The Rise of UAE as an Important Geopolitical Player

Dubai Skyline picture
Image credit: Paule Knete / Pixabay

The United Arab Emirates has over the years emerged as an important economic hub not just within the context of the Middle East, but globally. This has been attributed to its geographical location, visionary leadership and the ability of the country to adapt to disruptions. In recent years UAE through its ‘Vision 2021’ has sought to diversify its economy and reduce its dependency upon oil. The UAE has also done reasonably well in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

In recent years, the UAE’s proactive foreign policy outreach and deft responses to regional and global changes have meant that Abu Dhabi has punched above its weight and emerged as an important geopolitical player.

Important foreign policy initiatives by the UAE

Sensing the changing geopolitical landscape in the Middle East, the UAE signed the Abraham Accords for the normalization of bilateral ties with Israel in 2020. During his visit to UAE, Israeli Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, inaugurating an Israeli consulate in the UAE said, “Israel wants peace with its neighbours – with all its neighbours. We aren’t going anywhere. The Middle East is our home … We call on all the countries of the region to recognise that, and to come talk to us.”

Economic ties between UAE and Israel in the aftermath of Abraham Accords

Economic linkages between UAE and Israel have also got a strong fillip as a result of the Abraham Accords. The UAE’s investment in Israel between September 2020 and March 2021 was estimated at $80 billion, while Israel’s investment in UAE was estimated at over 20 billion. The bulk of investments from UAE are by government affiliated business entities, and as a result of the recent Israel-Palestinian violence in May 2021 there has been apprehension amongst UAE investors. 

It would be pertinent to point out that in April 2021, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala Investment signed a memorandum of understanding to buy a 22% stake in Israel’s Tamar offshore field for over $1 billion.

Significantly, while seeking to improve ties with Israel, UAE has also been working towards improving ties with Tehran. Senior officials in the Biden administration along with many policymakers considered personally close to Biden, have in fact been reaching out to UAE, with regard to the revival of the JCPOA

The UAE has congratulated Ebrahim Raisi after his victory in the recent Iranian Presidential election. In a congratulatory tweet, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid, UAE Vice-President and Dubai ruler said: “We wish for the Islamic Republic, and for our bilateral relations, stability, continuity and prosperity.”

South Asia

It is not just the Middle East, but UAE has also attempted to play peacemaker between India and Pakistan in the past two decades. Only recently, it is supposed to have played an important role in back channel diplomacy between India and Pakistan (senior intelligence officials from both countries are supposed to have met in UAE in January 2021) which led to both countries announcing a ceasefire in February 2021. UAE’s role in South Asia often gets overshadowed by the focus of most observers and commentators has been on the role of the US in encouraging Islamabad and New Delhi to improve ties, as a result of the likely disruption caused by the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. 

UAE which for long shared close ties with Pakistan, and in recent years has also strengthened bilateral ties with India (the relationship is no longer restricted to the diaspora and oil but even security ties between India and UAE have deepened) has itself acknowledged that it has played an important role in reducing the acrimony between New Delhi and Islamabad. UAE Ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba while commenting on the role of the GCC nation in getting the relationship to a ‘healthy level’ during an online lecture in April 2021 said: “They might not sort of become best friends but at least we want to get it to a level where it’s functional, where it’s operational, where they are speaking to each other.” The GCC nation has thus leveraged the fact that it shares close ties with both India and Pakistan. 

The UAE due to its geographical location, as well as the pragmatism and flexibility of its leadership and its thrust on attracting talent from different parts of the world has emerged as an important economic center. As a result of its economic success, deft and pragmatic foreign policy, where it has been able to balance relationships, it has also managed to emerge as an important geopolitical player. UAE has also reiterated the point that size and high decibel diplomacy are not essential for the successful conduct of foreign policy. Apart from being an economic hub, UAE also has the potential of being an important bridge within the Middle East between Israel and Iran, while it has already played a crucial role in trying to broker peace between India and Pakistan not just recently, but on numerous occasions in the past as well.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.