How the UAE has Used the ‘War on Terror’ for Repression and Intervention

Where Biden Stands on Arms Issues, UAE’s Co-Option of the Global War on Terror, Drone Sales to Taiwan & more



November 9, 2020

How the UAE has Used the ‘War on Terror’ for Repression and Intervention

Responsible Statecraft, November 3, 2020

As the U.S. moves closer to selling 50 F-35 fighter jets and 18 armed aerial drones to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), SAM Researcher Sydney Boer argues in her latest opinion piece that the United States’ deepening counterterrorism and weapons sales relationship with the UAE could result in damaging consequences for political freedoms in the region. 

According to Boer, the UAE has deftly managed to manipulate the global preoccupation with terrorism to implement increasingly repressive policies at home, while pursuing a regional strategy that is deeply hostile to political liberalization. Beginning in earnest after the Emirates’ experience with the Arab Spring, which saw a massive crackdown from Abu Dhabi, the UAE has used its terrorism laws to suppress political dissent of all stripes. Abroad, the UAE has sought to maintain a status quo political order that favors authoritarian strongmen, many of whom are accused of grave human rights and IHL abuses. 

Meanwhile, billions in arms and armaments Washington has sold to the UAE  provides both tacit approval of these policies as well as political cover for their pursuit. Boer argues that criticism of this relationship should escalate in light of the Abraham Accords earlier this fall, which drew the UAE closer into the U.S. regional security coalition with Israel, and opened up the UAE for the coveted U.S. F-35 fifth-generation fighter jets. If the sale goes through, the UAE will become the first Arab state to possess the aircraft and only the second country in the region after Israel.

The piece concludes that the clear message of political approval provided by the sale of jets and of recently announced drones raises the risks for civilian casualties and greater repression of the Emirati political dissidents and establishes a dangerous precedent for greater arms sales to the UAE and U.S. Gulf allies.

To read the full opinion piece, click here

Election Special: Where Biden Stands on the Arms Trade: Courtesy of the Forum on the Arms Trade


Arms Trade Treaty

Biden’s current position is unknown. Although it could be expected that Biden would support the treaty given he was Vice President when it was negotiated and supported by the Obama administration, and that the Democratic party platform supports the treaty, no statement/position on the treaty has been identified in this election cycle explicitly by Biden. 
The 2020 Democratic Party Platform
“Democrats commit to … pushing for the ratification of the UN Arms Trade Treaty”

Arms Sales to Saudi Coalition

Biden explicitly supports ending arms sales and military support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. He has favored withdrawing military and other support.
The Biden Plan for Leading the Democratic World to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century, campaign website (reconfirmed on September 29, 2020)
“End Forever Wars: Biden will end the forever wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, which have cost us untold blood and treasure. As he has long argued, Biden will bring the vast majority of our troops home from Afghanistan and narrowly focus our mission on Al-Qaeda and ISIS. And he will end our support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.”
Why America Must Lead Again: Rescuing U.S. Foreign Policy After Trump,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2020
“​We should also end our support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.”
Fifth Democratic Debate, November 20, 2019
“And I would make it very clear we were not going to, in fact, sell more weapons to them, we were going to, in fact, make them pay the price and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are. There’s very little social redeeming value of the — in the present government in Saudi Arabia. And I would also, as pointed out, I would end — end subsidies that we have, end the sale of material to the Saudis where they’re going in and murdering children, and they’re murdering innocent people. And so they have to be held accountable.”
Submission to Council on Foreign Policy, August 1, 2019
​”I would end U.S. support for the disastrous Saudi-led war in Yemen and order a reassessment of our relationship with Saudi Arabia.”

Firearms Export Oversight

Biden explicitly supports retention of State Department oversight of firearms exports. His gun violence prevention plan specifically mentions overturning this change.
The Biden Plan to End Our Gun Violence Epidemic, released October 2, 2019 (reconfrimed on campaign website as of Sept 29, 2020).
“​Biden will ensure that the authority for firearms exports stays with the State Department, and if needed reverse a proposed rule by President Trump.”
South Carolina Democratic Debate transcript by CBS, February 25, 2020
“​I beat the NRA twice. I got assault weapons banned. I got magazines that could not hold more than 10 rounds in them. …And I want to tell you, if I’m elected, NRA, I’m coming for you, and gun manufacturers, I’m going to take you on and I’m going to beat you.”

Mine Ban Treaty

Biden explicitly supports reversing the Trump administration’s new landmine policy, but has not indicated if he would seek to join the Mine Ban Treaty. Biden condemned the new policy and indicated expanded landmine use is not militarily necessary.

Response to Alex Ward as reported in Vox, February 3, 2020.
“The Trump administration’s reversal of years of considered decisions by Democratic and Republican presidents to curtail the use of landmines is another reckless act by a president ill-suited to serve as commander-in-chief
It will put more civilians at risk of being injured by unexploded mines, and is unnecessary from a military perspective. As president, I will promptly roll back this deeply misguided decision.”

Security Assistance News & Research Roundup

News & Blog Posts

Pentagon Draw-Down at U.S. Embassies Prompts Concern About Ceding Field to Global Rivals

Wall Street Journal, November 1

Reports found that the Pentagon is quietly moving top U.S. defense attaché diplomats from posts in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East to counter Russia and China on the geopolitical stage. 

Enemy attacks in Afghanistan jump by 50 percent, watchdog says

The Hill, November 5

Taliban and other militant attacks were up 50% in the 3rd quarter of 2020. Despite US efforts to train the Afghan army and police forces as well as an agreement with the Taliban not to support terrorist activities, attacks continue to escalate against Afghan security forces and government.

U.S. Congress notified of drone sale to Taiwan: Pentagon

Reuters, November 3

The State Department formally notified the U.S. Congress of a sale of 4 U.S. aerial drones to Taiwan yesterday. This sale marks the first export of this advanced U.S. technology since Trump deregulated it. Chinese officials urged the U.S. to reverse the decision and cease U.S.-Taiwan contact. 

China says U.S. sends out wrong signals to Taiwan on potential drone sale deal

Reuters, November 4

The Chinese Foreign Minister stated that the U.S. is projecting dangerous signals via its latest drones sale to Taiwan, and that the country will take all necessary measures to address it.

Israeli minister warns of war if Biden returns to Iran Deal

Jerusalem Post, November 5

In the midst of a tight U.S. presidential race, Israeli officials advocate for their national security interests by warning that a Biden administration’s return to an Iran deal for the sake of arms control would lead to war between Israel & Iran. 


Research, Analysis, and Opinion


The Art of the Weapons Deal in the Age of Trump

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 6

CIP’s William Hartung offers insight into the wide use of arms sales in U.S. foreign policy during the Trump administration, especially in the Middle East, which has resulted in devastating consequences for human rights for the benefit of several defense contractors. 

The Next President Should get U.S. Out of Yemen

Inkstick, November 4

Bonnie Kristian argues that the next U.S. president needs to end U.S. military intervention in Yemen in order to effectively prioritize Americans’ and Yemeni peoples’ needs during the pandemic. 

Time to Rethink Arms Sales to Taiwan

Defense One, November 2

Following escalating tensions between Beijing & Washington over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, Trevor Thrall and Jocab Cohen argue that the weapon sales are now destabilizing the region by causing greater Chinese concern w/out actually making the island militarily independent when faced with a Chinese invasion.

From the U.S. Government

Department of Defense

Major Arms Sale: Canada – Standard Missile 2 (SM-2) Block IIIC missiles

November 5, 2020

Estimated cost of $500 million

Major Arms Sale: Romania – F-16 Modernization and Logistics Support

November 3, 2020

Estimated cost of $175.4 million.

Major Arms Sale: Taiwan – Weapons-Ready MQ-9B Remotely Piloted Aircraft

November 3, 2020

Estimated cost of $600 million.


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