The frequency of the question does not seem to reduce its novelty. There seems to be a strong impression that the UAE has indeed changed its posture to a more militarised approach - what the Washington Post last year characterised as 'Little Sparta'. The real question, however, is: 'Has our foreign policy really changed?'
The context of the UAE's military intervention in so-called Arab Spring countries, notably Libya and Yemen, is to an extent a loaded question, with the clear implication that the UAE is using military force to coerce its neighbors. But the country has always been part of the international community, working to support peace and stability across the world.
The UAE's military has conducted missions of different types in the region to support peace and security. Our forces participated in peacekeeping in Lebanon in 1976. It also participated in the military effort to liberate Kuwait in 1991 as well as contributing to the Hope Revival mission in Somalia in 1992 with the UN. Other missions carried out by the UAE have included a de-mining mission to Lebanon, support to the international peace keeping mission in Kosovo in 1999 and full-spectrum military support to the international effort to support the government of Afghanistan. All of these military contributions were under the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE.
It therefore seems wrong to suggest that our more recent military participation in Libya, Iraq and Yemen represents a newfound boldness or even a manifestation of a post-Zayed "more realistic foreign policy" as Dr. Abulkhaleq Abudulla suggested recently. The UAE has participated with military personnel, mainly ground forces, since the formation of the army. This is also hardly a unilateral hegemonic approach by the UAE, as Andrew Hammond of the European Council on Foreign Relations suggested in a recent analysis of the UAE's motives in participating in the campaign against Libyan rebels.
Military deployment and engagement are proper tools of our foreign policy. Equally, it is important to understand that the country's use of military force has always been guided by a set of defining principles:
Change seems to be the only constant in our world. Political instability has raged through the region leading to failing regimes and economies. In the midst of all this, some regional powers have started to flex their geostrategic muscles, using non-state actors and non-conventional weapons capabilities, while at the same time old allies have started to withdraw their commitment to the region. Further complicating this febrile mix, the region is seeing a sharp economic downturn as falling oil prices are leading to budget deficits, even in the wealthiest of states.
Did the UAE really change? In light of unprecedented turbulence across the region, it is argued that the UAE actually remains one of its most constant factors; it still stands by its principles of negotiating first, fighting last and building a path to development once it is done. This continues to be rooted in our genesis as a nation established on a vision for peace in unity.
The UAE and the Arab alliance led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen took responsibility for fulfilling UN Security Council Resolution 2216, a resolution that might otherwise have followed many others, simply collecting dust in the UN's library.
We in the UAE are clear that if we are to keep our region and our world safe and prosperous, we must do everything in our power, even if it means using military force to protect our interests.
Originally published on Gulf News 5th November 2015