Yates' timely book recounts the history, challenges, and internal dynamics of building the most competent and modern military in the Arab world. Long dependent on foreigners to underwrite their security, Gulf Arab countries are facing the hard reality that global powers, particularly the United States, are little interested in being security guarantors in a region where ethno-sectarianism shapes geopolitics. Yates, of Khalifa University, Abu Dhabi, argues that the United Arab Emirates' (UAE) armed forces have set a different course, helping the country steer in a more favorable direction.
The book has three parts: the physical, cultural, and political environment of the UAE military; its defining characteristics; and the evolution of each main force (army, navy, air force). Yates details how the UAE's federation was built on compromise, cunningness, and cooptation, and how this history has shaped the armed forces. The various rulers moved from developing their own armed forces for defending local interests to creating a unified and integrated military for the wider national interest. The second and third sections provide a descriptive and well-researched overview of the forces' core missions and institutional histories. The book concludes with an assessment of the UAE armed forces' effectiveness and discusses the cultural challenges facing Arab militaries.
The book's main strength is that it does not shy away from the region's taboos, such as the history of distrust among the different emirates, challenges to federation, and an objective assessment of operational successes and failures. Discussing these issues makes the accomplishments of the UAE military more credible and convincing.
What is missing, however, is a more satisfying analysis of the sustainability of the UAE armed forces' progress. What helped the UAE armed forces become what they are today does not guarantee that their success will continue. The author assumes that the UAE military will advance as long as the country's enlightened leadership remains militarily savvy, is willing to spend big, and continues to wield a heavy hand in shaping the military's institutional culture. While the author points out that military culture must be aligned with national culture in order for it to sustain success, he does not assess whether that is likely to happen.
Despite this blind spot, the book is a deeply-researched and courageous attempt to give a transparent assessment and objective history of one of the most consequential and successful modern Arab militaries.