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Dr David Roberts, Lecturer, Defence Studies Department, King’s College London and former Director, Qatar office of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies
TIME: 18:00-19:00, Wednesday 29th June 2016
VENUE: Room C, Houses of Parliament, 1 Parliament Street, SW1A 2LW
by Ruta Valaityte
On the 29th of June by the kind invitation of Paul Scully MP Henry Jackson Society hosted a talk by Dr David Roberts. Dr Roberts is a lecturer in the Defence Studies Department at King’s College London and the former director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI Qatar).
In his talk Dr Roberts analysed the security orientation of the Gulf states, mainly Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) from the perspective of the conflict in Yemen and discussed both the will and skill of these states to deploy their military forces. The received wisdom has been that either because of reasons of political economy or internal power struggles the Gulf states lacked will or, in other words, were reluctant to proceed with deployment of military forces abroad. Similarly, it was assumed that as a result of lack of meritocracy in the military structures or poor maintenance and information management the armies of Saudi Arabia and UAE also lacked the skill for successful military operations. By analysing the case of the recent war in Yemen Dr Roberts tried to assess whether this situation has changed.
According to Dr Roberts, the ‘Golden Arrow’ operation, organised by the Emiratis, resulted in the successful take over of Aden and was conducted with minimal US support. The airstrike campaign against the Houthis was relatively successful from the military perspective as well, even though it resulted in high collateral damage. At the same time, the UAE authorities were not deterred by the casualties. These phenomena seem to indicate both stronger will and skill of the armies of the Gulf states. On the other hand, as Dr Roberts pointed out, this presumably new will and skill has resulted from the different geopolitical climate and could have been triggered by a worsening relationship with the US and the Gulf state annoyance over the recent nuclear deal with Iran. In such international climate the Gulf states probably found no other way of tackling the rise of Houthi forces in Yemen than by themselves.
The analysis provided by Dr Roberts was indeed nuanced. He pointed out the continuing reliance of the Saudi and UAE armies on extensive US and NATO logistical support and indicated that the military campaign in Yemen was far less successful in the more mountainous areas of the country. The discussion that followed touched upon broader questions of regional politics, including the role of Iran in the conflict, potential additional US Congress funding to the Gulf state armies, generational leadership change in Saudi Arabia and the absence of Egypt and Pakistani armies in the conflict. To conclude Dr Roberts cautioned that coalition warfare still remains very difficult in the context of ‘Riyal Politik’.
For a full transcript of this event click here