The purpose of this memo is to address the challenges to the UAE’s national security deriving from the rise of Russia’s influence in the Middle East and recommend a foreign policy to adopt in the altering geopolitical environment.
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This memo focuses on the national security problem in the changing geopolitical environment, examining whether the United Arab Emirates should adopt strategic hedging as foreign policy towards the Russian Federation. The UAE is considered the strongest U.S. security partner on the Arabian Peninsula. The country’s foreign policy strategy, articulated by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, relies on the principles of non-interference in other states’ affairs and peaceful conflict resolution (Embassy of the United Arab Emirates n.d.). Over recent years, the UAE’s relationship with Russia has considerably strengthened due to the countries’ cooperation in the energy and defense sectors, shared views on regional crises, and the prioritization of stability over political freedom.
Since the declaration of the UAE’s independence, the state has implemented a balanced foreign policy that involves conducting dialogues, seeking compromises, and respecting international conventions. It has established diplomatic relations with a number of countries, including the U.S., China, and Russia. According to Ramani (2020), the strategic partnership between the UAE and Russia is based on both countries’ “rejections of Western liberal values and common regime security concerns.” In other words, such a strategy prioritizes economic and social stability rather than political freedom, which prompted the Gulf state to discard the U.S.’ efforts of promoting democracy in the Middle East.
The diplomatic relations between the UAE and Russia imply strategic partnerships in various sectors. Russia is considered a rising power with growing ambitions, including its participation in the decision-making processes in the Middle East and maintenance of transactional, nonideological relationships with all parties in the region (Lund 2019, 2). The Kremlin’s strategy regarding the Arabian Peninsula does not come down to trade, economic cooperation, and counterterrorism. Russia’s policy in the Middle East also aims to protect the country from Western interference in its internal affairs (Ramani 2020). As the UAE aims to balance political and economic interests when building relationships with the West’s geopolitical rivals, such as Russia, it needs to elaborate a comprehensive diplomatic strategy.
To comply with the country’s interests and prove efficient in the long term, the UAE’s national and foreign security policy must contribute to building balanced relations with Russia as a significant global power. Such an approach will expand partnership and trade opportunities, as well as diversify the UAE’s “strategic relations beyond the traditional regional security guarantor, the U.S.” (Salisbury 2020, 18). Overall, the policymakers need to bear in mind that the UAE’s policy objectives include providing security and stability and increasing the country’s global reputation and power.
Policy Option One
Hedging can be considered as the first policy option, based on the UAE’s strategic goal of balancing its political and economic interests with the West and its geopolitical rivals. Strategic hedging has been utilized by the UAE as a foreign policy towards Iran until the Arab Spring in 2011, when the country returned to the balancing approach (Salisbury 2020, 13). In international relations, the hedging tactic allows the parties to benefit from the cooperation while eliminating security risks and maintaining consistent ties with other powers. Such an approach utilizes trade agreements, economic incentives, investments, and persuasion as primary instruments of power. The main evaluation criteria for the options in this memo involve the policy’s influence on the UAE’s position on the global scene, impact on relations with Russia, and possible adverse outcomes.
The Advantages of Hedging
- In the context of the changing world order and multiple stakeholders of the Middle East region, hedging implies balancing the UAE’s interests in relations with major allies.
- Hedging allows for elaborating a comprehensive diplomatic strategy with both the U.S. and Russia and maintaining commercial and economic partnerships.
- Another benefit for the UAE is flexibility in its cooperation with multiple parties, which, nonetheless, can be compromised.
- As the US is no longer the only global actor with unlimited power in the region, the UAE can diversify its strategic relations with the traditional support, the U.S.
The Disadvantages of Hedging
- The flexibility in the UAE’s cooperation with multiple parties can be compromised. Insufficient leveraging of partners poses risks for the country adopting the hedging approach.
- The rise of Russian influence strengthens the positions of the UAE’s traditional opponents in the region, which requires the country to stay alert.
Policy Option Two
Based on the UAE’s aim to strengthen its strategic partnership and security ties with Russia, the second policy option to consider is soft balancing. This approach does not imply the utilization of any military instruments; instead, it relies on diplomatic tools, such as humanitarian aid, economic sanctions, tariff regulations, diplomatic coalitions, and compromising. As geopolitics contributes to the convergence between the Gulf state and Russia, implementing the soft balancing approach can help the nations realize their objectives of mutually beneficial strategic partnership (Cafiero 2019). Soft balancing is considered a prominent approach in the 21st century.
The Advantages of Soft Balancing
- Soft balancing allows the UAE to strengthen its business and economic partnership with Russia.
- This approach can help in identifying vectors for development in sectors like economy, tourism, trade, science, and media, as well as establishing a reputation of a tolerant state (Hauer 2018).
- Soft balancing will increase the UAE’s humanitarian contribution to the world and maintain its diplomatic state image in the global context.
The Disadvantages of Soft Balancing
- Soft balancing implies national security risks for the UAE, which can arise as a result of military capabilities and announcements of other states.
- Russia’s financial, economic, and military capabilities do not match those of the U.S., and weakening the UAE’s allegiances towards the West can result in the loss of the benefits resulting from their partnership.
Policy Option Three
The third policy option for the policymakers to consider is hard balancing, which suggests the application of confrontational measures. In contrast to soft balancing, this approach relies on the balance of power through the application of such instruments as military alliances and coordination, the show of force, tariffs, sanctions, restrictions, penalties, and coercion.
The Advantages of Soft Balancing
- Hard balancing can strengthen the UAE’s relationship with the U.S.
- This strategy can also increase the Gulf state’s military capabilities.
- As the positions of the UAE’s adversaries in the Middle East strengthen and Russia’s strategy of balancing between different powers appears fragile, the hard balancing allows for advancing partnership with the West.
The Disadvantages of Soft Balancing
- Such an approach implies aggressive actions against Russia, which can lead to retaliatory measures and adverse effects resulting from the provocation.
- Hard balancing can emphasize the country’s military engagement, contradicting its foreign strategy policy of non-interference, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and compromising (Embassy of the United Arab Emirates n.d.).
- Since the Kremlin demonstrated its determination to use military force to support its allies as part of the military campaign, the UAE might not only lose the advantages of a partnership with Russia but also risk its national security.
To conclude, three policy options for the UAE to consider are hedging, soft balancing, and hard balancing. In terms of foreign policy goals, the UAE is committed to providing national security and balancing its interests with the West and its geopolitical opponents. Based on the assessment of policy options, it can be concluded that hedging appears to be the most feasible due to its flexibility. It can help the UAE accomplish its foreign policy objectives, such as maintaining beneficial relations with both the U.S. and Russia and choosing compromising and economic incentives as primary tools of power over aggressive measures.
Even though hedging requires leveraging allies, it is more pragmatic than soft or hard balancing since it enables an equilibrium between cooperation and confrontation and provides for national security in the changing geopolitical environment. In contrast, soft balancing implies national security risks, while hard balancing can prove inefficient due to the risk of provoking Russia and losing strategic partnerships. Hence, the hedging approach complies with the UAE’s foreign policy objectives and can help it elaborate a comprehensive diplomatic strategy, ensure national security, and strengthen economic relations with great powers.
Cafiero, Giorgio. 2019. “Understanding Russia And the UAE’s Special Partnership.” LobeLog. Web.
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates. n.d. “Foreign Policy.” Web.
Hauer, Amy. 2018. “Professor Paul Looks to “Soft Balancing” for the Future of International Politics.” McGill. Web.
Lund, Aron. 2019. “Russia in the Middle East.” The Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI): 1-52. Web.
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Ramani, Samuel. 2020. “Why the Relationship Between Russia and the United Arab Emirates is Strengthening.” Responsible Statecraft. Web.
Salisbury, Peter. 2020. “Risk Perception and Appetite in UAE Foreign and National Security Policy.” Royal Institute of International Affairs: 1-40. Web.