UAE foreign policy diversification

Dr. Angelos Kaskanis

Project Manager - Tactics Institute

The United Arab Emirates ordered 80 Rafale fighter jets and 12 military helicopters last week, deepening economic and political ties with France through an arms contract worth 17 billion euros ($19.20 billion).

The arms sale came during a visit by President Emmanuel Macron to Dubai, according to a statement by the Elysee cited by state-run broadcaster France24.

“This is an outcome of the strategic partnership between the two countries, consolidating their capacity to act together for their autonomy and security,” said the statement.

The United Arab Emirates has taken increasingly bold foreign policy measures since the start of the pandemic. In a carefully crafted mix of economic and security measures, the UAE is on its way to repairing the economic impact of the pandemic while also to becoming a regional hegemon.

The formal establishment of relations with Israel has significantly improved the UAE’s position Among all the Gulf states pursuing relations with Israel, perhaps the UAE’s motivations best encapsulate the changing regional dynamics.

Competitors or Strategic Partners

The United Arab Emirates’ National Security Adviser Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed al-Nahyan met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Iran’s capital Tehran on the 6th of December 2021. The two countries have been adversaries in the region, especially during the two civil wars in Yemen and Syria, for who they both fought for influence.

Back in 2018, UAE wanted the Iran nuclear deal to freeze, supporting US President Donald Trump. After a year, they started official talks with Iran, especially when the later became aggressive, following attacks on tankers off Gulf waters.

Iran’s foreign policy in the region is centred on the country’s various regional rapprochements. The overthrow of Arab rulers paved the way for a more assertive Iranian foreign policy in the Middle East. That includes establishing greater economic, trade and investment ties with Gulf states. Once a high level of corporate cooperation is achieved, security and cyber-resilience projects will follow.

“Having warm and friendly relations with neighbours and exchanging economic, trade and investment capacities are Iran’s top priorities in foreign policy,” Iran’s top security official Ali Shamkhani said in his meeting with UAE’s Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, one of the Gulf monarchy’s most influential figures.

On the other hand Iran blamed France for destabilizing the Middle East and fueling an arms race in the region following the French-Emirati arms deal.

“We must not ignore France’s role in destabilising the region”, “We expected France to be more responsible”, and “The militarisation of our region is unacceptable and the weapons they sell in the region are the source of turmoil”, were some of the comments of Iran’s  foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh

Dragon in the Desert

Apart from the Asia-Pacific, the Middle East is China’s most vital region. China’s strategic growth plan is guided by its complex financial interests. The Middle East is strategically important because it connects China to the Mediterranean and Europe via the Suez Canal, allowing access to global commercial markets.

The Emirates considered the US need for robust assurances that the UAE would keep its American-supplied arms safe from Chinese probing as a step too far in terms of encroaching on their “sovereignty”. China, which is already one of Saudi Arabia’s most important commercial partners, is becoming increasingly vital.

Most recently, this has meant a Saudi-China-Spanish collaboration on the construction of the country’s sixth large desalination facility, as well as more armament purchases. If the US is not to become sidelined in an area of the world where it once played a critical role, it must understand the objectives and concerns of America’s old allies in the region and beyond.

Huawei, the Chinese multinational technology colossus, is also collaborating with the UAE government to train local talent in cyber-security and form public-private partnerships (PPP). Furthermore, the corporation wants to build the UAE as a “globally trusted digital oasis” shielded of cyber-risks.

Aloysius Cheang, Huawei’s chief security officer for the UAE, has stated: “Huawei, which has been accused by the US of carrying out espionage through its products, a charge it has repeatedly denied, is one of the main players in the countrywide installation of 5G networks in the UAE”.

Today UAE is regarded as China’s most important economic and politically stable partner in the region. A major source of oil, a gateway for Chinese exports an important destination for diversified investment and construction, as well as home to some 6,000 Chinese businesses and 200,000 Chinese nationals.

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