At a time where countries strive for influence and power in the global arena, soft power emerges as a critical component of a nation’s total influence.
It refers to the ability of a country to influence others through attraction and persuasion using cultural, political, economic, sporting, and artistic methods as opposed to traditional hard power, which includes military, informational, diplomatic, and economic potentials.
With the world’s increasing interconnectedness, soft power’s influence has grown, and its significance on influencing international relations and global events cannot be overstated. In this essay, we will look at the notion of soft power, its relevance in today’s world, and the techniques adopted by the UAE as a role model in developing and using its soft power.
During the era of President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE is proceeding with confident steps and consolidating the elements and components of the state’s soft power via political, economic, environmental, and technical efforts and policies to improve the country’s foundations, as well as strategic alliances with diverse nations throughout the world.
The UAE’s tolerant policies and initiatives, its charitable and humanitarian work, and its international effectiveness is central to this approach, which continues the work of the country’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
Hosting of the Climate Conference “COP28” is the finest evidence of this, along with the country’s attempts to resolve the problem of the Russian-Ukrainian war and its active contributions to solving key global crises like climate change and the Covid-19 epidemic.
Leadership in the UAE is focused on improving the country’s standing across the world. Consequently, it has given the idea of soft power much thought, creating the “Soft Power Strategy” and establishing a National Council for Soft Power in 2017. The country has put in place an extensive institutional apparatus that optimises our national strengths and helps advance our interests on a regional and global scale.
The Emirati model of soft power is distinct in several ways; it is founded on a rich history and heritage, its tolerant culture witnessed by everyone near and far, its charitable and humanitarian efforts benefit the vast majority of the world’s population, it is rooted in strong Arab traditions that uphold the value of human brotherhood on both the theoretical and practical levels, and its approach to sustainable development simultaneously benefits people and the environment, along with effective strategies in various fields and strategic partnerships with multiple countries.
Intellectual and cultural influence
There are several examples of soft power being used to exert intellectual and cultural influence on different countries across the world. Through popular music, film, and fashion, as well as colleges that draw students from all over the world, the United States has a strong cultural presence.
Japan has leveraged its distinctive cultural exports, such as animation, to project a good image and lure younger people worldwide. France is frequently linked with high fashion, good food, and the arts, and its cultural diplomacy has assisted France in maintaining its place as a prominent global actor.
China has spent substantially in cultural diplomacy, promoting the Chinese language and culture through Confucius Institutes and hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics as a show of soft power.
Furthermore, Germany has a robust economy and is frequently seen as a pioneer in technology and innovation, which helps its favourable image and soft power.
The UAE has made considerable efforts in cultural diplomacy, presenting its distinct and contemporary cultural history through a variety of initiatives, including the Louvre Museum and the Museum of Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi. It has held large international exhibits and other events.
Furthermore, the UAE has established itself as a commercial, tourist, and technological centre, contributing to its image as a modern and progressive country.
Through these and other efforts, the UAE has been able to strengthen its soft power and make a positive impression on the world by employing a variety of soft power tools, the most important of which are diplomatic tools, behaviour, and rhetoric that support international legitimacy and the values of peaceful coexistence and world peace, as well as the attractiveness of the economic development model that the UAE’s wise leadership has adopted.
The UAE development model is distinguished by its multidisciplinary nature and support for access to global markets. In terms of the political model, the UAE, under the patronage of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, displays the model of a flexible union and the model of the future state in a way that has won international acclaim.
On a cultural level, the UAE is the ideal model of cultural pluralism and peaceful coexistence between different religions and races, and related to this is the “Abrahamic Family House” initiative, the UAE’s gift to the entire world, as an intellectual and religious initiative to combat extremist ideas, reflecting the wise leadership’s awareness of the importance of human diplomacy, international humanitarian action, as one of the sources of the UAE’s soft power.
Prestigious financial location
The UAE, thanks to wise leadership is witnessing progress in the field of “education and scientific research,” in a way that adds value to the Emirates’ soft power, and this is due to the development of the country’s educational system.
The UAE’s educational system took a quantum leap in 2022, ranking seventeenth in the world, and contributed to the UAE being chosen to host the first edition of the “Abu Dhabi Space Dialogue,” which was organised under the patronage of His Highness and with the participation of a diverse range of decision-makers, institutions, and experts in the space sector from 50 countries worldwide.
In terms of international relations and diplomacy, the United Arab Emirates is the most influential country regionally and in the Arab world, as well as one of the most influential countries diplomatically in the world, thanks to the wise leadership’s policies and initiatives, which contribute to the Emirates’ good reputation in assisting other countries.
The government ranked tenth in the world in the diplomacy index in 2022, up from sixteenth in 2021. The United Arab Emirates is likely to join the list of top 10 nations in terms of diplomatic influence in the near future, owing to its ongoing efforts to conserve the environment at the regional and international levels.
Furthermore, despite its small population compared to the countries that precede it, the UAE ranked tenth globally and first regionally in the strength of influence index, eleventh globally in the international relations index, and twentieth globally in the positive reputation and tenth globally in the positive influence index.
Diplomatic and strategic role
The UAE has become a global capital for exhibitions, large conferences, and major international events, with notable examples including Expo 2020 Dubai, the International Defense Exhibition (IDEX), the Dubai Airshow, the Global Agenda Councils Summit, and the upcoming Climate Summit Conference (COP28).
In addition to its advanced position among the happiest nations, according to the World Happiness Report 2020, the country has become the most important tourist destination in the Middle East and North Africa, and among the top 10 tourist destinations in the world.
The UAE’s “strait diplomacy” focuses on the security of global marine navigation in three major straits, namely the Strait of Hormuz, the Strait of Bab al-Mandab, and the Suez Canal. The UAE conducts this diplomacy with excellent efficiency, thanks to policies that strike a balance between attaining Emirati aspirations outside the regional framework on the one hand while striving to maintain the UAE’s worldwide image on the other.
This is accomplished through Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, diplomatic and strategic role, as His Highness always patronises the active and effective presence of the Emirati role at the level of maritime security, which establishes the principle of institutional dialogue on the security of marine navigation, and expands the circle of investments and economic partnerships of the United Arab Emirates, as well as its good regional and international expansion in the East and Southeast Asia.
Finally, soft power is critical to a country’s total power and capacity to influence global events. Soft power is defined as a country’s non-coercive influence on others through co-optation and persuasion, frequently accomplished through cultural diplomacy, international organisations, and a favourable image.
Not only did the UAE benefit from soft power like other countries such as the United States, Japan, France, China, Germany, and others, but it also distinguished itself by giving soft power a new character and definition by incorporating several inputs never before used in soft power history.
Thus, it fulfilled its objectives through internal and international policy, alliance building, and projecting a favourable image to the rest of the globe.
— Prof. Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi is a noted Emirati writer