US officials have been urged to make advanced military hardware available to the UAE in recognition of its moves to end the conflict in Yemen.
Danny Sebright, president of the US-UAE Business Council, told a Dubai audience of business leaders and dignitaries that the recent withdrawal of some UAE troops was “significant and very important”.
The development should be met by an increased willingness in Washington DC to “move forward on the release of more sophisticated technologies” which would bolster Emirati defences against Iran and other adversaries, he said.
Advanced armed drones, including the deadly Reaper model, are among the American weapons systems that have been sought after by Gulf countries, but sales have been blocked due to US rules.
Some UAE troops recently returned from Yemen following successful operations in Aden and there are ongoing efforts to end a conflict that has dragged on for years.
“Steps recently taken by the UAE to begin redeploying and drawing down forces in Yemen are significant and very important,” Mr Sebright said.
“These should be met by increased willingness in Washington to move forward on the release of more sophisticated technologies to sustain the UAE’s effective counter-terrorism efforts as well as to improve their defensive posture to address a range of new and evolving threats from Iran and other aggressors in the region.”
The United Nations is also working to implement a deal struck in Sweden between both sides of the conflict to bring the Red Sea city of Hodeidah under its control.
Speaking at a dinner at the Dubai Air Show on Sunday, Mr Sebright warned that the US stance meant the UAE was instead turning to US rivals such as China and Russia for weapons systems, despite their preference to do business with the Americans.
This was giving China in particular an advantage in the “great power struggle”, he said.
“When they [the UAE] cannot receive capabilities from the US, that they deem essential for their own legitimate self-defence needs, they say to me ‘what choice do we have but to turn to countries like China and Russia to fill those gaps?’
“I have led multiple trade missions of marquee US companies in the tech sector to the UAE just in the last two months. Every single meeting with UAE and government industry leaders included elements of discussion focused on how China is starting to win in this part of the world.
“We must do better in forging even closer partnerships and cooperation with our UAE and other Gulf partners if we are to check the spread of Chinese influence.”
Both Russia and China have made efforts to strengthen ties with Gulf states in recent years, with both President Xi Jinping and President Vladimir Putin visiting Abu Dhabi within the last 18 months.
The US has vowed to review its policy regarding the export of some military technologies, including armed drones, although it is bound by agreements such as the Missile Technology Control Regime that do not apply to China.
The US had shifted its main focus from counter-terrorism, which had dominated defence policy for the past two decades, to “great power competition”, said Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defence for acquisition and sustainment at the US department of defence.
She told the audience that “interoperability” between branches of the US military, as well as allies, was crucial as the world entered a new era of cyber warfare.
“From cyber security to intellectual property, supply chain security underpinning all of this, we must ensure our industry partners are protecting their capabilities,” she said.
“The Chinese are familiar with our loopholes and they are exploiting them, daily. They do not play by the rules of free, democratic societies and we must work together, government, industry, our partners and allies, to combat this threat.
“I will tell you after having been in industry for 33 years, and now in government for two years, my eyes have been absolutely opened by the daily intel briefings I get… There is no question: we are at cyber war with China”.