Dubai: The UAE’s approach to foreign policy continues to be informed by the principles espoused by its founder, the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
They include 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.
Another key aspect that governs the manner in which the UAE conducts its foreign policy is the country’s 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.
Focus on stability
In the 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.
Given its opposition to groups that use religion to promote political objectives, the UAE has stood by secular nationalists, whether in Libya, Yemen, Palestine or Egypt. In so doing, it became a pillar of the Arab Quartet that has boycotted Qatar since June last year due to Doha’s support for such groups, and its close ties to Iran.
Two main concerns
The two main foreign policy and security concerns for the UAE are Iranian expansionism, and spread of religious extremism.
In UAE foreign policy circles, Iran is seen as long-term strategic threat. 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 it became a leading Arab member of the international coalition that defeated Daesh.