Fact Sheet

United Arab Emirates Overview

United Arab Emirates Overview

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Background

This page is part of United Arab Emirates’ Country Profile.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a member in good standing of all of the relevant nonproliferation treaties, organizations, and regimes, and is not known to possess programs for the development of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons, or their delivery systems. Currently pursuing a peaceful nuclear program, the UAE is often referred to as a model for nuclear newcomers.

In addition to joining many of the major nonproliferation treaties, the UAE has pledged support to a number of ad hoc initiatives, including the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). 1 Most significantly for proponents of nonproliferation, the UAE made the unprecedented commitment in its April 2008 “White Paper” announcing its intention to evaluate peaceful nuclear energy and in subsequent October 2009 domestic legislation to permanently forego the acquisition of uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing capabilities. 2 This pre-existing domestic commitment by the UAE is also reflected in its 2009 123 nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States, whose language concerning no enrichment and reprocessing is often referred to in the U.S. policy community as the nonproliferation “Gold Standard.” The UAE has financially supported, in the amount of U.S. $10 million, the IAEA Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) Bank in Kazakhstan. 3

Concerned about the ambiguous nature of Iran’s nuclear program, the UAE’s security relies on close strategic partnerships with the United States and France. 4 The UAE has also purchased advanced conventional weaponry, such as missile defense systems, from its Western partners.

Nuclear

The UAE became a non-nuclear weapon state party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1995; concluding a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Agency (IAEA) in 2003 and acceding to the IAEA Additional Protocol in 2010. 5 Although the country is rich in fossil fuels, the UAE government argues that “known volumes of natural gas that could be made available to the nation’s electricity sector would be insufficient to meet future demand.” 6 The UAE concluded that nuclear power is an “environmentally promising and commercially competitive” source that could contribute to the country’s “economy and future energy security.” 7 Therefore, the UAE rapidly moved forward with plans to build its first nuclear power plants and in 2009, signed a deal worth $20.4 billion with Korea Electric Power Corporation to construct four APR-1400 reactors. The first, the Barakah Unit 1, will become operational between 2019 and 2022. 8

The U.S.-UAE 123 nuclear cooperation agreement entered into force in December 2009, providing the necessary legal basis for any future nuclear commerce between the two countries. The agreement had significant precedent-setting potential; if the United States government treats future 123 negotiations similarly, nuclear newcomers could be required to accept the nonproliferation “gold standard” of foregoing enrichment and reprocessing capabilities in order to conclude a nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States. 9 However, as referenced in the “Agreed Minute,” should the U.S. negotiate a 123 agreement with another country in the Middle East with more favorable terms, the U.S.-UAE agreement can be renegotiated. 10 Controversy within the U.S. government over the gold standard remains, as U.S. policymakers debate whether or not to insist upon the gold standard in future negotiations with other states wishing to acquire nuclear technology. 11 Some officials, particularly those advocating for a nuclear agreement with Saudi Arabia, argue that a looser standard would make the United States a more competitive nuclear supplier with countries such as Russia and China. 12

With its many voluntary commitments, the UAE has set a positive nonproliferation example for other nuclear newcomer states. However, the UAE will need considerable foreign assistance and time to follow through on the nonproliferation pledges it has made. Without these, experts caution a “commitment-compliance gap” may emerge whereby the UAE lacks the institutional capacity to fully adhere to its commitments. 13 This is of particular concern in the area of nonproliferation export controls as the UAE only passed comprehensive nonproliferation export control legislation in 2007 and historically has been a major transit point for illicit transactions involving Iran and other neighboring countries. 14 The UAE has pledged its support for the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s export control guidelines, and cooperated with efforts to bar shipments of sensitive technologies to Iran. 15 However, the UAE has reportedly housed “hundreds of front companies and foreign trading agencies that actively procure dual-use items for entities in countries under sanction.” 16 Dubai’s territory was a known hub for the A.Q. Khan network which illicitly supplied nuclear technology to countries such as Iran, Libya, and North Korea. 17 While the UAE is making good-faith efforts to crack down on illicit trafficking, the development of robust export controls, border security, and related legal infrastructure requires significant time and resources.

The UAE faces capacity-building challenges in a number of areas beyond export controls. The nuclear program will require a significant long-term commitment to training domestic and regional personnel by the UAE and its foreign partners. In the meantime, the country will need to rely on foreign experts to ensure the safety and security of its nuclear program, a practice that some find problematic for the long-term sustainability of the program, while others note the additional transparency and access to the program foreign participation allow. In particular, the UAE depends heavily on foreign expertise in the highest management positions of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) and its U.S.-modeled regulatory agency, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR).

IAEA assessments of the UAE’s progress to-date have been favorable; with a December 2011 Integrated Regulatory Review Service team reporting that it was “impressed by the speed with which the UAE developed its regulatory framework and established a new regulatory body.” 18 In June 2013, the UAE and the IAEA signed an Integrated Work Plan to facilitate interaction between the IAEA and the UAE’s emerging nuclear power sector. 19 In 2016, the IAEA concluded that the UAE had undertaken “strong and sustainable nuclear security activities,” after completing a two-week advisory mission in the country. 20

Biological

The United Arab Emirates is a state party to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), and is not known to possess either biological weapons or programs for their development. 21

The UAE is taking a regional leadership role in biotechnology issues, and will therefore need to develop more robust export controls, biosecurity, and biosafety standards in order to mitigate the dual-use risks inherent to a large-scale biotechnology sector. 22 In 2005, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister of the UAE and leader of Dubai, announced that Dubai would build the world’s first free-trade zone dedicated to biotechnology, with the intention of becoming the Middle East’s regional biotechnology hub and a venue for international collaboration. 23 After completing construction in 2010, the Dubai Biotechnology & Research Park (DuBiotech) now includes R&D, manufacturing, and conference space accommodating up to 160 laboratories. 24 With its promise of tax-free operation for at least fifty years and customs duty exemption on all goods and services, dozens of companies, including Pfizer, Amgen, Genzyme, and Merck, operate at DuBiotech. 25 26 Although the United Arab Emirates aspires to become a global biotechnology hub, the UAE is not a member of the Australia Group (AG). 27

Missile

The United Arab Emirates is not a party to the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation or the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), but asserts that it abides by MTCR guidelines. 28 However, in 1998 the UAE purchased an undisclosed number of Black Shaheen cruise missiles, which exceed MTCR capability limitations, from France and the United Kingdom. 29 The deal drew protests from the United States, who eventually conceded that “MTCR members have not always agreed with each others’ interpretation of the MTCR guidelines.” 30

Despite its objections to the Black Shaheen deal, the United States has a significant strategic relationship with the UAE and has supplied it with numerous defensive systems. 31 On 25 December 2011, the United States and the UAE signed an arms deal worth $3.48 billion dollars that included two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems, 96 missiles, two radar systems, spare parts, and training, making the UAE the first international recipient of the THAAD system, which is reportedly capable of “destroying incoming missiles at a range of 200 km.” 32 In November 2012, the United States cleared the way for a sale of 48 THAAD missiles and associated equipment at an estimated cost of over $1 billion. 33 The UAE has purchased Patriot missile systems from the United States, and has deployed them to Yemen in support of the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemeni Civil War. 34

The UAE possesses a small number of Scud-B ballistic missiles, with a range of 300km and payload capacity of 1,000kg, which it purchased from North Korea in the late 1980s. 35 A declassified U.S. national intelligence estimate from 1991 asserted that North Korea sold the UAE 18-24 Scud-B missiles in 1988. 36 Others believe the UAE purchased 25 Scud-B missiles from North Korea in 1989. 37

Chemical

The United Arab Emirates is a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) 38 The UAE is not known to possess either chemical weapons or programs for their development. 39

The UAE will face increasing dual-use challenges requiring the development of robust export controls, chemical safety, and chemical security standards, as it is actively expanding its chemical industrial sector. 40 The UAE has been actively expanding its chemical industrial sector. 41 The hub of this expansion is Chemical Industry City in Abu Dhabi, which aims to be the largest chemical industry complex in the world. 42

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Glossary

Nonproliferation
Nonproliferation: Measures to prevent the spread of biological, chemical, and/or nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. See entry for Proliferation.
Nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon: A device that releases nuclear energy in an explosive manner as the result of nuclear chain reactions involving fission, or fission and fusion, of atomic nuclei. Such weapons are also sometimes referred to as atomic bombs (a fission-based weapon); or boosted fission weapons (a fission-based weapon deriving a slightly higher yield from a small fusion reaction); or hydrogen bombs/thermonuclear weapons (a weapon deriving a significant portion of its energy from fusion reactions).
Chemical Weapon (CW)
The CW: The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons defines a chemical weapon as any of the following: 1) a toxic chemical or its precursors; 2) a munition specifically designed to deliver a toxic chemical; or 3) any equipment specifically designed for use with toxic chemicals or munitions. Toxic chemical agents are gaseous, liquid, or solid chemical substances that use their toxic properties to cause death or severe harm to humans, animals, and/or plants. Chemical weapons include blister, nerve, choking, and blood agents, as well as non-lethal incapacitating agents and riot-control agents. Historically, chemical weapons have been the most widely used and widely proliferated weapon of mass destruction.
Biological weapon (BW)
Biological weapons use microorganisms and natural toxins to produce disease in humans, animals, or plants.  Biological weapons can be derived from: bacteria (anthrax, plague, tularemia); viruses (smallpox, viral hemorrhagic fevers); rickettsia (Q fever and epidemic typhus); biological toxins (botulinum toxin, staphylococcus enterotoxin B); and fungi (San Joaquin Valley fever, mycotoxins). These agents can be deployed as biological weapons when paired with a delivery system, such as a missile or aerosol device.
Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI)
The PSI: Announced by U.S. President George W. Bush in May 2003, PSI is a U.S.- led effort to prevent the proliferation of WMD, their delivery systems, and related materials through the use of information sharing and coordination of diplomatic and military efforts. Members of the initiative share a set of 13 common principles, which guide PSI efforts. For more information, see the PSI.
Nuclear energy
Nuclear energy: The energy liberated by a nuclear reaction (fission or fusion), or by radioactive decay.
Enriched uranium
Enriched uranium: Uranium with an increased concentration of the isotope U-235, relative to natural uranium. Natural uranium contains 0.7 percent U-235, whereas nuclear weapons typically require uranium enriched to very high levels (see the definitions for “highly enriched uranium” and “weapons-grade”). Nuclear power plant fuel typically uses uranium enriched to 3 to 5 percent U-235, material that is not sufficiently enriched to be used for nuclear weapons.
Reprocessing
Reprocessing: The chemical treatment of spent nuclear fuel to separate the remaining usable plutonium and uranium for re-fabrication into fuel, or alternatively, to extract the plutonium for use in nuclear weapons.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
IAEA: Founded in 1957 and based in Vienna, Austria, the IAEA is an autonomous international organization in the United Nations system. The Agency’s mandate is the promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, technical assistance in this area, and verification that nuclear materials and technology stay in peaceful use. Article III of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT to accept safeguards administered by the IAEA. The IAEA consists of three principal organs: the General Conference (of member states); the Board of Governors; and the Secretariat. For additional information, see the IAEA.
Low enriched uranium (LEU)
Low enriched uranium (LEU): Refers to uranium with a concentration of the isotope U-235 that is higher than that found in natural uranium but lower than 20% LEU (usually 3 to 5%). LEU is used as fuel for many nuclear reactor designs.
Non-nuclear weapon state (NNWS)
Non-nuclear weapon state (NNWS): Under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), NNWS are states that had not detonated a nuclear device prior to 1 January 1967, and who agree in joining the NPT to refrain from pursuing nuclear weapons (that is, all state parties to the NPT other than the United States, the Soviet Union/Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China).
Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)
The NPT: Signed in 1968, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is the most widely adhered-to international security agreement. The “three pillars” of the NPT are nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Article VI of the NPT commits states possessing nuclear weapons to negotiate in good faith toward halting the arms race and the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. The Treaty stipulates that non-nuclear-weapon states will not seek to acquire nuclear weapons, and will accept International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on their nuclear activities, while nuclear weapon states commit not to transfer nuclear weapons to other states. All states have a right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and should assist one another in its development. The NPT provides for conferences of member states to review treaty implementation at five-year intervals. Initially of a 25-year duration, the NPT was extended indefinitely in 1995. For additional information, see the NPT.
Safeguards
Safeguards: A system of accounting, containment, surveillance, and inspections aimed at verifying that states are in compliance with their treaty obligations concerning the supply, manufacture, and use of civil nuclear materials. The term frequently refers to the safeguards systems maintained by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in all nuclear facilities in non-nuclear weapon state parties to the NPT. IAEA safeguards aim to detect the diversion of a significant quantity of nuclear material in a timely manner. However, the term can also refer to, for example, a bilateral agreement between a supplier state and an importer state on the use of a certain nuclear technology.

See entries for Full-scope safeguards, information-driven safeguards, Information Circular 66, and Information Circular 153.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
IAEA: Founded in 1957 and based in Vienna, Austria, the IAEA is an autonomous international organization in the United Nations system. The Agency’s mandate is the promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, technical assistance in this area, and verification that nuclear materials and technology stay in peaceful use. Article III of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT to accept safeguards administered by the IAEA. The IAEA consists of three principal organs: the General Conference (of member states); the Board of Governors; and the Secretariat. For additional information, see the IAEA.
Additional Protocol
The Additional Protocol is a legal document granting the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) complementary inspection authority to that provided in underlying safeguards agreements. The principal aim is to enable the IAEA inspectorate to provide assurance about both declared and possible undeclared activities. Under the Protocol, the IAEA is granted expanded rights of access to information and sites, as well as additional authority to use the most advanced technologies during the verification process. See entry for Information Circular 540.
Nuclear energy
Nuclear energy: The energy liberated by a nuclear reaction (fission or fusion), or by radioactive decay.
Nuclear power plant
Nuclear power plant: A facility that generates electricity using a nuclear reactor as its heat source to provide steam to a turbine generator.
Nuclear Cooperation (Section 123) Agreement
Nuclear Cooperation (Section 123) Agreement: Named after Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act of 1954, this type of agreement governs U.S. peaceful nuclear cooperation with foreign states, and must be in place for certain types of transactions to occur.
Entry into force
The moment at which all provisions of a treaty are legally binding on its parties. Every treaty specifies preconditions for its entry into force. For example, the NPT specified that it would enter into force after the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union (the Depository governments) and 40 other countries ratified the treaty, an event that occurred on March 5, 1970. See entries for Signature, Ratification.
Dual-use item
An item that has both civilian and military applications. For example, many of the precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of chemical weapons have legitimate civilian industrial uses, such as the production of pesticides or ink for ballpoint pens.
Sanctions
Punitive measures, for example economic in nature, implemented in response to a state's violation of its international obligations.
Export control
National laws or international arrangements established to restrict the sale of certain goods to certain countries, or to ensure that safeguards or end-use guarantees are applied to the export and sale of sensitive and dual-use technologies and materials. See entry for Dual-use
Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC)
The BTWC: The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (BTWC) prohibits the development, production, or stockpiling of bacteriological and toxin weapons. Countries must destroy or divert to peaceful purposes all agents, toxins, weapons, equipment, and means of delivery within nine months after the entry into force of the convention. The BTWC was opened for signature on April 10, 1972, and entered into force on March 26, 1975. In 1994, the BTWC member states created the Ad Hoc Group to negotiate a legally binding BTWC Protocol that would help deter violations of the BTWC. The draft protocol outlines a monitoring regime that would require declarations of dual-use activities and facilities, routine visits to declared facilities, and short-notice challenge investigations. For additional information, see the BTWC.
Biological weapon (BW)
Biological weapons use microorganisms and natural toxins to produce disease in humans, animals, or plants.  Biological weapons can be derived from: bacteria (anthrax, plague, tularemia); viruses (smallpox, viral hemorrhagic fevers); rickettsia (Q fever and epidemic typhus); biological toxins (botulinum toxin, staphylococcus enterotoxin B); and fungi (San Joaquin Valley fever, mycotoxins). These agents can be deployed as biological weapons when paired with a delivery system, such as a missile or aerosol device.
Australia Group (AG)
Australia Group (AG): Established in 1985 to limit the spread of chemical and biological weapons (CBW) through export controls on chemical precursors, equipment, agents, and organisms. For additional information, see the Australia Group.
International Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missiles (ICOC)
ICOC: A legally non-binding arrangement that was launched with the objective of preventing and curbing the proliferation of ballistic missile systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction. States adhering to the ICOC agree not to assist ballistic missile programs in countries suspected of developing biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, as well as to exhibit "restraint" in the development and testing of their own ballistic missiles. It eventually became the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missiles (HCOC). For additional information, see the HCOC.
Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)
The MTCR: An informal arrangement established in April 1987 by an association of supplier states concerned about the proliferation of missile equipment and technology relevant to missiles that are capable of carrying a payload over 500 kilograms over a 300-kilometer range. Though originally intended to restrict the proliferation of nuclear-capable missiles, the regime has been expanded to restrict the spread of unmanned aerial vehicles. For additional information, see the MTCR.
Cruise missile
An unmanned self-propelled guided vehicle that sustains flight through aerodynamic lift for most of its flight path. There are subsonic and supersonic cruise missiles currently deployed in conventional and nuclear arsenals, while conventional hypersonic cruise missiles are currently in development. These can be launched from the air, submarines, or the ground. Although they carry smaller payloads, travel at slower speeds, and cover lesser ranges than ballistic missiles, cruise missiles can be programmed to travel along customized flight paths and to evade missile defense systems.
Theater High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD)
THAAD: The U.S. Army's air defense program designed to provide extended defense, and to engage an incoming missile at ranges of up to several hundred kilometers. THAAD deploys a hit-to-kill interceptor equipped with an infrared seeker. The interception is intended to occur outside the earth's atmosphere, or high in the atmosphere.
Scud
Scud is the designation for a series of short-range ballistic missiles developed by the Soviet Union in the 1950s and transferred to many other countries. Most theater ballistic missiles developed and deployed in countries of proliferation concern, for example Iran and North Korea, are based on the Scud design.
Ballistic missile
A delivery vehicle powered by a liquid or solid fueled rocket that primarily travels in a ballistic (free-fall) trajectory.  The flight of a ballistic missile includes three phases: 1) boost phase, where the rocket generates thrust to launch the missile into flight; 2) midcourse phase, where the missile coasts in an arc under the influence of gravity; and 3) terminal phase, in which the missile descends towards its target.  Ballistic missiles can be characterized by three key parameters - range, payload, and Circular Error Probable (CEP), or targeting precision.  Ballistic missiles are primarily intended for use against ground targets.
Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)
The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) requires each state party to declare and destroy all the chemical weapons (CW) and CW production facilities it possesses, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control, as well as any CW it abandoned on the territory of another state. The CWC was opened for signature on 13 January 1993, and entered into force on 29 April 1997. For additional information, see the CWC.
Chemical Weapon (CW)
The CW: The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons defines a chemical weapon as any of the following: 1) a toxic chemical or its precursors; 2) a munition specifically designed to deliver a toxic chemical; or 3) any equipment specifically designed for use with toxic chemicals or munitions. Toxic chemical agents are gaseous, liquid, or solid chemical substances that use their toxic properties to cause death or severe harm to humans, animals, and/or plants. Chemical weapons include blister, nerve, choking, and blood agents, as well as non-lethal incapacitating agents and riot-control agents. Historically, chemical weapons have been the most widely used and widely proliferated weapon of mass destruction.

Sources

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  34. Barbara Opall-Rome, “Raytheon: Arab-Operated Patriots Intercepted over 100 Tactical Ballistic Missiles since 2015,” Defense News, 14 November 2017, www.defensenews.com.
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  36. Director of Central Intelligence, National Intelligence Estimate, “Prospects for Special Weapons Proliferation and Control,” NIE 5-91C, Volume II: Annex A (Country Studies), July 1991, p. 6, www.nsarchive.gwu.edu/nukevault.
  37. Dinshaw Mistry, Containing Missile Proliferation: Stategic Technology, Security Regimes, and International Cooperation in Arms Control, (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2003), p. 130.
  38. “Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East,” Congressional Research Service, 14 January 2000.
  39. Borealis News & Events, “New Chemical Industrial City planned for Abu Dhabi,” Borealis AG, 19 March 2008.
  40. Borealis News & Events, “New Chemical Industrial City planned for Abu Dhabi,” Borealis AG, 19 March 2008.
  41. Abu Dhabi Digital Government, “Investing in Abu Dhabi’s Industrial Sector,” 22 October 2013, www.abudhabi.ae.
  42. “UAE economy projected to grow 3.9% in 2013,” MENA Financial Network, 6 January 2013, menafn.com; Abu Dhabi Ports Company, “ADIC to develop Chemicals Industrial City in Tewaleh area,” 5 May 2008.

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