Middle East tensions fuelling growth in defence industry, say experts

Security uncertainty and a lack of human resources in the UAE have been powering growth in the region's defence industry, says Tate Nurkin from IHS Jane’s Aerospace, Defence and Security.

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DUBAI // Regional tensions in Iran, Syria and Egypt, coupled with a lack of human resources in the UAE, are some of the reasons behind a growing defence industry in the Arabian Gulf, according to security experts.

“There is still a security issue that needs to be addressed in terms of Iran’s nuclear programme,” said Tate Nurkin, managing director of consulting and thought leadership at IHS Jane’s Aerospace, Defence and Security. “In the short term, it will have an escalating impact on regional security.”

Dr Mustafa Alani, senior adviser and director of security and defence studies at the Gulf Research Centre, said the tumultuous regional environment was encouraging an armament policy.

“If you look at Iran, hardly a week passes without revealing new missiles and new ships, so the development of new kinds of military technology is going on full speed,” he said. “It’s the same if you look at Pakistan, India, even Iraq now is going full speed in acquiring new arms. So it’s the whole environment and no state can just sit and watch neighbouring countries adopt an active rearmament policy.”

He added security uncertainty was another factor.

“We don’t know what is going to happen in Iran with the nuclear deal and what the situation is between Iran and the international community,” he said. “We don’t know the situation in Iraq. It’s a battlefield at the moment in Syria, Egypt and Yemen, so it’s the uncertainty and negative security environment around this region. The problem with arms is you can’t buy them only when you need them because the average delivery contract takes between three to five years. ”

A lack of human resources in the UAE is another issue.

“You have to buy technology to fill the gap in military capability,” said Dr Alani. “Iran has 1 million soldiers. Iraq has nearly 800,000 soldiers, whether in the police or the whole structure of the armed forces. But this can’t be done in the Gulf states, especially in the UAE. So this is the only way to close the gap by buying new technology, which is going to be effective in reducing the imbalance in military capability.”

Uncertainty about the role of regional powers also exists.

“If outside commitment is unclear or reduced, we have no alternative but to build our self-defence capability,” Dr Alani said. “The six years of [US president Barack] Obama have become a major issue. Nobody questioned that during Bush senior’s [administration] when he liberated Kuwait. But Obama and Syria’s experience make this question a very serious one.”