Since its establishment in 1971, the United Arab Emirates implemented an objective foreign policy based several beliefs including the adoption of dialogue, appreciation of international conventions, commitment to the United Nations Charter , the non-interference of other country’s internal affairs, and the resolution of disputes by peaceful means.
One of the core foundations the UAE’s foreign policy has been building cooperation-based relations with all countries of the world. These relations have insured a substantial development assistance, which has increased the UAE’s importance among recipient states. Most of this foreign aid (in excess of $15 billion) has been to various Arab and Muslim countries.
UAE Foreign Policy
The UAE’s political leadership operates within a foreign policy framework which emphasizes diplomacy, negotiation and a willingness to help those less fortunate. The UAE is attentive of its commitment to its neighbors and the international community with regard to regional peace, stability and security. To achieve these goals, it has purposefully built bridges, partnerships and dialogue, and has emphasized moderation, tolerance and respect for all peoples and religions. Relying on these tools of engagement has allowed the Government to pursue effective, balanced and wide-ranging ties with the international community.
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One of the central features of the UAE’s foreign policy has been the development of closer ties with its neighbors in the Arabian Peninsula through the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The UAE is also a member of the Arab League, the Arab Quartet, the Committee for the Arab Peace Initiative, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and many other regional, international and intergovernmental organizations, as well as, the United Nations (UN) and its affiliated bodies.
UAE’s Foreign Policy and it’s commitment to the security Arabian Gulf and Peninsula
The UAE it continues to press for the preservation of Gulf waters as an open international trade zone and the Strait of Hormuz (a strait between the Sultanate of Oman and Iran) as an open maritime passageway. However, Iran’s continuing occupation of three UAE islands in the Gulf, Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs, is a source of instability in the region. Although historically governed by the rulers of the emirates of Sharjah and Ra’s al-Khaimah, they were forcibly occupied by Iran hours before the federation was formed on 2 December 1971. The UAE has consistently rejected the Iranian occupation, demanded the restoration of its full sovereignty and emphasized that ‘all actions and measures taken by the occupying Iranian authorities are illegitimate, and are contrary to international law and to universal norms. Since 1971, Iran has been unwilling to seek a mutually agreeable solution. The UAE, in contrast, has called for ‘a just settlement of this issue, either through direct negotiation or by referral to the International Court of Justice to settle this dispute in accordance with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the provisions of international law’.
Further afield, in pursuit of regional security, the UAE participated in the GCC attempt to propose an initiative to resolve the ongoing political crisis in Yemen. In 2011, it played a pivotal role in the lead-up to the passing of UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 dealing with Libya and within the Libya Contact Group and other forums. The UAE played a stabilizing role during the Bahrain crisis, providing police forces for a GCC-sanctioned plan to bring peace to the island nation and counseling the government and opposition forces to pursue a national strategy for dialogue.
More recently, the UAE has condemned the conflict in Syria as ‘heartbreaking’ pointing out that it ‘exceeds all limits and humanitarian norms’ and noting ‘with deep concern’ the ‘escalating acts of violence perpetrated by the Syrian regime against its people, which have stripped the regime of its legitimacy’.
Moreover, since the Israeli-Hezbollah war of 2006, the UAE has sponsored the rebuilding of hospitals and schools in southern Lebanon. In 2001, it joined over 60 countries in Afghanistan in providing 1300 troops on the ground in a humanitarian, educational and security mission that continues today. Prior to this, the UAE participated in a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo in the 1990s. It is also among the largest contributors of international aid assistance to developing countries.
As a small ’emerging regional and global player,’ it is clear that the UAE is dealing with challenges on many fronts and at different levels, largely in cooperation with a diversified group of friends and allies in the GCC, the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the United Nations and its diverse organizations. UAE foreign policy also emphasizes the strong relationship and mutual interests the country has with the United States and other countries, including the United Kingdom, France and South Korea and, although not a member of NATO, the UAE has chosen to join the coalition’s Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI).
Terrorism is one such global challenge. In this regard, the UAE continues to renew its firm condemnation of all acts of terrorism, illicit trafficking in drugs and arms, and organized crime and reaffirms its resolve to continue cooperating with international and multilateral efforts aimed at total elimination of these activities, which pose a direct threat to international peace and security. In pursuit of this goal, the UAE has announced the establishment of the ‘Centre of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism’ in collaboration with several friends and actors, which will begin its work in Abu Dhabi at the end of 2012.
Overview of UAE’s Foreign relations with the US.
The UAE’s strategic relationship with the United States dates back to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Subsequent to joining the military effort, the two countries signed an agreement in late 1992 allowing for US bases on Emirate soil. July 25, 1994, a formal Defense Cooperation Agreement has been in place. Ten years later, despite publicly opposing the US led war on Iraq, the UAE permitted a minimal amount of US forces to support the operation from the Al Dhafra air base, Jebel Ali, and naval facilities at Fujairah. Enhancing security relations, has been a US arms sale in March 2000 to the Emirates, valued at $8 billion and included over $2 billion worth of weapons, munitions, and services.
A nuclear deal was signed between the US and the UAE meant to supply nuclear technology, expertise and fuel. Despite international opposition to neighboring Iran’s nuclear developments, the US is confident of the UAE’s compliance with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards to refrain from enriching uranium and extracting plutonium. It firmly believes this agreement “has the potential to usher in an era of responsible nuclear-energy development throughout the Middle East.”Global Security.org, “New U.S.-U.A.E. Deal Raises Eyebrows Amid Concern Over Iran’s Nuclear Program,” January 16, 2009 
Commercially, the UAE is also the States’ largest export market in the Middle East constituting $11.6 billion in exports annually. In March 2005, the US opened negotiations on a free trade agreement and despite recent increasing depreciation of Gulf currencies, the UAE dirham remains pegged to the plunging dollar. The two countries have also maintained close ties through an exchange of cultural and educational partnerships which include the Guggenheim Museum, and a number of American Universities opening campuses in the Emirates.
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Development of the UAE Foreign policy from 1970 to 2012
The Emirates’ foreign policy has gone through a dynamic change in recent years. The change is apparently broad and indeed fundamental. It encompasses the very content as well as the style in which the UAE deals with external opportunities and challenges. The relatively small but oil-rich UAE is noticeably more assertive and active regionally and globally than it used to be during the first three decades of its establishment as a federal state on December 2, 1971.
During the time of the late founding father and first president of the country, Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan al Nahyan, UAE foreign policy was predominantly “idealistic” in its orientation and essentially Arab world-centred. The main drive at the time was limited to preserving the country’s sovereignty and newly-won independence. However, since 2004, a confident and ambitious UAE has been pursuing a more “global” and palpably a more “realistic foreign policy”. The dissertation uses a theoretical framework called ‘the Dynamic Process Model’, which asserts that the UAE essentially pursues a tripartite foreign policy, namely: identity, security and economy. The Arab world is needed for identity, the West for security and most recently Asia for the economy.
However, in the current tripartite foreign policy, the economic leg looms large. Economic interests and not identity, not even security, are the new anchor in this mainly realistic approach to international politics.
The growing emphasis on economic interests constitutes a fundamental shift away from the mostly idealistic and humanistic UAE foreign policy of the Shaikh Zayed era with its preoccupation with “Arabness”. The Arab world is still needed for the identity and affinity, but it is no longer the main focus of the UAE’s current foreign policy. The US and the West also remain as indispensable, strategic allies. Yet their importance is increasingly reduced to serve as a security insurance.
Asia, on the other hand, is the new centre of interest in the present UAE foreign policy. The UAE, like the rest of the world, is going East to discover China, the second biggest economy in the world, South Korea, the fourth biggest economy in Asia, and all the other Asian tigers. They are the new destinations for economic, energy and security diversification policy.
The UAE foreign policy priorities are sensibly changing to accommodate the contemporary global and regional realities. However, external influences aside, the noticeable change in UAE foreign policy is mainly a reflection of the “formal and the informal domestic sociopolitical structures” of the present state.
Unlike the old guardians of UAE foreign policy, the younger elites come strictly from the realist school with emphasis on economics and balance of power as the new anchor for UAE foreign policy today. They are ready to defend the country’s national interests frontally and decisively. They are not shy to pick up the fight when it is needed to defend the country’s vast global investments. Canada’s refusal to give the UAE carriers landing rights is a case in point. Another sign of the more confident and assertive post-founding father UAE foreign policy is the UAE’s adherence to the strict UN economic sanctions against a characteristically difficult neighbour like Iran.
The message coming out of this freshly submitted master dissertation is that the mature and self-assured UAE should not be taken for granted and is no longer the state anyone messes with anymore. The world is well advised to take the UAE more seriously.
Over the last five years, the UAE’s diplomacy has witnessed a major shift towards relationships with new regions such as South America, Central America, Africa, Central Asia and the Pacific, where a number of embassies and consulates have been opened. Looking to the future, the UAE leadership is committed to ensuring that its foreign policy will continue to be characterized by prudence, support, conciliation and consensus, as well as cooperation with international institutions. At the same time, it is ready to contribute to the defense of the rights of the weak and vulnerable states.
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