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Arms and Influence in the Gulf

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi Get to Work

Saudi tanks take part in a military drill near the border with Kuwait, April 2014. Faisal Nasser / Courtesy Reuters

Since the formation of the modern Arab state system in the mid-twentieth century, no Arab country has succeeded in building and sustaining an indigenous national defense industry. Egypt tried hard, but ultimately failed because it lacked the requisite financial and human capital. Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq came closest, thanks to its skilled population and oil wealth, but it was stymied by corruption, mismanagement, and war. The Gulf countries, meanwhile, have spent lavish sums on the most modern U.S. and European arms, which they often lack expertise in handling and servicing. “Arabs don’t do maintenance,” the adage went. 

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) may finally end this streak of Arab failures. Over the past decade, the two countries have quietly developed their military-industrial capacities. Today, they are capable of manufacturing and modernizing military vehicles, communication systems, aerial drones, and more. Further, they have significantly improved their

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