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The Emirates phenomenon owes much to the ability of their leaders to solve problems of the country for the benefit of the well-being of the people. They provided the country with large margin in the economic, political, and other fields. The UAE foreign policy plays an important role in the formation of the current shape of the country. The country’s oil transportation arteries situated in the intersection place, the leading regional center for trade and re-export of an important node of international communications at the crossroads of Asia, Africa, and Europe, present timeless value. This paper aims to observe the successes and failures of the UAE foreign policy.
The Historical Background
Scientific studies assert that since its foundation, the UAE faces external risks and challenges coming primarily from its immediate geopolitical environment – the Persian Gulf region (Almezaini, 2012). In historical perspective, the Gulf region has always been the crossroad of important sea trade routes and the object of the colonial expansion and struggle between different states and forces. Since the opening of enormous sources of hydrocarbons that comprise 62 percent of world reserves, the region became a place of competition between states for access to oil (Shakir, 2014). If until the 1970s, only the United Kingdom and the United States had the great influence on the country, then, in 1980s, the former Soviet Union, France, and Japan had significantly increased their impact on the whole region (Katzman, 2015). However, the USA captured the leadership in the international relations.
Nevertheless, this did not guarantee the country’s stability. The clash of interests of various players and their struggle for influence has led to the conflicts in the region; many of them developed secretly. According to Almezaini (2012), in the last quarter of the 20th century, they launched a series of violent events and changes in one way or another affecting the Emirates. After the proclamation of the Islamic Republic and the fall of the Shah in Iran in 1979, the intra-regional tension and confrontation had intensified especially between Baghdad and Tehran that led to the eight-year Iran-Iraq war (Davidson, 2011, p. 43). Events in the neighboring Afghanistan also worsened the situation in the region and contributed to its conflicts.
The unresolved disputes and disagreements over the territories and borders between countries located in the region partly inherited from the past complicated the task but external interference still caused the larger part of the issue. Thus, the conflicts between the Emirates and Iran, Saudi Arabia and Oman, Qatar and Bahrain, Qatar and the Saudi Kingdom, and between Riyadh and Oman occurred in the region (Shakir, 2014). Therefore, the vulnerability of the Emirates consisting of small principalities in military terms when compared with much larger territories, populations, powers, and potentials of its neighbors such as Iran and Iraq was obvious. Thus, just after the formation of the United Arab Emirates in 1971, a dispute has flashed between the new state and neighboring Iran, which actually seized and occupied the three islands of Abu Musa, Greater, and Lesser Tunb (Shakir, 2014).
The question of the “Iranian occupation” of the three islands, which were of the great strategic importance, became a stumbling block in the Iran-UAE relations (Al-Alkim, 2012). This problem remained suspended and had taken the international framework to provide the support of the position of Abu Dhabi from other countries. The United Arab Emirates got in the field of risk due to the conflict in the Middle East. This contradiction that existed due to the military, political, and other reasons had involved a number of neighboring countries in the confrontation process.
Failures of the UAE Foreign Policy
As the largest oil exporter and the country with the excess of capital, the UAE more than many others is involved in the international division of labor and finance. According to economic reports, the UAE foreign assets are estimated to total more than $150 billion (Katzman, 2015, p. 36). Many findings asserted that the UAE supported the legitimate rights of the Palestinians to return their land from Israel, which determined a long-lasting conflict between Israel and Palestine (Davidson, 2011). Thus, the UAE supports a view of the solution of the conflict and the general long-term settlement of the Middle East problem through the formula “peace in exchange for land” (Al-Alkim, 2012). At the same time, the Emirates recognize the Palestinians’ right to resist occupation and aggression of Israel.
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Many studies reported that the UAE being a country of stability in the region supported the revolutionary struggle against the Assad regime in Syria (Al-Alkim, 2012). From the beginning of the civil war in Syria, the Emirates quite openly supported and financed arms and anti-government groups. In the case of the Egyptian revolution of 2011, the UAE’s position was not immediately clear and definite (Shakir, 2014). The country reacted to it with enthusiasm noting a positive signal for the changes in the political reforms in the Middle East region. Observing the rapid Islamization of Egypt, the Emirates rulers began the fight against “Muslim Brotherhood” that try to make pressure using Islam. In, fact, they do not desire the development of same scenario in their own country. This ultra-radical organization is both internal and external threat.
Shakir (2014) assumes that the UAE supports nationalist groups in the region and enforces a separation between politics and institutionalized religion. During the war in the Persian Gulf in 1991, the country was involved in the military coalition against Iraq financing it (Al-Alkim, 2012, p. 132). The UAE had diplomatic relations with the Taliban government, which made the terrorist attack on the USA. Moreover, the country offered financial help to Afghanistan and supported its refugees and civilian victims. Nowadays, it endorses the USA’s struggle against terrorism. After September 11, 2001, the UAE faced the increasing threat of the terrorist underground.
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Successes of the UAE Foreign Policy
The success of the UAE foreign policy lies in its system of priorities based on the principles of the United Nations and international law. The ruling circles took into consideration both the specific characteristics and aspects of their country, real-world experience, and the results of the other Arab countries. According to researchers, they showed geostrategic intuition in their practices in response to changing conditions and the objective situation (Almezaini, 2012).
This movement of the UAE has speeded the pace of development and modernization, and their transformation into a unified state helped to expand international horizons and vision of the foreign policy of the Emirates. In this regard, in 1981, the country began considerable activities in the process of creating a sub-regional association of six Arab neighbors – the Cooperation Council of the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) (Shakir, 2014). The common historical destiny, geographical location, language, religion, and similar regimes united them. Many studies reveal that the declaration of the Council was a response of the Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates to the threats arising in the region (Al-Alkim, 2012).
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The Emirates were one of the founders of the organization, and its members aimed at rapprochement, coordination, and cooperation in a wide range of activities on the way to the unification. The dynamism of the UAE foreign policy has also increased under the influence of other factors. First of all, according to Katzman (2015), the more efficient energy and oil diplomacy has become popular with the increase of production and export of hydrocarbons. It is designed to create the most favorable environment and climate for the defending of the interests of the United Arab Emirates on the world markets of raw materials and products. Secondly, rapid economic progress and shortage of local skilled labor forced to increase the influx of immigrant workers in the UAE, which required the activation of external links with their countries of origin. With regard to the Western countries, the Emirates took a friendly but independent course considering its security guarantees. Consequently, in the mid-90s, Abu Dhabi has signed a defense agreement with the United Kingdom, the United States, and France (Davidson, 2011). Ultimately, the formation and practice of UAE foreign policy reflect the recognition that a country with a similar size and location in such a turbulent region has to work closely with other states.
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Therefore, due to flexible and balanced foreign policy, the country ensured its safety and ability to avoid confrontation and took a worthy place in the system of international relations at the regional and wider international level. In general, it is possible to summarize that the Emirates are experienced in the development of the young state that in a short period of existence held a strong modernization of its life and has created a new management and production patterns taking a valuable place in the international arena. The UAE managed to avoid external shocks simultaneously making a contribution to the stabilization of the surrounding region. Therefore, due to its relevant foreign policy, the United Arab Emirates demonstrated a successful policy-making that usually manages different conflicts and confrontations with other countries.