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Is the UAE qualified to be a superpower?

March 18, 2022 at 10:11 am

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (R) and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan (L) hold a joint press conference after their meeting in Moscow, Russia on March 17, 2022 [Russian Foreign Ministry – Anadolu Agency]

UAE Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, met yesterday with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow and discussed cooperation between the two countries and ways to enhance their strategic bilateral partnership in various fields.

The officials exchanged views on key developments and challenges concerning security and stability in the Middle East and Africa, as well as the “conflict” between Russia and Ukraine. They also discussed the stability of global energy and commodities markets, including the global grain supply.

During a joint press conference held with Lavrov, Al Nahyan said: “The UAE will continue to be an effective and credible international partner through its work with regional and international organisations. The UAE will work with the Russian Federation to find suitable solutions for issues in a way that ensures the achievement of regional and international security and stability.”

At the same time, he said: “We also affirm our full readiness to engage with all parties to reach a ceasefire agreement,” referring to the Russian war in Ukraine.

READ: UAE keen to cooperate with Russia on energy security, says UAE Minister

There is much to understand from Al Nahyan’s visit to Moscow at a time when there are Western sanctions placed on the country as a result of its war on Ukraine. Al Nahyan was speaking as though he was a leader of a superpower; a country which is a top supplier and influencer. He talked about his country’s concerns about the global markets, oil, food, grain, stability and humanitarian law, as though he could change the global situation.

However, on a global scale, the UAE isn’t even a regional power within the Middle East. This is very clear as it has not been party to or become a member of any influential or active international groups or forums except OPEC.

On average the UAE produces three million barrels of petroleum and liquids per day and has oil reserves of 100 billion barrels, but this does not make it a developed country because it has not utilised these revenue stream to bolster itself, instead, much of the wealth has lined the pockets of the ruling elite. Large quantities of funds have also been used to destabilise other countries in the region including Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia.

In fact, the UAE’s membership of OPEC is always at stake because the majority of the people who operate its vast oil and gas exploration industry and gas fields are foreign nationals. At any sign of trouble, they could flee, forcing the sector to collapse.

Other countries depend on a variety of industries that contribute to global development in a number of fields and thus boost their own economies.

The UAE, like most other Gulf States, imports the bulk of its food and medical supplies, leaving it under the mercy of international markets, but also its own oil and gas industry which bank rolls the purchase of international goods.

On a local level, the UAE is Iran’s second largest trade partner after China. Global powers are in talks with Tehran to halt its nuclear programme. This could affect the Emirates the most, however it is not included in the talks or asked to help make Tehran toe the line, in view of its links to Iran.

In the field of technology, the UAE supports technology for Small-Medium Enterprises in the industrial sector and considers the latter the backbone of the economy, but “tech-savvy nations are defined not only by the support they provide to enterprises but also through the synergies and partnerships they develop through research and innovation.”

READ: Emirati cargo ship sinks off Iran’s southern coast

The UAE has established Abu Dhabi Advanced Technology Research Council, the first research council in the Middle East. This council was set up to shape research and development for transformative technology outcomes, but it has not yet produced any tangible contribution to the tech world. The UAE even uses Israeli malware to spy on its own citizens, because it has no locally made alternative.

It has gone so far as to sign a normalisation agreement with the occupation state of Israel because it does not have its own arms industry and is reliant on the US and other global powers to provide it with the weapons it needs. In return for building ties with its old foe, the UAE was to receive a contract to purchase US F-35 fighter jets, a deal that has since been frozen by America.

With these in mind, Al Nahyan’s visit to Moscow means little. A country that is so reliant on international trade, arms and a global workforce is weak and cannot play a powerful role on a global scale. It does, however, recognise its weaknesses and maintains its global position by flattering and buying its position with major powers. It does not want to lose them in order to maintain the façade that it is a strong and worthy ally.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.