed the “insane opulence” of deposed President Viktor Yanukovych’s questionable tastes. It’s now well-known that decades of corruption and neglect killed the Ukrainian military. Thus the industry looked entirely abroad for sales, and became so estranged from its own armed forces that it now can’t provide their basic needs.
Recovery is underway, in both supply and demand. The Emiratis aren’t trying to build their entire industry on import substitution, but rather, are sensible trying to integrate into the global supply chain for arms. The Ukrainians had overextended that way, and are now focusing on the front line first. It’s a potentially great relationship between two serious governments with serious security problems. On the D Brief yesterday morning, Gordon Lubold cited the Facebook posting of Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, as noting that the Emiratis, in contrast to Europeans and Americans, do not fear idle threats from Mr. Putin that he might start another war over a few antitank missiles. We should be thankful that someone is taking up the cause. Peut-être les Emirates ne sont pas Charlie Hebdo, mais cette semaine, ils sont Charlie Wilson.
James Hasík is a senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.