28 January 2021

The hard work ahead in improving US-India agricultural trade

Mark Linscott

The United States and India have taken important steps forward in recent years to devote more attention to their trade relationship, which has generally lagged behind the much bigger steps pursued in developing their strategic relationship. However, as both countries know well, an alignment of strategic interests does not always translate into comity in trade interests. One might even argue that a mature and healthy strategic relationship should be able to readily weather the storms arising from occasional trade tensions.

Trade in agricultural products is replete with such examples, and might even be the best crucible for pressing national interests while simultaneously cementing and reinforcing shared strategic ones. Simply consider the history of trade disputes over many years between the United States and its European allies. A large number of these involve agricultural trade—from canned peaches in the 1980s to poultry and corn products today. The same is true with Canada, Japan, South Korea, and Australia, and the list goes on.

One should expect that the United States and India are no different. Their strategic relationship blossoms anew with each successive US and Indian administration, yet challenges on trade—specifically agricultural trade—persist and, unfortunately, even fester. Both countries are global agricultural powerhouses, and their respective political sensitivities regarding the economic well-being of farm families are well matched.

Will Biden Seize the Opportunity for an Alliance With India?

Brahma Chellaney 

President Joe Biden faces a slew of important foreign policy challenges. But with India, he has a historic opportunity to forge a strategic alliance to help build a stable balance of power in Asia and the wider Indo-Pacific region.

India has been a bright spot in U.S. foreign policy over the past two decades. Continuing a process set in motion by President Bill Clinton during the 1990s and accelerated by every succeeding administration, U.S.-India relations thrived during Donald Trump’s presidency. Not surprisingly, there is strong bipartisan support in both Washington and New Delhi for a closer partnership under Biden.

After the foundational agreements: An agenda for US-India defense and security cooperation

Joshua T. White

The U.S.-India defense and security relationship has continued to deepen, aided by robust political commitments in both countries and converging concern about growing Chinese assertiveness across the Indo-Pacific. The United States and India have expanded their defense activities and consultations, and recently concluded two additional so-called “foundational defense agreements,” capping off a nearly two-decade effort by U.S. policymakers to formalize the legal sinews of operational defense cooperation. This positive trajectory is, however, by no means guaranteed to continue apace. There are rising concerns in the United States about India’s fiscal limitations, its ties with Russia, its ponderous response to a pattern of Chinese provocations on its border, and its drift toward illiberal majoritarian politics. In addition, the Biden administration will likely seek, for good reason, to rebalance the bilateral relationship away from a disproportionate focus on security issues in order to address a wider array of topics including global health, energy and climate change, and technology cooperation.

In light of these dynamics, this paper presents a practical agenda for the next phase of the U.S.-India defense and security relationship — one that builds incrementally on the progress that has been made, responds to the changing regional security environment, and accounts for both governments’ political and capacity constraints. It begins by arguing that the United States can do more to articulate its key priorities in engaging India on security issues: first, supporting India’s rise as a constructive global leader and counterweight to Chinese influence; second, limiting China’s ability to coerce India and other states in South Asia; and third, mitigating the risks, and enabling de-escalation, of inevitable India-Pakistan and India-China crises. It also makes a case for charting reasonably ambitious defense and security goals and avoiding crude conditionalities that would likely prove counterproductive.

China And India Expect Large Population Declines

by Katharina Buchholz

While experts have long agreed that the world has already set the course for a future population decline, there has been disagreement about just how fast and where exactly the number of people on this Earth will shrink.

Medical journal The Lancet recently published research by the University of Washington suggesting that population decline could be more rapid than previously thought, especially in the world's most populous nations China and India.

The researchers assume that world population will peak already just after the middle of the century, earlier than projected by the U.N. Population Division. They pointed out that models of populations growth have proven to be very stable while those dealing with population decline were much less reliable.

In their base scenario, researchers assumed growing access to education and contraception for women would catapult Indian and Chinese fertility below replacement levels quickly, leading to population levels of just 1.1 billion and 731 million people in India and China in 2100, respectively. The researchers did not see the same factors at play in most African nations, where population growth would continue to 2100 and beyond, according to the model. This would make Nigeria the second-largest nation on Earth ahead of China by 2094.

Democracy in Asia

Lindsey W. Ford and Ryan Hass

At the heart of today’s geopolitical competition is a contest over what type of governance model best meets the needs and enables the potential of citizens. Leaders in the United States and other Western capitals have expressed concern about a global democratic recession occurring alongside a resurgence of global authoritarianism. To counter these trends, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pushed to establish a new “D-10” group comprising the G-7 plus Australia, India, and South Korea. The recently published NATO 2030 white paper calls for a new allied focus on democratic resilience. And in the United States, President Joe Biden has promised that defense of democratic values will be at the heart of his foreign policy agenda. He has announced plans to convene a “Summit for Democracy” in his first year that would focus on spurring progress in fighting corruption, defending against authoritarianism, and advancing human rights.

The task of reinforcing the resilience of global democracies is not a “Western” project, however. In fact, the center of gravity in this burgeoning systems competition between democracy and authoritarianism may be the Indo-Pacific region. The region is home to the world’s largest and most economically dynamic democracies. Perhaps in part as a result of its relatively young population, the region is changing rapidly. More than 50% of the world’s millennial population lives in Asia.

Yet Asia’s relationship with democratic governance is admittedly complicated. Widespread democratization throughout the 1980s and 1990s shifted the complexion of the region away from its illiberal past, ushering in rising hopes of a democratic wave. In recent years, however, democratic backsliding has shifted the political tides in the opposite direction, leading to a resurgence of illiberalism, and in some cases, rising authoritarianism. Similarly, while nations such as Australia have been at the forefront of global efforts to address the risks of authoritarian political influence, most regional leaders have been more circumspect about promoting a strong global democracy agenda.

China’s Technological Rise: Implications for Global Security and the Case of Nuctech

Didi Kirsten Tatlow

China under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is poised to become the world’s first technology enabled totalitarian superpower. No country will be untouched by this development, including Estonia, where a Chinese state-owned technology company Nuctech specialising in “security solutions” monitors cargo crossing the NATO border with Russia using a radiation-based technology originally copied from Europe.

A clear understanding of the Chinese political system shows why there is fundamental cause for concern in all this, and why Chinese technology should not be viewed as politically neutral.

China’s coming global investment recovery: How far will it go?

COVID-19 had the expected impact on China’s documented global investment and construction in 2020, forcing deep declines. A powerful recovery will materialize at some point this year and likely continue into 2022.

For investment and construction to intensify beyond this recovery requires policy change in Beijing—opening more sectors at home for reciprocity, letting private Chinese firms lead again, and encouraging greenfield investment. These seem unlikely.

If so, the Belt and Road will become increasingly important within China’s global footprint. Belt and Road activity is not increasing, but it is holding up better than investment in rich countries.
American concern with this investment was due to technology loss. But current technology loss is primarily through exports and outbound US capital flow, both of which require immediate policy attention.

Navigating the Deepening Russia-China Partnership

By Andrea Kendall-Taylor and David Shullman

Ties between China and Russia have grown. In virtually every dimension of their relationship—from the diplomatic to defense and economic to informational realms—cooperation between Beijing and Moscow has increased. Political observers in Washington and beyond have noted their alignment, yet they remain divided over what these growing ties portend.

Perhaps the most concerning—and least understood—aspect of the Russia-China partnership is the synergy their actions will generate. Analysts understand well the challenges that Russia and China each pose to the United States. But little thought has been given to how their actions will combine, amplifying the impact of both actors. As this report highlights, the impact of Russia-China alignment is likely to be far greater than the sum of its parts, putting U.S. interests at risk globally.

The synergy between Russia and China will be most problematic in the way that it increases the challenge that China poses to the United States. Already, Beijing is working with Moscow to fill gaps in its military capabilities, accelerate its technological innovation, and complement its efforts to undermine U.S. global leadership. Simply put, Russia is amplifying America’s China challenge.

The synergy between Russia and China will be most problematic in the way that it increases the challenge that China poses to the United States.

Russia’s amplification of the China challenge will be most consequential for the United States on two fronts: the defense domain and the democracy and human rights domain. There are also several broader implications their cooperation will create for U.S. global influence:


Taking the Helm

By Martijn Rasser and Megan Lamberth

The United States faces a challenge like no other in its history: a strategic competition with a highly capable and increasingly resourceful opponent whose worldview and economic and political models are at odds with the interests and values of the world’s democratic states. A rising China poses a fundamental challenge to the economic vitality and national security of the United States and its allies and the currency of liberal democratic values around the world. Technology—a key enabler for economic, political, and military power—is front and center in this competition.

Technological leadership—how a country invents, innovates, and deploys technologies to compete economically and to secure its interests—will shape the coming years to a remarkable degree. The United States has maintained such leadership for decades. Today, that leadership is at risk. The United States is failing to rise to the occasion—its policies inadequate and disconnected and its response reactive and disjointed. The country needs a new approach to regain the initiative. The stakes are high and the window for action is closing.

The U.S. government must craft a national technology strategy for an era of sustained competition with a highly capable contender: a comprehensive framework to plan, execute, and update its technology policies. The strategy is a whole-of-nation approach—including human capital, infrastructure, investments, tax and regulatory policies, and institutional and bureaucratic processes—to preserve its current advantages and to create new ones. To be effective, creating and executing the strategy must involve stakeholders from federal and state governments, private industry, academia, and civil society. The overarching goal is to maintain the United States’ standing as the world’s premier technology power so that it can empower its citizens, compete economically, and secure its national interests without having to compromise its values or sovereignty.

The purpose of this report is to provide the intellectual framing for what a national technology strategy is and why the United States needs one. It does not offer a list of prioritized technology areas. Rather, it provides guidelines for how to think about such prioritization and what qualities should inform the resulting policy decisions.

The Iran Nuclear Deal at Five: A Revival?

What’s new? The 2015 Iran nuclear deal has looked at best shaky since the Trump administration withdrew from it in 2018, imposing damaging economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic. In response, Tehran ramped up its nuclear activity in contravention of its obligations under the agreement. President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration could mark an inflection point.

Why does it matter? Having failed to achieve its objectives, Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy may be nearing an end. Restoring the nuclear deal, with its considerable non-proliferation benefits, could lead to wider U.S.-Iran diplomatic engagement. But one or both sides may be tempted to make additional demands, which would be a recipe for deadlock.

What should be done? The incoming Biden administration and Iran should move swiftly to revive the nuclear agreement on its existing terms. A staggered timetable to bring both sides back into full compliance likely is the best path toward nuclear and regional de-escalation, opening the possibility of broader talks with the next Iranian president.
Executive Summary

Rejoining the Iran nuclear deal: Not so easy

by Brian O’Toole

President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20, 2021, facing a litany of daunting foreign policy issues, from another massive cyber hack by Russian intelligence to alienated allies in Europe and beyond to a regime in Pyongyang that continues to proliferate weapons of mass destruction unchecked. But perhaps the stickiest—and most immediate—crisis the Biden administration faces is with respect to Iran and the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), agreed between China, Germany, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, or the P5+1) and Iran. President-elect Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, has stated that the United States would rejoin the deal if Iran returned to compliance on its nuclear constraints and agreed to follow-on negotiations on other issues, and the deal’s other members, including Iran, have supported a like-for-like return to the JCPOA.

Despite the apparently simple pledges, it will not be that easy. And all sides know it.

There is a certain easy nostalgia to the notion of simply rewinding the clock to 2016, when Iran completed its commitments to roll back its nuclear program, the United States and Europe lifted a significant portion of the multilateral sanctions targeting Iran, and the deal came fully into effect. The intervening years have not been kind to the 2016 status quo. The Trump administration imposed a mosaic of new sanctions that had not been levied on Iran before, including hundreds of new specific targets and new sectors, both primary and secondary. Iran today is subject to broader US sanctions and a deepening economic malaise, and its leaders have compounded matters with an inept response to the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19). 

IJ Infinity Group

Clausewitz’s Supreme Question: Reconsidering his Legacy

Clausewitz's Definition of War and its Limits

The Mirage of Post-Clausewitzianism: Understanding War and Politics on the Frontier of Clausewitzian Thought

In Search of a Point: The Blob at War

The Occam's Razor of Strategic Theory: The Relevance of Clausewitz for Political Conduct

Strategy, War, and the Relevance of Carl von Clausewitz


Sam Wilson

Before adjudicating among conflicting technological assessments—deciding whether hypersonic missiles are undefendable, or easier to defend, untraceable or easier to track, extremely precise or widely imprecise—one may want to begin with considering the U.S. relationship with Russia and China. How much of our military focus should be on Russia and China? How much of our focus should be on a major conflict with Russia and China? What should be our military aims for such a conflict? What are the parameters, if any, for how we should prepare? From there, we can consider the technology with clearer eyes, untangling the technological from the strategic.DOWNLOAD PAPER

Conflicts to Watch in 2021

Paul B. Stares

General John W. Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and Director of the Center for Preventive Action

A crisis stemming from North Korea’s continued development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile testing is the top-ranked conflict concern for 2021, according to the Council on Foreign Relations’ (CFR) thirteenth annual Preventive Priorities Survey. The survey identifies potential violent overseas conflicts where U.S. troops might be deployed in the year ahead.

Conducted by CFR’s Center for Preventive Action (CPA) last November, the survey asks foreign policy experts to rank thirty ongoing or potential conflicts based on their likelihood of occurring or escalating in the next year and their potential impact on U.S. national interests.

“There are many potential international clashes that the incoming Joe Biden administration must be particularly mindful of, especially given its desire to focus on bringing the novel coronavirus pandemic under control,” said Paul B. Stares, CPA director and General John W. Vessey senior fellow for conflict prevention. “Our survey is a valuable tool to help policymakers focus preventive efforts on those conflicts of greatest risk to the United States.”

Understanding EU counter-terrorism policy

SUMMARY Faced with a persistent international terrorist threat, the European Union (EU) is playing an ever more ambitious role in counter-terrorism. Even though primary responsibility for combating crime and ensuring security lies with the Member States, the EU provides cooperation, coordination and (to some extent) harmonisation tools, as well as financial support, to address this borderless phenomenon. Moreover, the assumption that there is a connection between development and stability, as well as between internal and external security, has come to shape EU action beyond its own borders. 

EU spending in the area of counter-terrorism has increased over the years, to allow for better cooperation between national law enforcement authorities and enhanced support by the EU bodies in charge of security and justice, such as Europol, eu-LISA and Eurojust. The many new rules and instruments that have been adopted in recent years range from harmonising definitions of terrorist offences and sanctions, and sharing information and data, to protecting borders, countering terrorist financing, and regulating firearms. However, implementing and evaluating the various measures is a challenging task. 

The European Parliament has played an active role not only in shaping legislation, but also in evaluating existing tools and gaps through the work accomplished by its Special Committee on Terrorism (TERR) in 2018. In line with the Parliament's recommendations, as well as the priorities set by the new European Commission and its counter-terrorism agenda presented in December 2020, future EU counterterrorism action will focus on better anticipating threats, countering radicalisation and reducing vulnerabilities, by making critical infrastructures more resilient and better protecting public spaces. Upcoming developments also include increased information-sharing, by means of better implementation and modernisation of existing tools, a reinforced mandate for Europol, as well as possible investigation and prosecution of terrorist crimes at EU level, through the proposed extension of the mandate of the recently established European Public Prosecutor's Office.

The World in 2021- Covid-19 is up-ending capitalism


RECESSIONS ARE capitalism’s sorting mechanism. Weak businesses shrink or fail and stronger ones expand. But in 2020 the process of creative destruction did not take place in the typical manner. Because the downturn was the result of a health crisis rather than, say, a financial crash or inflation scare, there were some idiosyncratic corporate winners and losers: think of the boom in video streaming, or cruise-liner firms being wrecked. Meanwhile vast state handouts propped up companies around the world, masking the scale of the corporate carnage. In 2021 the toll will become clearer as stimulus tapers down and more firms fail. Healthy businesses will ramp up investment, giving them an enduring advantage. These top dogs will, however, face a new climate in which three tenets of modern business—the primacy of shareholders, globalisation and limited government—are in flux.

Downturns tend to be infrequent and swift: since the second world war America has been in recession only 14% of the time. But they have a profound impact on the structure of business. During the previous three slumps the share prices of American firms in the top quartile of each of ten sectors rose by 6% on average, while those in the bottom quartile fell by 44%.

Artificial Intelligence and Western Defence Policy: A Conceptual Note

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has emerged as the main engine of growth of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, owing to its naturally cross-cutting, general-purpose nature. From a military perspective, the range of potential applications is at least as vast as the current range of tasks that require human cognition, e.g., analysing and classifying visual data, organising logistics, operating vehicles, or tracking and engaging hostile targets. How can Western nations – by which I mean those nations that are members of either NATO or the European Union (or both) – make the most out of the rise of AI, bearing in mind its potential defence applications?

Recent Cyber Events and Possible Implications for Armed Forces #8

This is the eighth instalment of a series of reports by CCDCOE identifying potential implications of cyber events to armed forces. This issue highlights some of the topics that were at the forefront during 2020. The primary audience for this report includes military decision makers at different levels of command. The aim of this report is to provide better understanding of how developments in the cyber domain may affect military operations.

Please note that the report covers only a selection of many cyber events that happened during the year. Our selection of relevant news articles stems from the significance of the events from the perspective of the military, utilizing the CCDCOE´s multidisciplinary expertise and 360° approach to cyber defence. This is not a news report, the focus will be rather on the long term impact of the events, and lessons that can be learned from incidents that will help the armed forces to be better prepared for future events.

Smart partnerships amid great power competition

by Mathew Burrows, Julian Mueller-Kaler

Artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies are developing at an exponential pace, and the discussion about their use as well as their implications for society and international relations is shaped by uncertainty. Whether it is the future of work, the collection and application of data, or new means for surveillance and social manipulation—AI will most likely influence every aspect of modern life. Change is coming no matter whether people like it or not, and decision makers are under pressure to prepare for a new world in the digital age. 

In order to establish forums, enable discussions about opportunities and challenges of modern technologies, and evaluate their implications for US-China relations, the Atlantic Council was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation grant that helped lay the groundwork for a new GeoTech Center, launched on March 11, 2020. Over the course of one year, we organized meetings in Paris, Brussels, and Berlin; traveled to Beijing and Shanghai; and held virtual conferences with India and Africa, all the while trying to answer one question: How can countries successfully collaborate on big data, AI, and other modern technologies amid the widening political gyre?

AI, China and the global quest for digital sovereignty

AI and International Stability: Risks and Confidence-Building Measures

By Michael Horowitz and Paul Scharre

Executive Summary

Militaries around the world believe that the integration of machine learning methods throughout their forces could improve their effectiveness. From algorithms to aid in recruiting and promotion, to those designed for surveillance and early warning, to those used directly on the battlefield, applications of artificial intelligence (AI) could shape the future character of warfare. These uses could also generate significant risks for international stability. These risks relate to broad facets of AI that could shape warfare, limits to machine learning methods that could increase the risks of inadvertent conflict, and specific mission areas, such as nuclear operations, where the use of AI could be dangerous. To reduce these risks and promote international stability, we explore the potential use of confidence-building measures (CBMs), constructed around the shared interests that all countries have in preventing inadvertent war. Though not a panacea, CBMs could create standards for information-sharing and notifications about AI-enabled systems that make inadvertent conflict less likely.


In recent years, the machine learning revolution has sparked a wave of interest in artificial intelligence (AI) applications across a range of industries. Nations are also mobilizing to use AI for national security and military purposes.1 It is therefore vital to assess how the militarization of AI could affect international stability and how to encourage militaries to adopt AI in a responsible manner. Doing so requires understanding the features of AI, the ways it could shape warfare, and the risks to international stability resulting from the militarization of artificial intelligence.

The U.S. AI Workforce: Understanding the Supply of AI Talent

Diana Gehlhaus 

As the United States seeks to maintain a competitive edge in artificial intelligence, the strength of its AI workforce will be of paramount importance. In order to understand the current state of the domestic AI workforce, Diana Gehlhaus and Santiago Mutis define the AI workforce and offer a preliminary assessment of its size, composition, and key characteristics. Among their findings: The domestic supply of AI talent consisted of an estimated 14 million workers (or about 9% of total U.S. employment) as of 2018.Download Full Report

Executive Summary

Having access to the right talent is critical to maintaining a competitive edge in artificial intelligence. In the United States, policymakers are actively discussing legislative proposals to grow and cultivate a globally competitive domestic AI workforce. However, little data is available on the U.S. AI workforce and associated talent pipelines outside of the PhD segment.

Yet having access to good workforce data is critical to actually “winning” the competition for AI talent. This brief provides two contributions to better understand the U.S. AI workforce: (1) a definition of the AI workforce based on the government occupational classification system, identifying 54 occupations that either participate or could participate in AI product and application development, and (2) a preliminary assessment and characterization of the supply of AI talent, which consisted of 14 million workers in 2018 (about 9% of total U.S. employment).

Guest Post: Dean Cheng on “Cyber Actions and Acts of War”


In today’s post popular LENS Conference speaker Mr. Dean Cheng wrestles with one of the toughest national security issues these days: at what point do–or should–cyber actions become a casus belli?

In addressing that question Dean unpacks the political term “act of war.” For the purposes of his essay, it means the kind of action that can trigger legal authority for acts in self-defense pursuant to Article 51 of the UN Charter (and its analog in Article 5 of the NATO charter).

When the attack is conducted with bombs or bullets, the legal determination is relatively easy to discern, but when it’s via electrons in cyberspace. not so much.

In short, to what extent has the nature and capabilites of cyber technology challenged traditional legal and political norms as to what warrants armed conflict? How great a breach of sovereignty must occur? Here are Dean’s views on those complicated questions:

Cyber Actions and Acts of War




Among many events of 2020, the 44-day war in Karabakh was one of the most significant. The decades-long conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia entered a new phase in late September with the escalation of hostilities into a full-scale war. Given the regional geopolitics, ongoing strategic rivalries, and the protracted diplomatic background of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, the renewed hostilities attracted high levels of attention from international media. Social media and other cyber-mediated channels rapidly became a continuation of the battleground, especially after the tensions escalated in September 2020. Moreover, the confrontation between Azerbaijani and Armenian information actors, both enjoying others’ support internationally, has had many facets.

The recent war in Karabakh is significant and exemplary in terms of the dynamics of modern conflicts and the information environment. In particular, the bidirectional relationships between various aspects of modern wars, such as skillful war planning, political-military concept building, battlefield military effectiveness, and strategic communication practices exceed the limited and isolated achievements in each of these domains in determining the winners of wars. Besides, the general coverage and representation of the war, as well as the dynamics of influence on social media, would most probably provide significant lessons-learned, not only for the belligerents or regional countries but also for others who have to operate in the modern information environment.

Transatlantic Data Transfers

Kenneth Propp

U.S. surveillance activities have alarmed European partners, throwing the future of transatlantic digital trade into question. The United States should embrace collaboration and protections for personal data.

Cables run into the back of a server unit inside an Equinix data center outside Paris, on December 7, 2016. Benoit Tessier/Reuters


Data transfers are at the heart of the robust transatlantic economy, but they have long been plagued by Europe’s doubts about privacy protections in the United States.

The economic stakes are high. Information and communications technology (ICT) services such as social networks and cloud service providers depend on cross-border data transfers, as do other services that can be delivered over ICT networks, including engineering, software, design, and finance. Although trade in digital services is hard to measure precisely, it has become one of the fastest-growing areas for the United States internationally. In 2017, digital services constituted 55 percent of U.S. services exports, yielding 68 percent of the U.S. global surplus in services trade, according to a transatlantic trade study [PDF]. U.S. exports of digital services to Europe that year amounted to $204.2 billion, generating a surplus of more than $80 billion. The transatlantic is the world’s largest area for digital trade.

In order to maintain and expand this trade, U.S. policymakers should develop a strategy to address the European Union (EU)’s concerns and promote cooperation with other democracies at a multilateral forum, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, to develop a shared legal framework for government access to personal data.

Evolving UAE Military and Foreign Security Cooperation: Path Toward Military Professionalism


After two decades of concerted investment and operational experience, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) armed forces, dubbed “Little Sparta,” are now one of the leading militaries in the region.1 With approximately 63,000 active uniformed personnel for a population of 9.9 million (only 1.2 million of which are Emirati), allegedly augmented by foreign auxiliary and mercenary forces, the UAE has gained global attention for its role in countering Iran and violent extremist networks and for interventions in Yemen and Libya.2 It is one of the United States’ closest military partners in the Middle East.3 American scholar Kenneth Pollack assesses that, taken as a whole, the UAE’s military is the most capable among the Arab states, while there may be variance across the force.4

The UAE has an opportunity to capitalize on these developments and become a professionalized military by building its strategic planning and force development capabilities, enabling it to set its regional priorities and force structure, and by committing to international principles of professional military conduct and greater transparency and accountability that will buttress its legitimacy at home, in the region, and with international partners. Military professionalism includes an understanding of leadership, strategy, history, tactics, warfighting domains, organization, technology, and capabilities. It also involves a commitment to moral conduct and to incorporating lessons learned to apply and move forward as part of an institution.

If developed, the UAE’s strategic planning capabilities would enable it to better match defense priorities with resourcing. For example, if the country envisions other counterinsurgency and proxy war campaigns in the future, does it need to create both capacity and capability within the UAE force to perform those missions in a more effective and integrated manner? Or will a continued reliance on mercenary forces be sufficient, but open the UAE to international scrutiny and erode its legitimacy in the eyes of key partners? Concretely, the UAE should undertake a review of its interventions in Yemen and Libya, which have tested the military’s force structure and capabilities and wherein the UAE reportedly has hired and mobilized mercenary groups and proxies to supplement its force. Gaps in the UAE’s strategic planning capabilities exacerbate the risks of overextension and reliance on less professional and less integrated forces.