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UAE-Yemen Relations

UAE-Yemen Relations
 

Introduction

Foreign policy demonstrates how countries operate at the international level. In particular, the policy framework documents the manner in which states respond to external issues. The Middle East is a controversial area due to the persistent conflicts that uplift the region. Being located in the area, both the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Yemen are challenged to operate in a manner that would satisfy various players who have an interest in the region. For instance, the West as well as Russia appears interested in controlling the area. Besides, neighboring countries also have their interests in these states. Despite the perceived controversies of Yemen, the UAE has maintained good relations with the country (Burke, 2012).  The current paper explores the effect of the global political economy on the development of the UAE pertaining to its relationship with Yemen, bearing in mind the on-going conflict with Saudi Arabia.

The UAE operates under the boundaries of the policy framework established by the founding leader; Sheik Zayed. In a broad sense, the policy emphasizes the importance of negotiation, diplomacy, and cooperativeness in terms of solving disputes (Anderson, Seibert, & Wagner, 2006). The UAE also recognizes its commitments to both its neighbors and international actors. In the pursuit of the objective, the country encourages dialogue, partnership, tolerance, moderation, and respect for diversity (Anderson et al., 2006). However, regional security has remained a top priority for the country. To promote peace in the region, the country has been a leader in the development of mechanisms to counter terrorism and crimes perpetuated by extremist groups.

1- History of the Relationship between the UAE and Yemen

Since its establishment in 1971, the UAE has been applying a balanced foreign policy approach. In this regard, dialogue, respect for international guidelines, commitment to the UN Charter as well as non-interference have been some of the pillars of the country’s policies (Anderson et al., 2006). In terms of settling disputes, the UAE has in many instances supported dialogue and other peaceful means of conflict resolution. In addition, the UAE pursues establishment of cooperation with other countries.

Historically, Yemen has remained poor, neglected and pariah state according to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). This is reinforced by the fact that the aid promised to the country by the members of the GCC has not been given due to the concerns raised in regard to Yemen’s ability to absorb the funds (United Arab Emirates Office for the Coordination of Foreign Aid, 2010). Although GCC monitored the exit of President Ali Abdullah as part of the changes made to encourage the development of the country, it has not granted other essential demands from Yemen (Hill & Nonneman, 2011). In particular, it has denied the country admission into GCC.

Founded in 1990, the current Yemen Republic was formed after the fusion of the southern state (Socialist People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen) and the Northern Arab Republic of Yemen following the overthrow of Hamid al-Din dynasty {YAR} (Kahana & Suwaed, 2009).  During the years of the state’s formation, YAR proved dominant in the political sphere. However, factionary wars remained common in the country as was evidenced by the civil war of 1994.

Yemen cannot be categorized easily. Located on the strategic Bab al-Mandab; the junction of the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, Yemen has for a long time remained an important meeting point for diverse cultures as well as a center of trade (Silver, 2007). Presently, leaders from as far as Abu Dhabi and Oman link their descent to Yemen (Laciner, 2006). Yet Yemen’s diverse coastal people and cosmopolitan ports historically had uneasy relations with its mountainous hinterland which is under the dominance of ancient tribal leadership detesting external influence. Overall, the association between the two countries has remained cordial for a long time. The close ties explain the decision of the UAE to offer military support to Yemen in the present conditions to help them fight against the rebels.

2 – The Current Situation

Relations between Yemen and United Arab Emirates are complicated. For a long time, the country has been eager to join the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which includes the UAE. The sub-regional arrangement consists of Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and the UAE. Traditionally, the UCC members have rejected the desire of other states to join the group (Anderson et al., 2006). Nevertheless, after many years of agitation, Yemen holds observer status, although obtaining full membership seems a long distance away. Some observers believe that admitting Yemen would serve the interests of the organization better, as it would prevent the country from becoming a state doomed to failure. Given that ungovernable countries are a source of instability in the region, efforts to help Yemen are likely to meet the interests of the neighboring countries. The biggest obstacle to the admission of Yemen to the Council seems to be coming from Kuwait which harbors reservations against the country because of its previous support during its invasion by Iraq.

It is not far-fetched to claim that the global system is largely dynamic. Despite the changing landscape, the Middle East region remains unstable. Nonetheless, the decision of the UAE to join the incursion against rebels is intriguing given that the country advocated for the non-interference policy in the past.

3- Recent Changes and Reasons

The UAE is well informed about the influence of the Saudi Arabia on Yemen. In particular, the two players compete with each other in terms of leadership in the GCC region (Abdallah & Aboudi, 2015). Some observers such as Turbeville (2015) consider that the approach of Saudi Arabia remains the same it adopted in the 1930s. The UAE maintains however that it shares the tribulations of its neighbors. Just like the Saudi Arabia, the UAE has often pledged huge sums of money to aid Yemen. However, the UAE has faced corruption and other bottlenecks in its attempts to disburse the funds (United Arab Emirates Office for the Coordination of Foreign Aid, 2010). In 2009, Yemenwas ranked as the largest recipient of the aid provided by the UAE, equaling to over seven hundred seventy million US Dollars. The Abu Dhabi Fund for International Development is the body in charge of the allocation of the aid. Within the GCC, UAE has satisfactorily honored its aid promises.  In a bid to ease the suffering of war victims in Yemen, the UAE Red Crescent Society set up a camp that hosted internally displaced individuals from the country. A new development agency, Dubai Cares is also engaged in a number of projects in Yemen. From the above, it is evident that the UAE has steadily supported Yemen.

One of the emerging changes in the policy of the UAE is the use of force to resolve disputes. Initially, the UAE always embraced peaceful resolution of the conflicts (Day, 2010). However, in the case of the Yemen crisis, it has abandoned its preferred policy regarding cross-border concerns by taking a combative approach (Barnato, 2015). After days of airstrikes failed to yield the desired results, Saudi Arabian and the UAE forces decided to launch ground assault in Yemen. If the Saudi-UAE coalition won in the battle, the fear of Iran might have been controlled over some time. Iran would come out as a weak player in Arabian Peninsula.

However, a failure would lay bare the paper power character that reflects the possessions of both the UAE and Saudi Arabia. High rates of causalities in the invading forces experienced by the Saudi Arabia and the UAE display a gleam picture (Barnato, 2015). In addition, both the UAE and Saudi Arabia used to support terrorist groups in the past. In particular, Saudi Arabia supported Al-Qaeda in Libya, Iraq and Syria (Burke, 2012). The recent invasion is a demonstration that the two states continue to support the terrorist group through ground military aid. Al-Qaeda operatives have taken charge everywhere the coalition forces have displaced the rebels in Yemen.

The war causes the division in the interests of the GCC members. In particular, those against the invasion see the UAE and Saudi Arabia as proxies of the western powers (Barnato, 2015). The allegations are not far-fetched taking into account close relations between the two countries and the West. In this regard, it is arguable that despite embracing diplomacy, the UAE can alter its approach, and be used as a pawn in the pursuit of the world’s powerful players’ interests.

4- The Impact of the Changes on the Economy

Long-running battles expose economies to severe outcomes. Thus, the region’s economic problems are likely to aggravate due to the Yemen in-fighting. The decline and eventual fall of President Saleh in 2011 partially became possible because of the drop in the oil market prices (Hill & Nonneman, 2011). The leader’s grip on power was eroded as oil revenues dipped, corruption took its toll, food scarcity increased, unemployment grew and the population growth rate surged upwards.

Apart from the dwindling oil prices, it is also noted that the country has minimal natural resource deposits. In particular, the oil and gas deposits are modest. Taking into account the limited amount of the resources, it was not surprising that between 2006 and 2010, Yemen suffered significant budget deficits resulting from a slowdown in the production of oil. The Economist Intelligence Unit (2009) affirms this position indicating that the country’s oil reserves stood at roughly 0.2 percent of the world’s total output.

The shift from a peaceful to a confrontational approach has repercussions for the UAE. It is noted that military interventions are expensive in terms of human and material resources. A number of military servicemen continue to fight in Yemen implying that the UAE has committed funds to cater for the needs of the fighters. In addition, the military arms being used cost a monstrous amount of money. In addition, the change in tactics has seen UAE encountering opposition from within the GCC given that not all members support the military intervention in Yemen. It is apparent that the opponents of the intervention believe that the parties supporting the military assistance to the government are proxies of the West. In an attempt to defend itself against the use of force in Yemen, the leadership of the UAE alleged that it made the move following a request from Yemen.

5- The Movement towards enhancing non-Oil Revenues

Overdependence on one product or service as a source of income is a threat to an economy. Although decreasing oil prices are a threat to the stability of the economies of GCC, the political instability created by the events in Yemen presents a bigger problem. Such instability poses a serious threat given that Yemen occupies a strategic geographical position in the region (Barnato, 2015). As a result, it becomes essential in terms of trading relationships. In addition, leading countries from the region such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE are involved in the fight as well. The overall effect is that the circumstances discourage investment. Despite the potential risk, Barnato (2015) observes that Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia have concentrated on the turmoil in the oil market instead of taking alternative measures.

In 2020, the city of Dubai will host Expo 2020. The international event is likely to contribute to the diversification of the country´s economic activities, and to a certain degree, will facilitate alternative sources of income. Besides, using the Expo to highlight its potential, the activity will boost the region’s tourism and construction sectors. Dubai has allocated huge resources to improve infrastructural facilities prior to hosting the Expo. Major construction works range from expansion of ports to the construction of new airports. Hence, the increased volume of activities is likely to contribute to the widening of the country’s revenue sources other than oil.

6 – Relationship with Different Countries

The relations between the UAE and Iran have been cordial for a long time. In particular, the two states have been tied with long-term commercial relations. Surprisingly, even the Iranian revolution has not spoilt the relations (Day, 2010). Moreover, the Saudi opprobrium and international sanctions have not affeected the relationship as well. The UAE’s stance partially influences its position of Aden, which it perceives as a natural extension to Dubai’s port facilities. The facility guarantees easy access to the Indian Ocean and a convenient route to the Hormuz Strait.

The association has endured years of Iran displeasure from leading world powers such as the United States. In particular, Iran’s nuclear ambitions have raised significant condemnation from western countries (Burke, 2012). In line with its non-interference approach, the UAE remained a spectator in this matter. However, the way in which the UAE envisages the Middle East region that is free from weapons of mass destruction is an indication that the UAE might not support the Iranian republic if it was proved that the latter was engaged in the development of lethal arsenal. Regarding the Iraq invasion of Kuwait, the UAE was among those Arab countries that opposed the incursion (Burke, 2012). Preceding the 2003 United States invasion of Iraq, the UAE was a leader of those nations that were against the move. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have not had closer ties. However, as indicated above, the change is always present. The position is reinforced by the finding that the UAE and Saudi Arabia are waging a fight in support of the Yemen government.

Due to the existing relations between the UAE and Yemen, the former would support the latter’s aspirations to join GCC. However, such countries as Kuwait remain their opponents due to the former’s support for its invasion by Iraq. Primarily, Kuwait has blocked discussions on the admission of Yemen into the GCC. From above, it is evident that the UAE has tried to maintain positive relations with its neighbors despite being part of a controversial region.

7 – SWOT Analysis

Based on the analysis, the UAE demonstrates strengths and weaknesses besides displaying threats and opportunities. The four variables presented above are essential for the understanding of the potential for improvement. The four attributes can be divided as follows.

Strengths

  • The UAE is an established and recognised country both in the Middle East region and globally.
  • The country has strengthened its global position owing the securing of the rights to host the 2020 Expo that is to be held in Dubai.
  • It has embraced the non-interference approach in the past

Weaknesses

  • History of dependence on oil and gas resources
  • The lack of independence in making key decisions as purported by adversaries that it is being used as a proxy in the Yemen dispute

Opportunities

  • Opportunities in the building & construction and the tourism sectors continue to be explored
  • Owing its position in the UAE, the West is interested in finding key partners in the region. Such a position is critical in its bid to develop

Threats

  • Declining oil revenues in international markets
  • Yemen’s instability is also a threat to the country’s progress
  • Taking a combative approach in international relation is likely to undermine its progress.

8 – Effect of New Changes in the Relationships on EXPO 2020

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In 2013, the UAE acquired the right to host the 2020 global Expo. The award was a significant attainment given that Dubai will be the first city to hold the glamorous event in the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa (MENASA) regions (Hosea, 2013). The subject matter will include; connecting minds globally, and inspiring participants to forge forward in the pursuit of shared values (Hosea, 2013). Expo 2020 will mark the country’s jubilee celebrations and provide a springboard for establishing the sustainable vision for the future.

The sub-themes to be pursued in the transformational Expo include; sustainability, mobility and opportunity. Sustainability rests on the pursuit of progress without compromising the welfare of future generations (Hosea, 2013). Regarding mobility, the central aim is to unlock the possibilities and allowing communities to contribute to the future development.  Concerning opportunity, the central objective is to generate smart productive connections for the society.

Hosting the Expo will help to improve the standing of the UAE globally. In practice, holding international events successfully is a clear demonstration of a country’s capacity to contribute to global development. It is also an opportunity for a state to highlight its potential. In the case of the Dubai Expo, it is evident that the conference will boost the region’s construction sector. In an effort to host the Expo, Dubai has allocated colossal sums to improve its infrastructural facilities in order to ensure success. Major construction works on Jebel Ali Port, Route 2020 Metro, and Al Maktoum airport are likely to spur the development (Hosea, 2013). Were the UAE to take advantage and build a rail service, it would benefit from reduced road traffic, and enjoy further growth due to an expansive transport network.

The activity to be held in Dubai is likely to affect its relationships with neighboring countries. With players such as Saudi Arabia keen on achieving dominance in the region, a fall-out is likely to be witnessed or a flurry of activities to elevate its position. However, the two countries are likely to use the event to drum up support to bring to an end the turmoil in Yemen. The view is based on the belief that peaceful Yemen will enhance the growth prospects of the two countries owing the stability in the region.

Conclusion

The foreign policy of the UAE is primarily driven by its developmental agenda. The country has maintained friendship with Yemen for a long time despite the displeasure these ties have generated at times. The invasion of Yemen by the UAE and Saudi Arabia is explained by geopolitical factors. Basically, these states are at war against Iran. Historically, Iran has been an enemy of the West. Hence, it can be deduced that the USA, alongside other Western players are making efforts to maintain the influence over Iran, and to a larger extent that of the Eastern bloc.

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