Press Release: The UAE: A Reliable US Ally?
The Washington Institute for Defense and Security is pleased to have hosted a collaborative event entitled “The UAE: A Reliable US Ally?”. The event, hosted in Washington D.C has been the most recent in a collaborative series with the Political Science Department of Virginia Tech and the university’s Center for European Union, Transatlantic, and Trans-European Space Studies (CEUTTSS). The event explored the nature of US-Emirati relations, the regional dynamics of Abu Dhabi’s decision making, and the long-term strains on national ties.
Opening remarks for the event were offered by Mr. Tom Freebairn, of the Washington Institute for Defense and Security. His remarks were followed by a few comments by Dr. Yannis Stivachtis, professor of political science and Jean Monnet Chair at Virginia Tech.
The first speaker of the event was Dr. Georgetta Pourchot, adjunct professor of political science and associate director of CEUTTSS at Virginia Tech. Dr. Pourchot explored the nature of US-UAE relations, and what factors strain and enable these bilateral ties. In context of the Ukraine invasion, Dr. Pourchot described the UAE’s balancing between states such as the US and Russia. She made mention to the UAE’s unique position as a US ally capable of engaging with more radical groups, as exemplified by its role in the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. She also mentioned the pressure to improve social conditions and human rights, particularly when addressing women, being a source of distance between the two states, despite some progress being made.
The panel’s second speaker was Dr. Dimitris Tsarouhas, a visiting professor of political science with Virginia Tech. Dr. Tsarouhas spoke about the ‘Turkish factor’ in the UAE’s foreign policy decision-making. He spoke on historical animosities between the Arab world and Turkey, given the perception that the Arab revolt in 1916 betrayed the Ottoman Empire. He established that more recently, however the Turkish AKP made a calculation that the average Arab citizen would support Islamic democracy if given the chance, leading them to support the Muslim Brotherhood in places such as Egypt. A fact which Dr. Tsarouhas asserts put the Turkish republic on a collision course with the undemocratic monarchies of the Gulf, threatening their authoritarian social contract. He also described the emerging economic rivalry between the two states, with both attempting to corner maritime commerce and port development in their regions. The paradox of Turkey needing the Gulf for economic reasons while also rivaling it in many key facets was well explored by Dr. Tsarouhas.
Dr. Stivachtis was the final speaker of the expert panel, discussing the strategic dimensions of the UAE’s relations with Greece, Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean. He discussed the flexibility involved in modern alliances, in which states can be reliable in certain spheres, but not so in others. Additionally, he described the extent to which the UAE as a non-NATO ally will never be as fully reliable in total orientation as a NATO ally such as Poland or France. Dr. Stivachtis went on to discuss the profitability of the UAE’s cooperation with the US and NATO in the security sphere. He established that the UAE, despite its size, played a powerful and flexible balancing role between global and regional powers, and will work with whichever states are needed to advance its national interests.
The discussion was an informative exploration of the UAE’s alliance with the US, and its role in the wider Middle East and global stage. The nature of reliability as an ally was explored, as was the spheres in which the UAE is and is not fulfilling these expectations. The primacy of defense and energy cooperation were a central facet on the discussion. The speakers clearly elucidated the nature of the UAE as a flexible international actor, which can profit from relationships with many larger powers, and would suffer from reliance on a single state or bloc alone. The Washington Institute for Defense and Security thanks all those who participated and helped facilitate this event on a pressing and relevant topic.