UAE Shows Growing Regional Military Ambitions

Yemen War Just the First Step for Tiny Nation

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) isn’t a very big country: 5 million people in an area about the size of South Carolina. Yet awash in oil revenue, they’ve been one of the highest per capita GDP countries in the world, and while that’s meant dramatically improved living conditions for citizens, it has also gotten in the habit of throwing a lot of money into its military, going from $2.6 billion in 2000 to $10 billion in 2010, and over $15 billion today.

This was initially presented as a national prestige thing, buying expensive US military equipment that by and large was exclusively of use in offensive warfare, and of course the occasional parade. Unfortunately, once that collection of arms is amassed, people start getting the idea of using it, and the UAE seems to be ready to embark on a massive expansion of regional military presence.

With a military full of foreign mercenaries, the UAE has eagerly joined military operations in Afghanistan and Yemen in recent years, and seems to have really developed a taste for interventionism, with an eye on military presence in Eritrea, and elsewhere across northeastern Africa.

Exactly where all of this will take UAE is anyone’s guess, but history suggests that growing international military involvement, and its tendency to provide a justification for even more military spending and more wars, becomes an addictive feature for governments, and one that’s hard to break.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.