Fueling Conflict: U.S. Arms Sales to the United Arab Emirates and the U.S.-UAE Military Alliance

The U.S. Military Alliance With the UAE, Biden to Review Arms Sales to the Gulf, Northrop Declines Cluster Contract & more.



February 1, 2021

Toward A More Responsible US Arms Trade Policy: Recommendations for the Biden-Harris Administration

Center for International Policy, Arms and Security Project, January 2021

A new report from the Center for International Policy’s (CIP) Arms and Security Project examines the U.S. defense relationship with the UAE and its broader consequences for peace, security, and human rights in the region. The report calls on the Biden administration to rescind recent proposed arms sales to Abu Dhabi and reconsider the nature of the U.S.-UAE alliance to align it with emerging U.S. security objectives in the Middle East and North Africa.

The report follows on the heels of a $23 billion arms sale to the UAE announced in the final months of the Trump Administration, the largest arms packaged ever proposed for Abu Dhabi.  “This is no time to be offering a flood of new weaponry to the UAE, given its role in fueling the wars in Yemen and Libya, its diversion of past U.S.-supplied arms to extremist groups, and its record of internal repression,” said William D. Hartung, the author of the new report.  The UAE, along with the militias it arms and trains, has also engaged in torture and detention-related abuses in Yemen, and its arms transfers and drone strikes on behalf of Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s forces in Libya violate a United Nations arms embargo on that nation.

The report’s major findings include the following:
  • The $23 billion arms package to the UAE is one of the largest deals offered during the four years of the Trump administration, rivaled only by a $23 billion offer to Japan as part of its program of purchasing U.S. F-35 combat aircraft.
  • The United States is by far the largest arms supplier to the UAE, accounting for over 68% of all weapons delivered to that nation from 2015 to 2019, according to statistics compiled from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s arms transfer database.
  • The UAE is responsible for large numbers of civilian deaths as a result of its central role in the war in Yemen, where it has deployed ground forces and taken part in the coalition’s aerial campaign and naval blockade.  In February 2020, the UAE announced that it had pulled back most of its troops in Yemen, but it continues to arm, train and back militias involved in the war, which total 90,000 members in all, and continue to be implicated in abuses ranging from indiscriminate artillery shelling to torture to recruitment of child soldiers.
  • The UAE has intervened in the civil war in Libya in violation of a United Nations arms embargo by supplying weapons to the forces of Gen. Khalifa Haftar and carrying out air and drone strikes in support of his military campaigns in the country, which are contrary to the objectives of the U.S. policy of supporting the U.N.-recognized government (the GNA, or Government of National Accord).  Haftar’s forces have engaged in extensive human rights abuses in the war, including killing scores of civilians.
The full report with all its findings can be found here on the CIP website. 

Security Assistance News & Research Roundup

News & Blog Posts

Biden administration places hold on weapons sales to UAE, Saudi Arabia

Washington Post, January 27

State Department orders hold on some US arms sales, including last-minute Trump sale of F-35 fighter jets to UAE and precision-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia. State officials have called the pause “a routine action” for new administrations.

Italy permanently halts arms sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE

Al Jazeera, January 29

Italy has halted the sale of thousands of missiles to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) due to their involvement in the Yemen conflict, making permanent an 18-month temporary suspension.

Russian parliament OKs New START nuclear treaty extension

Associated Press, January 27

Both houses of Russian parliament voted unanimously for a year extension of New START, the last remaining nuclear Russia-U.S. arms control treaty.

Northrop Grumman Says It Will Walk Away From Cluster Bomb Contract

Defense One, January 28

Northrop Grumman said Thursday that it would walk away from a U.S. government cluster bomb contract as the company moves to distance itself from the deadly weapons commonly associated with civilian casualties.

Defense Secretary Austin to Review Trump’s Last-Minute Withdrawal of Troops From Afghanistan, Iraq

WSJ, January 26

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is expected to review US troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq following Trump’s last-minute drawdown. The Biden administration also intends to review the US-Taliban peace deal struck in February 2020.

U.S. Forces Expand Reach in Saudi Arabia

WSJ, January 25

A US military general has reported that the United States is testing new “dual-use” bases in Saudi Arabia’s western desert as a precaution against potential conflict with Iran.

Research, Analysis, and Opinion

Global Fragility Act: A Chance to Reshape International Security Assistance?

USIP, January 19

USIP’s Calin Trenkov-Wermuth argues that the Global Fragility Act offers an opportunity to create a global architecture for security sector assistance built on principles of aid effectiveness adapted from development financing

UK approves military exports to 80% of countries on own restricted list

Action on Armed Violence, January 26

New analysis from Action on Armed Violence finds Britain has approved exports of military goods to 80% of the countries on its own embargoed, sanctioned or trade restricted list in just over five years. 

Making the Rounds: Illicit Ammunition in Ukraine

Small Arms Survey, January 2021

Small Arms Survey investigates the trafficking network sustaining the widespread proliferation of small arms, light weapons, and ammunition across Ukraine, posing an immediate regional threat. 

Data Fact of the Week:

Foreign Military Sales offers to  the UAE Since 2009

The graphic above illustrates foreign military sales notifications to the UAE since 2009, offering some scale and context to the $23 billion in sales proposed on Nov. 10.  

The most recent proposed sale of advanced fighter jets, drones, and munitions, eclipses all other foreign military sales made by the Trump administration to the UAE, and raises serious human rights and civilian protection concerns.

Upcoming Congressional Hearings

Senate Arms Services Committee


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