Dubai: As the UAE marks 50 years of its nationhood, the country’s approach to foreign policy continues to be informed by the principles espoused by the founding father, the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
An important factor in how the UAE conducts its foreign policy has to do with its strategic location. It is in a part of the world that accounts for almost one-quarter of global oil production and shipping. This renders internal and regional stability and maritime security prime driving factors in policy considerations.
Policy-making is also informed by two other principles: Non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, and the pursuit, wherever possible, of peaceful resolutions to disputes, with strong support for international institutions such as the United Nations.
Focus on stability
In a Middle East prone to turmoil and instability, the UAE has provided an alternative vision. It is viewed as a land of opportunity, so much so that many in other Arab states hope their own countries would emerge as mirror images of the UAE.
And, increasingly, its economic progress and the resultant prosperity, alongside its small but robust armed forces, have also made it an important political and military player in the region.
Since 2011, the UAE has watched with alarm as the political situation in the Arab Spring countries spiralled out of control, especially with the rise of groups associated with the philosophy of the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremist organisations. This ground reality reinforced the country’s belief in upholding stability over all other considerations.
The post-Arab Spring situation enabled Iran, which the Gulf states view with suspicion, to further increase its interference in Arab countries, with support for armed non-state actors across the region.
Support for secular nationalists
Given its opposition to groups that use religion to promote political objectives, the UAE has stood by secular nationalists across the region.
The two main foreign policy and security concerns for the UAE are Iranian interference in the affairs of Arab states, and spread of religious extremism.
In UAE foreign policy circles, extremism is viewed as a tactical threat that must be countered for the welfare of the country and the region.
In line with the aforementioned concerns, the UAE has taken a proactive stance internationally, by sending troops to Nato’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and contributing fighter jets to Nato’s campaign in Libya.
And, of course, it was a leading Arab member of the international coalition that defeated Daesh.
Ties with Israel
Last year, the UAE and Israel signed a historic US-brokered peace deal at the White House.
Development of a relationship with Israel started off informally, before a firm UAE policy emerged. Speaking in an online interview with the Atlantic Council broadcast live on Zoom on August 20, 2020, then UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Dr Anwar Gargash had said: “We saw the region needs a strategic breakthrough. If something is in the interest of the UAE, we will pursue it. It was more non-political. We started by going to conventions.
"Then we went into Irena. It was clear that to have fighting chance, we should accept that Israel should be able to have a delegation ...then there was the decision to invite Israel to Expo 2020. It was natural that we were going to look at normalising relations.”