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Bucking the Trend: The UAE and the Development of Military Capabilities in the Arab World

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-334
Number of pages34
Issue number2
Early online date11 Feb 2020
Accepted/In press18 Sep 2019
E-pub ahead of print11 Feb 2020
Published14 Mar 2020


King's Authors


The literature examining national militaries in the Arab world paints a near-universally bleak picture of their capabilities. Some argue that issues rooted in ‘Arab culture’ – so-called essentialist rationales – fatally undermine military effectiveness. Others assert that regime security concerns encourage leaders to actively politicize, coup-proof, and consequently weaken their military. This article challenges these literatures by demonstrating that UAE forces have repeatedly exemplified unusual levels of military effectiveness and sophistication in hostile campaigns. Using approaches from public policy studies (the Advocacy Coalition Framework), this paper investigates how the UAE military bucked the trend. The 1990 invasion of Kuwait was a ‘focusing event’ that prompted a rethink of existing approaches. Catalyzed, a key ‘policy entrepreneur’, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, changed approaches to training, unified federal militaries, and tested forces in challenging operations. Such findings undercut lingering essentialist critiques of Arab militaries, provide a potential pathway for other states to emulate, demonstrate that secure and motivated leaders can overcome coup-proofing concerns, and showcase the fruitful pollination of methodologies from public policy to security studies.

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