UAE is not retreating from military adventures, simply taking refuge

A Financial Time This week’s article suggested that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was trading its assertive foreign and security policy for a more measured diplomatic approach. Reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

Lacking conventional military capabilities and capabilities, Abu Dhabi has become a master of war by delegation

This argument closely resembles a key point of discussion for the Emirates in recent months, as Abu Dhabi attempts to re-establish itself in the Biden era as a constructive, non-disruptive player in the region.

Beyond the narrative, however, it becomes clear that Abu Dhabi remains a very strong player in the region, ready to use all levers of power to to achieve its goals. It does so in a more low-key way and with more plausible denial, but not necessarily in a less disruptive way.

Defying labels of hard and soft power, the strategic approaches taken by the Gulf Tribal Monarchy in the region continue to bring together all sources of its power and influence. As the country is small and sparsely populated, most analysts still mistakenly apply archaic measures of conventional power when trying to make sense of Abu Dhabi’s assertive position in the region.

The grand strategy

The federation of the seven emirates, led by the triumvirate of the three influential brothers of the Al Nahyan family of Abu Dhabi – Mohammed, Mansour and Tahnoon bin Zayed – could minimize their ambitions in the region, but in reality, they continue to confidently exercise all the levers of power to achieve their grand strategic goals in places like Libya, Yemen and the Horn of Africa.

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Lacking in conventional military capabilities and capabilities, Abu Dhabi has become a master of war by delegation, networking with local communities and elites to create surrogate combat forces or to allow their mercenary forces to project their might. abroad.

In doing so, the UAE has continued to pursue its strategic goals through thick and thin, defying Washington’s criticism of Russia’s alleged funding. mercenaries in Libya, according to a report released by the Pentagon’s Inspector General for Counterterrorism Operations in Africa, or cooperating with China on the development of disruptive information and AI technologies. Unlike Saudi Arabia, which generally gives in to US pressure, the UAE tends to respond with public relations campaigns in Washington.

MbZ and his brothers don’t see the UAE as anyone’s client state, and they take a zero-sum approach to engaging in the region to advance their interests.

Driven by great strategic ambitions to build a neo-mercantilist empire at the crossroads between East and West, Abu Dhabi’s rulers over the past decade have come to believe that the void left in the region by a retreating West could be filled by a new authoritarian, counterrevolutionary order led by a middle power, like the United Arab Emirates.

People walk with a sign in Arabic
People march with a sign saying in Arabic “UAE South, South UAE” with the flags of southern Yemen and the United Arab Emirates in Aden on September 5, 2019 (AFP)

Divide and rule

Abu Dhabi has perfected warfare by delegation to proxy forces, which absorb the burden of conflict while shielding the UAE from reputational costs. Substitutes, such as local militias, mercenaries, and community influencers, can help translate the monarchy’s oil wealth into hard, intelligent power.

MbZ and his brothers don’t see the UAE as anyone’s client state, and they take a zero-sum approach to engaging in the region to advance their interests.

Exploiting local grievances, the UAE carefully builds fighting forces based on a colonial divide and rule strategy. In Somalia, Abu Dhabi has actively supported the breakaway Somali province of Puntland, building on secessionist ambitions to establish a mercenary-led anti-piracy force this would provide the UAE with a reach around the Horn of Africa of geostrategic significance.

Around the South’s secessionist ambitions in Yemen, the Emiratis created the Southern Transition Council – a surrogate force that continues to secure Abu Dhabi’s access to Yemeni waterways. In Libya, the UAE exploited post-revolutionary polarization to create a loose militia network under the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA), giving the Gulf State significant control over the strategic North African corridor in eastern Libya.

Additionally, the UAE has pushed the boundaries of how mercenaries can be deployed in wartime. In Libya, Abu Dhabi is funding the Russian group Wagner in support of Haftar’s LNA. In Somalia, he sponsored a anti-piracy force. And in Yemen, Latin American mercenaries in Emirati uniforms formed the backbone of its operations, while American and Israeli mercenaries on the UAE’s wage bill led assassination squads in southern Yemen.

Entrenchment, not entrenchment

So, rather than actually withdrawing, the UAE is moving from a phase of expansion to a phase of consolidation, where secured objectives are protected by a disruptive divide-and-conquer approach. While reducing its forces on the ground in Somalia, Libya and Yemen, the surrogate network continues to ensure that its objectives are met.

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Discreetly and with plausible deniability, Abu Dhabi has effectively contracted out its forces to these forces, helping to guide the outcome of these conflicts while avoiding accountability for war crimes.

Abu Dhabi will continue to impose its vision on the region, while protecting the infrastructure and access necessary to maintain its empire.

Even if the Emirati boots on the ground in Yemen and Libya have been revised down in recent months, we should not be deluded: the policy of the Gulf State is not a policy of withdrawal but of entrenchment.

The opinions expressed in this article are the property of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

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