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The US and UAE forge a new path on defense [Commentary]

May 17, 2017 (Photo Credit: Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images)
U.S. and U.A.E. officials recently signed a landmark Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) expanding work in key defense and security arenas between the two partners. 

The deal, signed on May 8 and revealed to the public for the first time on Monday during Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the U.A.E. Armed Forces HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s visit to Washington, is intended to codify many provisions of a bilateral defense agreement that had been in force since 1994. The DCA broadens the framework of this extant agreement for the future, significantly expanding cooperation between the defense establishments of the two countries. 

Distilling the significance of this agreement, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said on Monday in his meeting with Sheikh Mohamed, “The agreement marks a new chapter in our partnership and reflects the breadth and depth of our ongoing cooperation, which is underpinned by the mutual respect we share for the professionalism and efficacy of our armed forces.”

Already, the U.A.E. is the only Arab nation and one of only three countries in the world to participate with the U.S. in six coalition actions over the past 20 years. These actions include the wars in Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Bosnia-Kosovo, the Gulf War and the current fight against ISIS. The U.A.E. has deployed thousands of troops alongside the U.S. fighting in Afghanistan over the past 12 years. 

Ongoing military cooperation and coordination between the U.S. and U.A.E. is key in Syria, Libya and Yemen in fighting extremism, as well as patrolling vital sea lines of communication in the Arabian Gulf and along the African coast.

The new DCA is a critical, foundational agreement that will facilitate expanded cooperation in these areas and a host of others, such as bilateral and multilateral exercises, pre-positioning of personnel and equipment, special operations forces and disaster and humanitarian relief operations.

Key provisions of the agreement include arrangements with regard to the sovereignty of U.S. forces in the U.A.E. The U.A.E. currently hosts around 5,000 American military personnel who belong mostly to the U.S. Air Force’s 380th Expeditionary Wing stationed at Al Dhafra Air Base.

The agreement will greatly expand the ease by which U.S. forces and their families can live and work in the U.A.E. in the future. The agreement will also facilitate and standardize travel procedures for U.S. military forces. The DCA is meant to enhance U.S. presence on the ground in the U.A.E. to enable closer partnership in the region. 

The DCA also addresses tax issues, like value-added tax, excise tax and road tolls, helping to provide a roadmap for which U.A.E. tax and revenue laws apply to U.S. forces and their families in the U.A.E.

The DCA contains many of the provisions of standard status of forces agreements that the U.S. has concluded with numerous allied countries over the years.  However, the agreement with the U.A.E. stops short of including any language that is treaty-like in its commitments.

Finally, the DCA is one of the key building blocks required to expand cooperation in other areas. For example, the U.A.E. is the second-largest buyer of U.S. arms worldwide and is increasingly being approved for the most sophisticated U.S. defense equipment. The U.A.E. is also looking to further invest in U.S. advanced developments like the country has already done with the F-16 Block 60 fighter and the THAAD missile defense system. The DCA sets the stage for potential new data sharing, technology and R&D cooperation agreements between the two countries for the future.

While the DCA is meant to last at least 15 years, the intent at signing is for it to last indefinitely. This is in keeping with the U.S.’s long-standing and timeless commitment to the stability and security of the U.A.E. and the Arabian Gulf.

Timely implementation of the DCA will be key in a number of areas. U.S. and U.A.E. expert teams still need to work out some of the implementing arrangements to be able to bring into force key provisions of the DCA.

Importantly, the DCA does not provide for any U.A.E. government financial support to U.S. forces on the ground in the U.A.E. as do those agreements the U.S. has inked for example, with Germany and Italy. 

The new DCA between the U.S. and U.A.E. reflects a relationship that has matured significantly in the past few years and provides new foundations on which that relationship can continue to grow in important ways in the future.

Danny Sebright is the president of the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council, A Washington, D.C.-based group advocating for stronger commercial ties between the U.S. and U.A.E. Sebright has served as the Defense Department’s director of the Policy Executive Secretariat for the global war on terrorism from 2001 to 2002 as well as  in the Office of the Under Secretary for Policy from 1995 to 2001.
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