GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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The New Decade: Foreign Policy in the UAE 2004-2014
Paper Proposal Text :
This paper will briefly review the evolution of UAE foreign policy by looking back at the 1971-2004 period and then comparing it to the last decade, 2004-2014. Using empirical analysis, the paper will highlight the increasingly multilateral traits of the UAE’s foreign policy and its significant assertiveness in the context of small state theory. The analysis will be framed by evaluating domestic changes in the UAE post-2004, regional shifts in the Gulf and wider Middle East after September 11th and the Arab Spring coupled with power alterations on a systemic level.

Foreign policy in the UAE during Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan al Nahyan’s rule was essentially oriented toward the Arab world with the goal of cementing UAE sovereignty and independence. Although the UAE’s core foreign policy values of openness, amicability and non-interference remained unchanged after Shaikh Zayed’s death in 2004, new foreign policy trends have emerged.. In the decade after his passing, in part due to more youthful leadership, the UAE has developed a more ambitious foreign policy that is markedly global in orientation. Beyond reaching further, it has also reaches wider. One can argue that the new pillars of the UAE’s foreign policies can be conceptually pegged to issues of security, economy and identity with four layers: the Gulf, the Arab world, the Muslim world and the world at large. The UAE has opened up as a confident, forward-thinking state.

Yet, while the UAE has been evolving, the Middle Eastern regional setting during the last decade has been transforming and destabilizing. On one side, the effects of September 11th and the War on Terror continue to reverberate on various levels. On the other hand, the underlying discontent that started the Arab Spring in January 2011 has echoed across the region since. The regimes in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, and Egypt have fallen and Bahrain and Kuwait have seen disruption. A bloody civil war began in Syria and has spilled over inin Lebanon. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have affected these events and been affected by them. Iran’s role in the region is changing, which affects Sunni-Shi’ia relations and disturbs the Saudi Arabia-Iranian balance of power. Despite the challenges, the UAE has weathered the storm quite well with clever foreign policies. It has become quite assertive in regional affairs with participation in Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and Syria in the last two years alone on top of its support for the Afghan mission. The UAE has provided a strong normative voice regionally and it has also been a strong advocate for higher levels of GCC cooperation and integration, especially on the economic front, but also on defence reform.

A systemic change is the trend toward multipolarization and the effect of emerging economies on global governance. This has created space for states to exert influence using economic power. The UAE’s vast oil and gas reserves brought tremendous financial prosperity, which has been used as an influential foreign policy tool at the international level by levering the global economy and developing roots into the global system of power. For example, the UAE’s recapitalization of western financial institutions during the financial crisis was tied to reform on global governance structures, which called for the UAE to enjoy more recognition– a request bolstered by links to emerging economies and shared interests in rebalancing global engagement frameworks. The UAE used its influence to integrate into global economic and governance structures on its own and projects power beyond its size. At the systemic level, power itself has slowly been changing. The general US strategy of retrenchment and its increasingly vocal desire to “lead from behind” has impacted the status quo on security and defence arrangements in the Middle East. This has great bearing on the UAE with bilateral defence agreements forming the key stone of its defence policy. Although the US commitment will not change in absolute terms, it can be expected to in practical matters. As a consequence of this policy shift, the UAE has begun to diversify its defence partners.

Tying the three levels of analysis to small state theory reveals that the UAE is perhaps a state in transition. It is said that ‘smallness’ does not come from size, but from a lack of power that can be exerted. Granted, from a small state perspective, the UAE lacks conventional sources of power and it has adopted an alliance-based strategy with the US as a matter of security policy. Yet, the UAE plays an active regional and even international role, atypical for a small state. Kenneth Waltz claims that despite military power being the measure of a state’s power, it is not the only one. He asserts that economic and other national capabilities cannot be separated and weighed alone – power is multidimensional. It is precisely this ‘other power’ that the UAE possess. It exerts significant levels of influence though the twin pillars of economy and identity in its foreign policies. Although this is true, it is also still true that the UAE is a classic small state in its bilateral security arrangement with the US, its ‘bandwagoning’, allying against common threats and in many cases sacrificing autonomy for protection, all of which has led to its involvement in US conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Bosnia-Kosovo, and the 1990 Gulf War. Yet, it is presently diversifying its security partners – although arguably in an attempt to compensate for a lack of military power – it is also a step toward autonomy vis-à-vis global interconnectedness, which challenges small state theory. It calls into question for small states just how multidimensional power is, the security of interconnectedness and the value of multifaceted foreign policy pillars. Will it result in more autonomy and if so, would it be good for the UAE?