Military Bases in the Foreign Policy of the United Arab Emirates

By Telci, Ismail Numan; Horoz, Tuba Ozturk | Insight Turkey, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

Military Bases in the Foreign Policy of the United Arab Emirates


Telci, Ismail Numan, Horoz, Tuba Ozturk, Insight Turkey


Introduction

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the leading Gulf countries in terms of oil resources. The country has pursued an active foreign policy on both regional and global scale, especially in the post-Arab uprisings period. The UAE government has established close relations with leading international actors such as the U.S. and Israel, and has started to play an active role in Middle East politics through its alliances and activities at the regional level. This policy activism, however, has been criticized by many experts who argue that Abu Dhabi's foreign policy initiatives far exceed its real capacity.

Despite these criticisms, the Emirati leadership is generally regarded as having a solid foreign policy agenda. The main figures of this foreign policy activism are Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Vice-President Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. With the leadership of these two important figures, the country aims to become an important regional actor with the capacity to fight against terrorism, secure the global energy supply, and confront the effects of the international economic crisis. (1) The UAE government has utilized various instruments in order to successfully implement its foreign policy. These tools are diplomatic relations, financial assistance, investment, humanitarian aid and, most strikingly, the use of hard power. (2)

Military bases are the new tools the Emirati leadership is using to achieve its foreign policy objectives. The country has focused on establishing military bases in order to make use of its hard power capabilities. Concentrating especially on the Red Sea, the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean region, these activities have continued systematically since 2014. During the past few years, the UAE has established military bases on Socotra and Perim Island in Yemen, the Somaliland and Puntland regions in Somalia and the port city of Assab, Eritrea.

By establishing military bases, the UAE aims to become a strong regional player, particularly in the Gulf of Aden. The country also aims to strengthen its geopolitical influence through strong military presence in one of the strategic locations of international trade. The military bases also serve the Emirati leadership in their aim to successfully compete with regional players such as Turkey, Qatar and Iran, countries that have already established strong relations with regional actors in the Horn of Africa. The UAE administration believes that having a military presence in the wider region will strengthen its position in regional organizations such as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Arab League. Finally, being able to use hard power will allow Abu Dhabi to confront militant organizations such as the Houthis, ISIS and al-Qaeda. Before exploring the military bases established by the United Arab Emirates in detail, it would be helpful to examine the transformation of the Emirati foreign policy. This will provide a basis for better understanding the military base activities of the UAE.

The Transformation of the UAE's Foreign Policy

The United Arab Emirates has been under the Western security umbrella throughout its modern history. Particularly, the United States (U.S.) and the United Kingdom (UK) provided the Emirati leadership with a solid alliance that could protect the Gulf nation from external and domestic threats. In the post-Gulf War period, the military and political influence of Western actors in the region became definite, while the transport of energy from the Gulf region, to both Asian and Western markets, continued at an increasing rate. (3) Having a considerable surplus in the budget through oil exports, the UAE drew global attention with huge domestic projects, while trying to take precautions against potential threats by creating a significant budget for armament. During the 2000s, the Emirati leadership invested heavily in weapons and military equipment, mostly from the U. …

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