Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues (Print ISSN: 1544-0036; Online ISSN: 1544-0044)

Review Article: 2021 Vol: 24 Issue: 1S

The UAE as a Successful Model for the Behavior of Small Countries at the External Level

Maryam Sultan Lootah, United Arab Emirates University


This paper examines the foreign policy of the UAE as a successful model for the behavior of small countries at the external level, and attempts to analyze that policy to determine the factors of strength and success through its five chapters: The First Chapter: The conceptual framework of the study. This chapter addresses some of the concepts associated with the study, which was important to clarify, especially for the public reader. The Second Chapter: The determinants and orientations of foreign policy. This chapter deals with the most important determinants that govern the foreign policy of the countries in general, and the UAE as the subject of study (geographic determinant - national capabilities - the nature of the political system - social and political composition). The chapter explains the foreign policy directives of the UAE, which was represented in (reformist - nationalist - Islamic - gulf) and how the UAE foreign policy was affected by these determinants and guidelines. The Third Chapter: Models of foreign policy. This chapter presents successful models of foreign policy of the UAE, from its inception to the present at the gulf, Arab and international levels. The Fourth Chapter: The elements of the strength and success of the UAE diplomacy. This chapter reviews the most important pillars of the success of the UAE foreign policy, whether related to the wisdom of the decision-maker, or related to the use of financial resources to support foreign policy, or to raise the efficiency of the external decision-making body to be more in line with developments in the external environment. The conclusion of the study raises a number of questions and current and potential challenges that require additional effort, both at the level of decision-making, or at the level of study and analysis and the need to provide proactive and forward-looking visions.


Behavior, Foreign Policy, UAE, Gulf


The study of the foreign policy of any country requires the beginning of the definition of the concept of foreign policy, as well as the definition of the nature of that country: the conditions of its emergence and the nature of its political system, given that foreign policy does not come from nothing and does not come out to nothing, but rather is a product of the interaction between the data of the internal environment and the external environment for the state.

Despite recognizing the varying ability of states to move and influence at the external level, this does not negate the ability of small states to carry out effective external behavior. Small countries can be emulated at the level of interaction of small countries with their regional and international surroundings.

This study is concerned with clarifying the concept of the state in general, defining the small state and referring to the intellectual debate about this concept and the criteria in light of which this definition is determined, and that is what will be dealt with in some detail in the first axis of this study.

Previous Studies

A number of studies focused on foreign policy in general, small-state foreign policy in particular, and the United Arab Emirates' foreign policy in particular. This study will concentrate on the UAE's foreign policy as a successful model for the behavior of tiny countries at the international level, and it will include the following studies:

1. Hazza Ahmed Al-Mansoori, “The Role of UAE Foreign Policy in Regional and International Forums”, describes and analyzes the role of UAE foreign policy in regional and international concerns, as well as the humanitarian initiatives and aid supplied by the UAE to developing countries worldwide.

2. Shakir Mahmoud Waheeb, “The Foreign Policy of the United Arab Emirates,” in which he discusses the success of the United Arab Emirates' (Arab and International) foreign policy, which is attributable to the tranquility of that policy in action and political reaction, and this is due to the political wisdom pursued by the Emirates' leadership. The United Arab Emirates, led by the late President of the State, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, moved away from excitement and tension, allowing for the resolution of many existing problems between the UAE and the Arab Gulf states at a time of great complexity and many challenges, whether at the local, Arab, or international levels.

3. Ahmed Abdullah bin Saeed, “The Arab Dimension in the Foreign Policy of the United Arab Emirates 1990-2003”, examines the Arab dimension in the UAE's foreign policy, identifying the elements influencing it, decision-making mechanisms, and clarifying its objectives, means of accomplishing them, and directions toward Gulf, Arab, and regional gatherings.

4. Nayef Ali Obaid, "The Foreign Policy of the United Arab Emirates", discusses some foreign policy approaches in general, and the United Arab Emirates' foreign policy in particular, clarifying its foundations and objectives, the institutions that make this foreign policy, its official tasks, and the means and tools used to achieve these goals, as well as the country's foreign relations.

5. Christin Ingebritsen et al., (edition) entitled: Small States in International Relations. The study examines a small country's place in the world system in terms of utilizing the capacity available to it. It also addressed the topic of inter-country inequality, emphasizing the imbalance of power, whether inside the European Community or in international markets.

6. Jean A.K. Hey entitled: Small States in World Politics: Explaining Foreign Policy Behavior. This study is regarded as one of the most important and comprehensive studies on the subject of the small state and its role in international relations. It focuses on a small country's foreign policy and its impact on the policies of other countries.

7. Omar Al-Hadrami, “The Small State: Power and Role, a Theoretical Approach”, dealt with the subject of the "little state" as it has become an essential component in international politics, particularly following the end of World War II, and stressed that the international community began to observe a shift in the balance of power, in terms of capacity and role calculations. Countries that were previously classified as tiny in terms of size, population, military power, and economic capabilities are now classified as strong in terms of effectiveness, role, and impact.

The Importance of Studying

The previous studies were an important source of knowledge in the quest to analyze the UAE's foreign policy, but the significance of this study is that it attempts to define the notion of the small state and the criteria by which small states can be defined. It also emphasizes the boundaries of movement that tiny governments can do at the international level, as well as how they may balance playing an active role at the international level without jeopardizing their security and political stability. The study attempts to shed light on the UAE's foreign policy, as well as to understand its causes and directions, by offering examples of its foreign behavior (Gulf, Arab and international). The study also aims to clarify the policy's strengths and the reasons for its effectiveness.

Study Questions

This study raises several questions, some of which are related to conceptual theoretical aspects, perhaps the most important of which are:

1. What is meant by small country?

2. What are the criteria by which small countries are classified?

3. Are these criteria still sufficient to classify small countries in a complex international environment in terms of their actors and the pattern of interaction and alliances?

Another questions related to the external behavior of the United Arab Emirates, and how it was able, as a newly established small country, to play an active and effective external role?

Study Hypothesis

This research is based on the fundamental idea that there is a positive direct relationship between decision-makers' perceptions of environmental data, including its potential and challenges, and the state's ability to play an effective external role. The greater the decision-understanding makers of environmental data, the better he will be able to balance what these data indicate in terms of potential and problems, and then make a decision based on this budget.

Study Approach

The study will be based on a combination of the historical method, which is a method that documents and records previous facts and occurrences and then analyses, interprets, and analyzes them on a systematic and correct scientific basis, and the scientific method. With the aim of obtaining facts and generalizations that will help us comprehend the present in light of the past and anticipate the future, while others doubt the viability of using this strategy due to reservations, Perhaps the most important of these is that historical writing lacks impartiality and objectivity and is influenced by subjective factors on the one hand (i.e., the researcher's person) and his position on the phenomena he monitors, in addition to being influenced by factors related to the authority and its position on documenting events, but the use of the historical method here is a requirement (Abdul, 2006).

The study will also be dependent on the decision-making approach because politics, whether at the internal or external level, is essentially a decision-making process, and thus it is critical to employ this approach as it is the most appropriate approach to studying the United Arab Emirates' foreign policy.

Although it is difficult to correctly describe the decision makers, as the direct decision maker may have been affected in his decision-making by another individual who is relatively remote from the decision-making circle or has no official status at all. The holders of high offices, led by the President and Vice President, and members of the Federal Supreme Council, represent the first and most influential circle in the decision-making process in Arab political systems, and in the political system of the UAE.

This technique provides insight on the decision maker's environment, including its economic, social, and political components, both internal and external, and this environment is frequently the cause of the issues and challenges that the decision maker is dealing with (Rahim, 1997). Furthermore, the decision-awareness makers of the environmental data surrounding him, as well as the obstacles and opportunities that it presents, is a critical aspect in making any external decision.

Study Axes:

• The topic will be discussed through the following axes:

• First axis: the conceptual framework of the study.

• Second axis: determinants and directives of foreign policy.

• Third axis: models of foreign policy.

• Fourth Axis: Elements of the strength and success of Emirati diplomacy.

The First Axis

The Conceptual Framework of the Study

To proceed, some concepts related to the study and the intellectual controversy it sparked, such as the concept of the state in general, the concept of small states in particular, and the concept of foreign policy, must be clarified, given that clarification of these concepts is a necessary issue when discussing the UAE's foreign policy as a model for the behavior of small states at large.

A - The Concept of the State

Since its modern inception in the closing stages of the Westphalia Conference in 1648, the state has been regarded as one of the facts of contemporary political life that has gradually been established until it has become the first building block in the structure of the current international system; however, due to the multiplicity of definitions of the concept of the state, it is difficult to agree on a specific definition. According to the Political Encyclopedia (Abdullah, 2019) the most common definition of this concept of the state is the German’s Max Weber, who defined it as a political organization mandatory with a central government that maintains the legitimate use of force within a defined geographical setting. However, the French encyclopedia Larousse defined the state as: "a group of individuals who live on a specific land and are subject to a certain authority."

Another widely accepted definition was introduced in the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States in 1933: A land area with permanent residents, a defined territory, and a government capable of maintaining and effectively controlling its territory as well as conducting international relations with other states.

While many constitutional law jurists considered the state as “a territorial body that possesses sovereignty inside and outside its borders and monopolizes the powers and tools of coercion,” The availability of the three components (land, people, and power) is insufficient for the state to carry out its functions in a regular manner, as required by the international community.

Despite the fact that the concept of the state is one of the most central concepts in political science, leading some to claim that political science is the science of the state; the concept of the state has been subjected to a number of objections, the most significant of which are (Ahmed, 2008):

1. Because of the dominance of the behavioral school's conceptions and trends over political analysis, political scientists' interest in state as a concept had declined after WWII. Interest in that concept then returned in the eighties of the twentieth century, following the criticism of behavioral analysis in political science.

2. As a result of the problems that globalization offers to the concept of the state and its national sovereignty, the advent of the phenomena of globalization has increased interest in the concept of the state.

The ramifications of the global economic crisis in 2008 drew increased attention to the state, given that the state's intervention in managing the national economy is required to control and protect economic interactions, which could lead to an uncontrolled market economy vulnerable to new economic disasters.

B - The Concept of a Small State

When dealing with this concept, two approaches must be addressed. The first is the legal approach, which equates states with respect to their sovereignty and the right to exist and not allow others to interfere in its affairs. The second approach is the realistic approach, which acknowledges that nations differ in terms of the capabilities at their disposal, and as a result, states' ability to influence other international organizations varies. Despite the importance of the legal approach, the growing influence of neo-realism, which concentrated on states' military, economic, and technological capacities, also highlighted international relations throughout the cold war or what preceded it. theoretical and realistic criteria for the small state concept, as well as the limits and possibilities of its external movement, especially in light of the major countries' inability to achieve their goals completely, as demonstrated by the United States' crisis in Vietnam from November 1955 to April 1975, and its inability to resolve it. Many records are in their favor, as they were during the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003. While some small countries experienced numerous challenges due to their limited resources, which reduced their influence and contributed to a loss in their ability to protect their interests. Recognizing the varying ability of states to protect their interests, ward off dangers and play an active role at the external level, based on their varying size and national capabilities, makes it important to have a specific definition of the concept of the small state. There is a quantitative criterion that depends on the state’s regional and population size, gross national product, energy consumption and resources. This criterion was taken by David Vital (Ahmed, 2018), who defined a small country as that whose population ranges between 10 - 30 million people. According to the United Nations definition of a small state as a very small entity in its area, population, human and economic resources, without a clear definition of this small or large, some have rejected the quantitative criterion for determining the concept of small states, considering that there are models of small states that have been able to play an effective external role. It exceeds its size in terms of area and population.

Robert Keohane defined a small state as a state with little or no influence in the international system, and it, individually or collectively, cannot face any fundamentally significant security threat without relying on external assistance, and this criterion has also been criticized for focusing on security as a major focus for classifying countries, as security is the focus of However, these efforts failed to establish a clear definition of small states, prompting Fauriol to adopt a more comprehensive definition that states: "A small state is a group of independent nations that have a small geographical area, a small population, and restricted economic capacities. It is referred to in the international context as independent international units that play minor political and economic roles in global events due to their inability to generate effective alternatives" (Fauriol, 1984).

C - Foreign Policy Concept

Some have viewed foreign policy as all forms of external activity, even if it is not issued by the state as a systematic fact, that is, it is the activity of the group as a civilized existence, or self-expressions as individual forms of external movement.

Others see it as official actions and reactions that sovereign governments "initiate" or "receive and respond to" later in order to change or create new situations outside their political borders. Alternatively, it is a planned program of action devised by the state's decision-maker in relation to other states or international units in order to attain certain goals within the framework of national interest.

Thus, it is clear from the preceding definitions that foreign policy is a planned process that seeks to achieve national interest, and that, while the subjective and psychological elements of the decision maker play a role in making foreign policy, the national interest does not exist independently of the decision maker's awareness of that interest.

In light of this understanding of foreign policy - as the behavior of countries at the external level that aims to achieve the national interest, and is governed by the decision-maker's understanding of this environment on the one hand, and the data of that environment and the opportunities and restrictions it represents on the foreign policy of any country - The study is concerned with examining the UAE's foreign policy, as well as how the conditions of the state's inception and its nature as a federal state, as well as decision makers' awareness of this policy, were represented.

D - Soft Diplomacy

In the early 1990s, American political scientist Joseph Nye defined this phrase as "the power to make others act under pressure and the effect of the force to which they have been subjected." For some, power is associated with coercive practices that force others to act in a certain way; for others, soft power is associated with the ability to influence the behavior of others through attractiveness and inclusion, the power of a model, the attractiveness of culture, credibility, and commitment. Soft power also refers to the ability to influence people to adopt a certain value, culture, principles, and way as a model to emulate.

E - The State of Emirates: The Circumstances of its Formation and the Nature of its Political System

To initiate, the seven Gulf emirates that comprise the federal state were subject to British colonial domination for nearly a century and a half (1820-1971), isolated from external interactions because they were governed by a series of treaties concluded by Britain with the rulers of the Emirates, which prohibited them from having any interactions with any external party. Because of this isolation, the federal state was new to interacting with the outside world when it was established, as were the institutions involved, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic missions, as well as the scarcity of national competencies capable of playing this role at the start of the union's establishment. In addition to the fact that the UAE's political system, as a tribal system, derives its directions from tribal political culture, even though it possessed many controls that ensured the management of political interactions at the tribal society level, after the establishment of the modern state, it was not qualified to deal at the external level, especially since the international order, which includes the United Nations,

The process of overcoming the state of fragmentation and merging into a federal entity between these emirates represented an added burden on this nascent state, especially as it is geographically mediated by powerful neighbors (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Oman), and linked with them by overlapping borders, which created challenges related to border disputes for this state with neighboring countries, in addition to the Iranian occupation of the UAE islands on November 28, 1971, and the internal border problems between the emirates constituting the federal state (David, 1967).

If the foreign policy of any country is an extension of its domestic policy, and governed by elements of strength and weakness of this policy, in addition to being governed on the other hand by the data of the external environment and the elements of strength and challenges it represents for it, then the UAE, upon its establishment on December 2, 1971, faced Many challenges, some of which are due to their political history, others are due to their recent inception and their federal nature (Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, 2013) while some of these challenges are due to their regional and international environment, as previously mentioned.

From the foregoing, it is clear that the recent emergence of the state, its federal nature, small size and small population, as will be detailed later, represent challenging factors for the UAE, both in terms of achieving security or development, as well as at the level of playing an active external role like many small countries, except its economic capabilities and the rise in its national product have represented a factor in its success, whether at the internal level, or in terms of playing an effective and influential external role that goes beyond the limits of movement available to small countries, as will be discussed later.

Second Axis

The Determinants and Directives of The Foreign Policy of The UAE

a) Determinants of Foreign Policy

With regard to the determinants of the UAE's foreign policy, it can be briefly referred to as follows:

1) The geographic determinant, under which the location and size of the state, by area and density, and the nature of topography.

2) National capabilities, including the volume of resources, the level of modernization, the impact of resources and modernization on foreign policy.

3) The political system of the UAE, under which the federal nature, the political leadership, falls.

4) Social composition, which includes the tribal formation of the state and the political elite, the relationship between the ruler and the ruled and its impact on the external decision-making process, and the circles influencing the decision-making process.


It is recognized that a country's ability to influence foreign policy is tied to a number of elements, the most important of which is the size of the country and its capabilities in comparison to the size of other countries in the international system. The circle of these two concepts is limited to the political borders of smaller states. As a result, the UAE's geography as a small country surrounded by larger neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, in addition to border clashes with both the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Sultanate of Oman, and Iran's occupation of the UAE islands, has posed a challenge to the UAE since its founding, but the wise vision and awareness of the decision maker has been a factor. The following table shows this comparison in area, population and population density between the UAE and some neighboring countries:

Table 1
Country Area (1000) Population(m) Population density
UAE 71.02   km2 9.1 110 /km2
Saudi Arabia 2000   km2 31.6 15 /km2
Oman 309.5   km2 4.425 14.3 /km2
Iran 1,648,195 km2 75 48 /km2

*The table was designed by the researcher for data obtained from the website of the Cooperation Council for the States of the Gulf for the statistics of some countries of the Cooperation Council for the year 2013, and the official website of the Republic of Iran (12).

The fact that the UAE is located in the midst of a group of Gulf states similar to it in political culture and in the nature of governance systems has represented a factor enhancing its security, stability and foreign policy due to the similarity in the positions of the Arab Gulf states towards many regional and international issues, and this rapprochement crystallized in the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council. As a political and security system in 1981.

National Capabilities

With regard to national capabilities, it can be noted that the most important elements of the UAE's foreign policy strength were its possession of oil resources that enabled it to overcome many internal problems.

In addition to the fact that these resources represented a basic mechanism for the foreign policy of the UAE, especially since the political leadership in the UAE, represented by His Highness Sheikh Zayed, has invested oil resources in a way that supports its foreign policy, whether in cases of international cooperation or conflict, which will be indicated in greater detail when exposure to models of the UAE foreign policy (Foreign and development aid from the UAE).

As for modernization level, it was mentioned in the foregoing that the UAE is a newly emerging state isolated from all forms of social and political development and modernization throughout the colonial domination, and it had to start the process of modernization from the beginning. Education, health care, social and infrastructure services were in their infancy when founding the state, as well the case for building the institutions of the modern state. However, the availability of resources and the will for change in the political leadership and the presence of scientifically qualified national cadres contributed, despite their small number, to building the state and moving fast towards modernization, and it was able to accomplish a lot in a short period of time, compared to the process of modernization in other societies, which enabled the political leadership to do an active role at the Arab and international levels later, bypassing the limits and the possibility of movement for small countries at the external level.

According to the 2018 annual economic report of the Ministry of Economy, the GDP estimates for 2017 at real prices amounted to approximately 1422.2 billion dirhams at the state level, compared to approximately 1411.1 billion dirhams at the end of 2016, achieving a growth of 0.8% (Gulf Strategic Report 2017-2018).

The Political System of the UAE

With regard to the political system of the UAE, it was briefly referred to in the foregoing to the federal nature of the state and the challenges it poses for the decision-maker, whether at the internal or external level, as it must reconcile the supreme federal interest with the interests of the constituent members of the federal state when making any decision internal or external, the issue appears more complicated when the decision is external, as the decision maker is under the pressure of the internal federal situation and the challenges of the external environment regionally and internationally, which sometimes forces him to sacrifice some internal interests in order to solve an external problem, the best example of this is the settlement of border problems between the UAE and neighboring countries, which, although viewed by some as a waiver of some of the territorial rights of the UAE, but from the point of view of the political leadership, they were concessions necessitated by the requirements of security and stability for the region and for the UAE.

The political developments at the regional level have demonstrated the wisdom of the decision-maker in managing border problems (the Buraimi problem with the Sultanate of Oman and Saudi Arabia, which was settled in favor of the Sultanate of Oman in 1971, and the problem of the Khor Al Adaid region, which was settled in favor of Saudi Arabia in 1974), especially when the Council was established. Cooperation with the Arab Gulf states in 1981, and the UAE-Saudi relations represented a security, development and strategic depth for both countries (Ibrahim, 2008), which crystallized through coordination to support the Arab Republic of Egypt in the 1973 war, the 1991 war of liberation of Kuwait, and the common position on the events of 2011 in some Arab countries. It was further reinforced by the two countries' participation in Decisive Storm to support legitimacy in Yemen, and the strategic alliance between the two countries (Ibrahim, 2018).

If the external decision-making depends to a large extent on the political leadership’s understanding and awareness of local, regional and international realities, in addition to the influence of the external decision on the subjective and psychological factors of the decision maker, then this issue, even though it represents a challenge to some political systems, and a factor of weakness and confusion of its foreign policy, for the UAE, it was of strength and success of this policy, due to His Highness Sheikh Zayed’s benevolent will, wisdom, and rationality in the decision-making process, in addition to his charismatic personality, which was respected and appreciated by all, and was a factor in of the UAE foreign policy success despite the state’s modernity and the challenges encountered (Hussein, 2018).

Social and Political Formation

Previously we referred to the tribal nature of the political structure in the UAE society, as the tribe is the first unit of analysis to understand the UAE society, its political structure, and its political culture. It is a society composed of several tribes whose relationship in the past witnessed cases of cooperation and conflict.

In the end, it produced two tribal alliances, the Bani Yas Pact and the Qawasim Pact, and the relationship between these tribes on the one hand and the tribes inhabiting the Gulf region on the other hand remained, as well as the relationship at the level of each tribe governed by tribal customs and controls that guarantee the management of societal interactions in a manner that serves the tribal interest (Jamal, 2019).

However, the features of this picture have changed relatively during the British hegemony, as the effect of tribal political controls weakened, and Britain also interfered in managing the internal affairs of the Gulf emirates.

With that change, the region remained governed by political elites, each with its influence within the boundaries set by Britain for its emirate (Kamal, 1984). These elites are the same elites that took power after the independence of these Emirates and their accession to the federal entity, as the Supreme Council composed of the rulers of the seven emirates represents the highest authority in the federal state. Both the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and the Emirate of Dubai have greater influence on the level of the political formation of the state due to their political and economic weight. Therefore, the political leadership of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, by virtue of its presidency of the federal state, and the political leadership of Dubai, by virtue of its representative to this state, played the largest role at the level of internal and external decision-making alike (Hassan, 1987). With regard to the departments affecting the decision-making process in the federal state, they can be identified in the following departments:

The First Circle

The ruling elite, which is a circle limited to the rulers of the seven emirates, and the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai have the largest role, as previously mentioned, by virtue of the powers granted by the constitution to the head of state and his deputy in the event of his absence on the one hand, and their possession of the right of veto on the other hand.

The Second Circle

Senior tribes, since of the tribal composition of the state, this department plays a crucial role in the internal decision-making process, however its influence is more visible in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, particularly at the outset of the state's foundation.

The Third Circle

Merchants and businessmen, and their role is primarily prominent in the Emirate of Dubai due to its commercial nature, though its role appears to be growing in all Emirates as a result of the effects of economic globalization since the early 1990s, and the formation of councils expressing the opinion of this category, particularly in matters related to economic insecurity. Economic councils, chambers of trade and industry, and businesswomen's councils are examples.

Fourth Circle

Intellectuals and their indirect influence on the decision-making process are noted, whether through their occupation of some leadership positions, or their influence on public opinion through various media. The role of this category emerges at the external level due to the fact that diplomatic sites are mostly occupied by the educated and scientifically qualified Emiratis.

In addition to what the revolution of technologies and social networks have provided a wider space for this category to influence public opinion and then indirectly influence decision-making.

As for the relationship between the ruler and the people, in addition to the strength of this relationship by virtue of the tribal political culture, the achievements of the political leadership, the state of prosperity and abundance, the improvement of the standard of living of individuals, the development of the quality of services provided to them, and the charismatic personality of the Sheikh Zayed, and his keenness to strengthen the cooperative relationship between the ruler and the ruled, have worked to consolidate this relationship, which represented the mainstay of the state’s stability and the strength of its policy at home and abroad, and was one of the most important factors for the success of the UAE’s foreign policy.

b) Directives of the UAE's Foreign Policy

The directives of the foreign policy of the UAE are very similar to the directives of the foreign policy of any Arab country, and they can be briefly identified as follows:

The Interest-Oriented

It goes without saying that the foreign policy of any country aims to influence the international and regional environment to create the most suitable ground for maximizing its interests and limiting or minimizing the challenges and dangers it faces. The UAE, through its foreign policy, aims to preserve its national interests and protect its security; stability and sovereignty are employed in order to achieve this, all the elements it possesses of strength, whether it is the investment of its financial resources in supporting its soft diplomacy, or the circle of its cooperative relationship that extends regionally and internationally (Sultan, 1991).

The National Orientation

The UAE is an Arab country that is linked to its national environment by many ties (language, religion, culture, history and a common destiny etc.), and therefore its foreign policy is based primarily on this national trend, to a degree that makes it difficult to separate the national interest. Emirati and Arab interests, especially for a political leadership like His Highness Sheikh Zayed, may his soul rest in peace, believed that Emirati national interests could not be achieved without the Arab interest. This will be referred to when discussing models of the UAE foreign policy (Sultan, 1987).

Islamic Orientation

The Islamic religion is an integral component of the societal and political culture of the Emirates, in addition to being a basic starting point in the formulation of its constitution and political system since the establishment of the state on December 2, 1971 and the establishment of the temporary constitution, which turned into a permanent constitution in 1996(Sultan, 2008). Article (7) of the Constitution indicated that:

“Islam is the official religion of the Union, and Islamic Sharia is a major source of legislation.” Therefore, the Islamic religion and the resulting Islamic affiliation are considered a fundamental guide in decision-making, whether at the internal or external level, and that the foreign policy of the UAE is always keen to support Arab and Islamic causes, Whether under the umbrella of the Islamic Conference, the League of Arab States, or within the framework of UAE foreign policy in general (Selim, 1998).

Gulf Director

Since the United Arab Emirates is one of the Gulf states, it is concerned with the issues of its sub-regional environment (the Gulf system), and is affected by all the data of this regional system, whether these data represent strengths such as oil wealth, systemic convergence, and the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council Or represented a factor of weakness and challenge, such as security tensions and external interference.

Therefore, the Gulf director represents one of the most prominent directors affecting the external political decision-making of the UAE, especially after the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council at the beginning of the eighties of the twentieth century, as the Gulf States are keen to bring their foreign political positions closer to Arab and international issues (Idris, 2000).

This was clearly demonstrated during the Iran-Iraq war from 1980-1988, as well as when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. Perhaps the Saudi-Emirati Coordination Council, which took place in May 2016, provides a model for the depth of joint Gulf coordination, especially between the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, whether at the strategic, security or economic level (Howaiden, 2014), although Qatar's foreign policy since 1996 until the current stage has represented a departure from the Gulf trends on many issues.

The Third Axis

UAE'S Foreign Policy Models

In this part of the study, reference will be made to some of the UAE foreign policies, and an attempt to cover the Gulf, Arab and international circles in the UAE foreign policy, to find out the elements of the strength and success of this policy.

UAE Foreign Policy and Settling Border Disputes with Neighboring Countries

At the outset, it must be noted that the UAE, which was established on December 2, 1971, was born burdened with a legacy of problems drawn by Britain for the emirates of the region during its hegemony over them, which were characterized by a great deal of overlapping and clashing.

The most prominent of these disputes are the border disputes between the UAE, the Sultanate of Oman and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over the “Buraimi” oasis and the border disputes between the UAE and Saudi Arabia in the “Khor Al Adaid” region, not to mention the problem of the three Emirati islands occupied by Iran (Rahman, 2005).

The UAE's political leadership has recognized that the continuation of these challenges without a resolution will be a factor in the region's conflict, limiting its security and stability that the newly forming state requires security, stability, and a friendly relationship with its neighbors in order to begin the process of developing and creating the foundations of the state at home

However, the wisdom of the political leadership represented by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed has preferred to follow the path of the late Sheikh Zayed, and to provide a good-neighborly relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The UAE is a potential in light of the cooperative relationship between the two countries. Perhaps the strategic alliance between the two countries is one of the fruits of that approach.

Sheikh Zayed’s conviction, withdrew in his acceptance of settling the dispute over Al Buraimi in favor of the Sultanate of Oman, and his wisdom is evident in his management of the islands’ problem with Iran, despite the fact that these islands belong to the Emirates and that they are Arab land according to British and local documents, in addition to the confirmed historical, geographical and social facts of Arabism. The islands and their dependence on the Emirates, however, his benevolent will, inclination for peace, and his keenness for good neighborliness led him to prefer resolving this issue by peaceful means and resorting to international arbitration, even if the Iranian side was intransigent, instead of escalating the dispute, and plunged the two sides into a military confrontation with ominous consequences, which would only add more to the region from stress and outside interference.

Emirati Foreign Policy Positions on Security Tensions and Political Crises in the Region

The positions of the UAE foreign policy can be referred to in the following issues:

1) The Palestinian Cause

The political leadership in the UAE has dealt with the Palestinian issue as the first Arab issue, and has provided it with material and moral support, which is reflected in the support of the Palestinian people and their political leadership. In addition to the UAE’s decision in support of the Palestinian cause to impose an oil embargo on the countries supporting Israel in the October 1973 war, despite the recent emergence of the state at the time, the political leadership was able, with a wise and bold decision, to employ oil as a weapon in the Arab-Israeli confrontation, thus confirming the depth of national belonging to the people of the Emirates and their leadership political, and the fact that the national interest and security of the UAE cannot be achieved in isolation from the Arab national interest and security.

The UAE's supportive positions for the Palestinian cause also highlight its support for the Palestinian people in international forums, and the emphasis on the need to reach a just solution to the Palestinian cause, in addition to the financial and moral support of the Palestinian people through development projects that the UAE is establishing on the Palestinian land.

His Highness Sheikh Zayed's assertion on more than one occasion that the American bias towards Israel does not help to reach a just settlement of this conflict and will harm Western interests, in addition to its effects on security and stability in the region (Omar, 2013).

The position of Sheikh Zayed in support of the Palestinian people and in support of their intifada on September 8, 1987 was also clear, describing it in his speech delivered at the London City Council on July 19, 1989 as: “The uprising of a people defenseless from arms who reject slavery, and yearn for liberation and enjoyment of their human rights” (Omar, 2013).

The UAE continued its material and moral support for the Palestinian cause, its condemnation of Israeli practices on the occupied Palestinian land, and the violation of the rights of the Palestinian people in Arab and international forums. Emphasizing that it is not possible to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict and bring peace to the region without a just solution to this issue (Political Encyclopedia).

2) UAE Foreign Policy towards the Civil War in Lebanon in 1975

When this war broke out and the multiplicity of internal, regional and external parties involved in it, Sheikh Zayed expressed his concern about the worsening Lebanese situation and its repercussions on Arab security. In Lebanon, it does not serve the interests of the Arab nation, and he called on the Arab League to move to find a solution to it. He also stressed the extent of the losses in lives and money that Lebanon will unjustifiably incur as a result of this war. Expressing its readiness to mediate to resolve the dispute,

The UAE also participated in the Arab forces (the Arab Deterrence Forces) in an attempt to maintain peace in Lebanon, and this was the first time that the UAE forces participated in a military deployment outside the borders of the state.

Emirati diplomacy has also emerged in terms of containing the destruction and alleviating the suffering of the Lebanese people by sending medical missions to Lebanon, humanitarian aid, donating schools and the reconstruction process, and the role of the UAE military forces in the demining process.

3) The Position of the UAE on the Camp David Accord

The UAE opposed this agreement because it represented a disruption of the balance of power between the Zionist entity and the Arab countries, and the UAE joined the rest of the Arab countries in the Arab boycott of Egypt, but the political leadership in the UAE maintained relations Economic, social and cultural in Egypt, as this boycott did not harm the interests of the Egyptian people, Sheikh Zayed called for the need to restore Egyptian-Arab relations since the mid-1980s, explaining that this boycott harmed Egyptian and Arab interests at the same time.

4) The Iraqi-Iranian War

The UAE was keen to play a positive role in this war, by trying to calm and end the conflict between the two parties, as it represents an Arab and Iranian loss at the same time, in addition to its negative repercussions on security and stability in the region. Although Iraq is an Arab country, the UAE has been keen to support it politically, morally and materially in this war, as dictated by national ties and within borders that do not provoke the Iranian side.

In addition, the outbreak of that war did not negatively affect the Emirati-Iranian relations, whether at the political or economic levels.

5) Iraq’s Invasion of Kuwait

The UAE shared its position with other Gulf States in rejecting Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, and sought to find a way out and an Arab solution to this crisis. However, the US intervention in the crisis and the US insistence on using force against the Iraqi regime led to an escalation of that crisis. Inflicting destruction on Iraq and the Iraqi people, in addition to its negative repercussions on the region as a whole. The role of the wise foreign policy of the UAE is highlighted in its balanced position and its keenness to support the Kuwaiti people in this crisis, and the Iraqi people after its end and throughout the years of the international siege on it.

6) The American Attack on Iraq

Despite the fact that the United States used false pretexts in its war against Iraq, such as Iraq’s possession of a nuclear weapon, the association of al-Qaeda with the Iraqi regime, and the support of the Iraqi people in gaining their freedom and achieving democracy, these pretexts did not prevent the UAE and its political leadership from being keen to spare Iraq from a military attack and the destruction that could result from it. This position was clearly represented in the initiative of Sheikh Zayed, on which the UAE tried to find an Arab consensus through the League of Arab States, but the failure to present the initiative to that Arab forum on the Iraqi crisis, The insistence of the United States to launch that attack, even if it did not provide it with international coverage, has prevented the success of the Emirati initiative.

The role of the UAE was also evident in many Arab-Arab mediation efforts, as well as relief efforts in natural and humanitarian disasters, as the UAE ranks first among donor countries, whether for international organizations or direct relief efforts (Yousef, 2005). If the American theorist Joseph Nye defined soft power as “the ability to influence, attract and seduce without coercion or without the use of force as a means of persuasion,” the UAE presents a clear model in soft diplomacy whose most important features can be monitored as follows:

- Its only unitary and pioneering Arab model, through which the UAE was able to overcome the state of fragmentation and launch the march of unity and development.

- Excellence in the standard of living and human well-being.

- Peaceful and cooperative coexistence between many races, cultures and religions.

- Achieving high rates of modernization, distinguished government performance and quality of services, until it became a model for many countries in the world, as shown by the Global Competitiveness Index, as the United Arab Emirates achieved first place regionally and fifth globally among the most competitive countries in the world and has advanced by 23 leaps since its inclusion Within the "Global Competitiveness Yearbook" report for 2019, the UAE ranked first globally in a number of main themes, sub-axes and sub-indicators monitored by the report.

The country rose to first place globally in the "business efficiency" axis, and second globally in the "government efficiency" axis. And the top five globally in a number of sub-axes, such as the first place in “management practices” and the second place globally in “International trade”, “efficiency and productivity”, “infrastructure”, “behaviors and values” and “labor markets”, and third place Globally in “Government Finance” and “Tax Policies” (Abdul, 2006).

7) The active and effective Emirati diplomacy emerged clearly when the waves of the Arab popular movement erupted since November 2010, starting in Tunisia and then events in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain. It moves according to the developments of these crises. Perhaps the observer of the UAE’s position on the Libyan crisis, the Egyptian crisis, the Syrian crisis and the Yemeni crisis can notice the effectiveness, flexibility and harmonization of Emirati diplomacy in dealing with these crises according to their respective data.

It can be seen how the position of the Emirati diplomacy on the Egyptian crisis ranged between caution and an attempt to compel the Egyptian regime to carry out some reforms in order to preserve the political stability of Egypt at the beginning of the outbreak of those waves on January 25, 2011, and between understanding the demands of the Egyptian people and anticipating the developments of events, then standing firmly by Egypt’s side and support Morally and materially after the June 30, 2013 revolution, the decision-maker in the UAE was convinced that maintaining Egypt’s security and stability is a fundamental pillar for maintaining Arab national security and Gulf security.

It is important to note that the UAE is one of the country’s most dependent on soft diplomacy in its foreign policy, but this did not prevent its military participation in the Yemeni crisis within the efforts of the Arab coalition because of the threat to the security of the Red Sea and Arab national security and the Gulf security, as the Yemeni crisis and its developments represent. It is important to note that the UAE's military participation in managing some Arab and international crises always comes under an international or regional umbrella, such as the efforts of the United Nations to maintain peace.

Perhaps the UAE’s approach to expanding the circle of its strategic partnerships (India - China - Russia - Pakistan...) represents the vitality, effectiveness and activity of the UAE foreign policy and the extent of clarity in the vision of the decision maker in dealing with regional challenges, and his appreciation of the weight of regional and international parties and what It can play in maintaining balances in international relations and maintaining security and stability at the regional and international levels.

Exempting UAE nationals from obtaining entry visas to 176 countries, as the UAE passport ranked first in the world in this regard. This is clear evidence of the UAE's good standing and reputation at the regional and International levels (Abdul, 2006).

Fourth Axis

Strength And Success of Emirati’s Diplomacy Elements

Emirati's diplomacy strength is evident from the aforementioned success models and many other models that the study may not be able to enumerate. When trying to search for the pillars of the success of the UAE’s foreign policy, a set of factors can be identified that the decision maker has invested in an effective external performance, perhaps the most important of which are the following:

1 - The UAE’s commitment to the rules that countries, especially small countries, should adhere to when dealing at the external level, including:

a) Joining international and regional organizations, and their subsidiary organizations.

b) Compliance with international laws and conventions.

c) Adopting dialogue as a means of managing disputes and resolving disputes by peaceful means, in addition to the strength and authenticity of the values of peace and the keenness of the UAE to mediate in conflict issues and find a solution to them.

d) Respect for the sovereignty of states and non-interference in their internal affairs.

e) Expanding the circle of cooperative and strategic relations, and reducing the circle of conflict.

f) Taking into account not to provoke or marginalize major powers (international or regional).

g) No military action at the external level except under an international or regional umbrella.

2 - In addition to those rules that the UAE has adhered to in its dealings at the external level, there are other factors that can be referred to as follows:

a) The decision maker's wisdom as well as his capacity to effectively discern internal, regional, and international data and evaluate external choices in light of them, and the significant role of the UAE's political leadership, as represented by His Highness Sheikh Zayed and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, as well as His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the Federal State, and His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and how the political leadership and external decision makers dealt rationally with various crises, investing in their resolution the UAE's balance in the cooperative relationship with Arab and international parties.

b) The charismatic personality of the decision maker, which was represented by the influential figure of Sheikh Zayed in the Gulf, Arab, Islamic and international levels, which had a clear impact in supporting many of the policies taken by the UAE at the external level.

c) The UAE's use of its resources to improve its external position, whether through the expansion and development of its diplomatic representation around the world, or through foreign aid, whether development, humanitarian, or charitable, provided by the UAE to international and regional organizations on the one hand, and relief efforts in natural disasters on the other.

d) The multiplicity and diversity of Emirati diplomacy tools, as it does not stop at the borders of official diplomacy represented in diplomatic missions abroad, but rather combines them and supports them with soft diplomacy that focuses on enhancing the positive cultural presence of the UAE at the regional and international levels. Its establishment of the Soft Power Council in April 2017, which aims to enhance the reputation and position of the UAE regionally and globally, consolidate its respect among peoples, formulate public policy and the UAE soft power strategy in all fields, discuss and propose projects and initiatives that support the soft power of the UAE, and propose and review legislation The policies affecting the reputation of the UAE, and raising an integrated strategy that consolidates the reputation of the UAE at the popular level in all strategic regions globally (Turki, 2019).

In addition to parliamentary diplomacy during the active regional and international participation of the Federal National Council, whether in defending the interests of the higher emirates or in expressing their positions and policies on various issues (William, 2003) and conference diplomacy. Here, we can briefly refer to the positive impact of the government summit each year in enhancing the position and reputation of the UAE at the external level.

The balanced behavior of the UAE’s foreign policy remains one of the reason of its success, and one of the most important factors of its strength, as the UAE always balances the elements of its strength and the elements of the other party’s in any external problem, in addition to the decision-maker’s awareness of shifts at the level of the international and regional environment, especially with regard to centers of power and change. At the level of international actors and the growing role of new actors, in addition to the change in the nature of international alliances, and the unprecedented speed in the pace of international and regional events and developments, which the UAE has accompanied by adopting an approach of proactive thinking in anticipating events, and then preparing for them, and being able to confront them with the best options.


From the foregoing, it is obvious that the United Arab Emirates, while sharing some of the requirements outlined for smaller countries, deviated from them in others. perhaps the most important of which is the economic capacity provided by oil revenues on the one hand, and the state’s investment of these revenues in diversifying sources of income on the other, in addition to the UAE achieving advanced levels in the competitiveness index, especially with regard to the distinguished government performance and the quality of life enjoyed by its citizens, which enabled the decision maker in the UAE to achieve effective and influential external activity compared to what small countries can achieve.

This success had its pillars represented in the national capabilities represented in the financial capacity that the UAE invested in strengthening its role at the external level, and its diplomatic ability, whether represented in extending its political representation in most countries of the world, in addition to raising the efficiency of its national cadres working in the field of foreign policy. The establishment and development of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirms the UAE’s keenness on this, in addition to utilizing the financial capacity of the UAE to contribute to relief efforts in humanitarian and natural disasters, and even to peacekeeping, reconstruction and development efforts, which is confirmed by the Global Competitiveness Index as previously mentioned. Perhaps the UAE’s participation in the Yemeni crisis within the efforts of Decisive Storm and Restoring Hope provides a clear model for this.

The decision-maker's wisdom and clear awareness of the internal, regional and international environment data represented one of the most important factors for the success of the UAE foreign policy. The study, through its various axes, attempted to expose the UAE foreign policy in the light of the determinants and directives affecting it, providing examples of the success of the UAE foreign policy and clarifying the most important factors of that success.

The elements of the UAE’s foreign policy were referred to in the foregoing, and how the UAE presented a successful model for the behavior of small states at the external level. However, the current stage’s data poses a number of challenges, which the external decision maker should take into consideration. The following is an attempt to list some of those challenges:

Challenges at the International Level

- It seems that the international system that was characterized by uni-polarity since the beginning of the nineties is witnessing today shifts towards bipolarity or multi-polarity, especially with the growing rise of new international powers (such as China “militarily and economically, united Europe, Japan...) and Russia’s restoration of its active role in influencing the International and regional interactions. Which raises a number of questions, including how will small countries deal with this transformation at a time when the United States is still pressing its weight on the internal and external policies of these countries? Will this shift allow her some maneuvering? Or will it dictate added tensions and pressures?

The expansion of nuclear weaponry with new countries acquiring it (Israel - India - Pakistan - North Korea - the Iranian nuclear program) and the number of countries owning this weapon may grow in the future, which increases international tension and makes the security of small countries more threatening.

The globalization of the economy and culture and what it means for the threat to the interests of small countries and their ability to compete economically on the one hand, and the preservation of their national identity and culture on the other hand, in a world in which the repercussions of geographical, political and cultural barriers.

- The decline of the state’s role as a main actor at the level of foreign policy, the emergence of new actors, such as the forces of globalization, and the penetration of national sovereignty, especially for small countries, as many of their internal matters are now being dealt with according to an international agenda, such as women’s issues, human rights and democratic transformation.

- The war against terrorism initiated by the United States, and its repercussions on the expansion of the tension and the increase in violence, how can small countries protect their interests in light of an international environment teeming with causes of conflict and instability, the emergence of cross-border armed groups and their threat to the security of states and societies, in addition to the challenges of cross-border cybercrime And endangered security and stability?

- The rapid pace of international events and developments, which imposes on states proportionate responses in terms of speed and strength to preserve their national interests at the internal and external levels.

Challenges at the Arab Level

- The Arab system appears more threatening today in light of the challenges of the Middle Eastern system imposed on the Arab world by the United States (the Greater Middle East, the road map), and in light of the persistence of Arab-Arab differences, and the weak role of the League of Arab States, not to mention the security tensions in the region. The region, developments in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Israeli-Lebanese war and its repercussions, the security situation in Iraq, the state of chaos, conflict and political instability in more than one Arab country, and the repercussions of that situation on Arab national security and the security of the Gulf states, given what this unstable environment represents. Opportunities for international and regional penetration on the one hand and a fertile environment for the activity of terrorist groups on the other hand, and for the growth of the possibilities of societal clash on sectarian, sectarian and ethnic grounds.

- All of these tensions require a rational foreign policy that works to calm the conflict and contribute to creating a unified Arab position commensurate with the gravity of the challenges facing the Arab world today.

Challenges at the Gulf Level

Matters seem more dangerous for the UAE foreign policy, the situation in Iraq and its repercussions on the security of the Gulf, as well as the Iranian nuclear program and the threat it poses to the security of the Gulf, and the emergence of some Gulf-Gulf disputes over some files, which affects the unified Gulf position towards some regional issues, in addition to The direct repercussions of the Yemeni crisis on Gulf security, external pressures towards democratization, political reform, and its challenges to the Gulf political systems, and problems related to the imbalance in the demographic structure in the Gulf states, which poses more challenges to the political decision maker in the Gulf states, both at internal or external levels.

Given the knowledge of these shifts in the international, Arab and Gulf environments, the process of external decision-making seems more difficult. How can the decision maker reconcile the capabilities and capabilities available to his state with the challenges posed by the successive developments in the Arab, regional and international political scene?


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