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Michael Jansen: How the nation reaches out
November 30, 2012
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Since the foundation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Dec.2, 1971, the federation has adopted a foreign policy based on good relations with neighbours, resolution of disputes through dialogue, non-interference in the affairs of other states, and adherence to international law and the United Nations (UN) Charter. This policy has been flexible and adapted to changing realities in the region and on the international scene.

Over the years, the UAE has boosted its participation not only in the deliberations of the UN but also in other organisations to which the federation belongs: the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the Arab Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, the Non-Aligned Movement and the World Trade Organisation.

The UAE has been fortunate due to its oil and gas wealth and its geographic position, making it both a major energy exporter and an important travel and commercial hub connecting Asia with Europe and the Middle East. 

Taking its good fortune into account, the late federation president and founding father Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan sought to imbue fellow citizens with a feeling of belonging to the Arab nation and a sense of responsibility toward less fortunate fellow Arabs, Muslims and others.

Over the past 35 years, the UAE has provided $70 billion (Dhs257 billion) in loans, grants and other forms of assistance for development programmes in 100 countries.

The federation has also made available $27 billion (Dhs99 billion) to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. For example, the UAE has provided $215 million (Dhs789 million) for reconstruction and healthcare in war-torn Iraq and contributed funds for reconstruction in Somalia and Gaza. 

In Gaza the UAE built a housing estate for Palestinians living in the southern town of Rafah after Israel’s devastating 2008-09 war on the coastal strip.

The UAE has pledged $323 million (Dhs1185 million) for economic assistance to Afghanistan since the collapse of the Taliban in 2001. The UAE projects include Zayed University, a college with 6,000 Afghan students, half a dozen clinics, a major hospital and a housing project that shelters 200 displaced Afghan families.

The UAE extended $20 million (Dhs73.4 million) aid to Pakistan following flooding in 2010 and provided other assistance following an earthquake in 2005. In June 2011 the UAE promised cash-strapped post-Mubarak Egypt $3 billion (Dhs11 billion) in aid.    

To improve its foreign assistance programme, the government has established the UAE Foreign Aid Coordination Office, headed by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to operate in tandem with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

For more than 30 years, UAE foreign relations have had a major defence dimension. In 1981, the federation became a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), established as a collective security organisation by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait. 

Due to the shock delivered by Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the 1991 US-led war to drive Iraq out of the emirate, Gulf States drew closer to the US and the West.  In the context of GCC relations with the US and the West, the UAE signed an agreement in 1992 with Washington to permit the US to use some the UAE military bases on a temporary basis and to pre-position supplies on the UAE territory.

The UAE has dispatched 250 troops to Afghanistan, becoming the only Arab country to deploy troops alongside Nato forces there. UAE troops, based in the conflicted southern part of Afghanistan, are said to be welcomed by the population.

After the Arab Spring erupted in late 2010, the UAE dispatched 500 police to counter unrest in Bahrain, a fellow GCC member.

Another aspect of security cooperation with the West was UAE participation on the military level – along with Qatar – in the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi. A squadron of UAE fighter jets took part in the effort to impose a no-fly zone that was a major factor in the war that ended a year ago with Qadhafi’s demise.   

The UAE also took part in the GCC effort to mediate a transition from the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen to his successor Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and supported the suspension of Syria’s membership in the Arab League. 

The UAE has drawn closer to the West by appointing an ambassador to Nato and has assisted the US in tracking and detaining Al Qaeda figures, improving oversight in its banks of transactions that might benefit terrorist groups, banning the use of the internet by such groups, and boosted border, airport and port controls to prevent terrorists from transiting or shipping materials from the federation. 

On Palestine, the UAE continues to follow the policy supportive of the Palestinians laid down by Shaikh Zayed and has criticised the US for its total submission to Israel. The UAE backs the Palestinian Authority’s effort to attain recognition as a state launched in September 2011 although this bid is opposed by Washington and Tel Aviv. 

The UAE adheres to the 2002 Arab Summit plan for resolution of the Palestine-Israel dispute involving total Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza and the Syrian Golan occupied in 1967 in exchange for full normalisation of relations between the Arabs and Israel.

The UAE continues to enforce the Arab League boycott of firms doing business with Israel and Israeli companies and formally bans trade with Israel.

While the UAE has observed US and UN sanctions against Iran, with which federation firms have long had strong commercial relations, the UAE has consistently opposed a US military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. 

The UAE has been seeking to expand its commercial relations with China and South Korea, the emerging Asian economies, as well as to expand ties with traditional trading partner, India, the federation’s largest.

The Asia-Pacific region holds first place among the UAE’s top non-oil trade partners, which accounted to 46 per cent of the total in this category of commerce this year.

The total value of UAE exports is $252 billion (Dhs935 billion), out of which petroleum exports amount to $104.5 billion (Dhs383.5 billion), showing that the non-oil sector is strong and growing and that the UAE is successfully diversifying commerce as well as changing its political and military orientation to suit evolving circumstances.
The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

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