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United Arab Emirates

Over the last quarter century, the Gulf region has experienced three major conventional wars: the Iran-Iraq war, 1980 to 1988; the Gulf war to oust Iraq from occupying Kuwait, 1990-1991; and the Iraq war of 20032009. The Gulf region has been politically volatile for many years. As we enter the twenty-first century, there are two distinct security threats facing the states of the Gulf: conventional warfare and asymmetrical warfare.

In May 1976, the UAEs main defense forces were merged, and in November the provisional constitution was amended to give the federal government the exclusive right to levy armed forces and acquire weapons. In 1997 the union was further strengthened when Dubai disbanded its armed forces and integrated them into the federal General Headquarters, which are based in Abu Dhabi.

The UAE is concerned by the military threat posed by Iran, given Irans unilateral seizure of disputed islands in the Strait of Hormuz, its possession of intermediate-range ballistic missiles, and its suspected development of a nuclear capability. The UAE is not considered to be as vulnerable as Saudi Arabia to the threat from al Qaeda and other militant Islamist groups, as these groups do not have a base of operations or support in the emirates. There are, however, security concerns because of the general volatility of the Gulf region, the repeated terrorist attacks in Iraq, the size and mobility of the UAEs large, predominantly Muslim expatriate population, and the countrys alliance with the United States.

Although there is currently no imminent military conventional warfare threat to the UAE or its neighbors, the UAE must be prepared to counter any potential long-term conventional warfare threat from any of its larger neighbors. The two countries most involved in recent conventional warfare in the Gulf region, Iran and Iraq, both have human resources and an industrial base that make possible a military force that could be superior to those of all the Gulf states combined.

Iran remains the greatest potential long-term threat to the Gulf Arab states simply because of its vast superiority in human resources. In addition, there are some unresolved political problems that include: Irans continued occupation of the UAE islands; ongoing Iranian programs to develop a conventional military arsenal and possibly weapons of mass destruction; and Irans nationalist quest to expand Persian political influence and its attempt to dominate the Gulf region as the sole hegemonic power.

Although the lower Gulf states have experienced little sign of an imminent Asymmetrical Warfare threat to date, their northern neighbors have, and it is likely that it could well be the greatest primary internal and external security threat throughout the Gulf for the foreseeable future. Saudi Arabia has had a number of terrorist attacks in the past decade. Internally, there is a large expatriate population required to help operate its vast oil industry. There is also a growing number of marginalized young people who due to the countrys oil wealth have not been required to struggle for basic survival as their forefathers did and have lost a sense of purpose and direction. In their frustration, they could become prey to the ideological call for violence by radical terrorist groups.

The threat is not only internal. The 9/11 terrorist attacks on the New York Trade Towers and Pentagon demonstrated to the world that Asymmetrical Warfare is global in reach, requires small groups of people, and does not require large sums of money to carry out. Many terrorist groups are transnational and operate across national borders, but also depend in each country on disaffected youth as local recruits. Moreover, as a part of its expansionist Islamist foreign policy, Iran has had a history of sponsoring local extremist Jihadist groups and covert operations to destabilize Arab Gulf governments.

In summary, given the volatility that pervades the region, the Asymmetrical Warfare threat is currently the greatest threat to both the UAE and the entire Gulf region and is likely to remain so through the medium-term and perhaps longer.

The UAE has also supported the creation of regional security arrangements through the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Prior to 1979, mutual distrust paralyzed discussions about regional security cooperation, but in the wake of the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, six Arab countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and United Arab Emirates (UAE) formed the GCC on May 25, 1981.12 According to the Charter, its aim was coordination, integration, and cooperation among the member states in all fields. For the founding members of the GCC it was also another demonstration of Arab unity.

The GCC diplomats went to great pains to advertise that the GCC was not a military alliance so as not to incite Iran or Iraq. Additionally, there was tension within the GCC over how to organize defensively.

In response to the escalation of the Iran-Iraq war, the six GCC member states overcame their reluctance to address military cooperation and joined in joint military exercises. As a result of that experience and realizing the need to further increase the GCCs collective security, the Peninsula Shield Force (PSF) was created in 1984. Its mission is to provide a first line defense of any member against external attack and then augment itself into the chain of command of follow-on host nation forces.

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Page last modified: 09-12-2016 19:50:14 ZULU