Kevin in the UAE: Land of Contradictions

08.01.10

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War Is Boring‘s youngest contributor, Kevin Knodell, is on a school trip to the UAE, where he’ll be exploring security topics while no doubt mulling lucrative real-estate deals and working on his tan. You can read about his classmates’ exploits at Pacific Lutheran University’s Sojourner blog.

by KEVIN KNODELL

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), is a wealthy nation on the Persian Gulf. It’s become iconic for its meteoric rise from a small nation of mostly nomadic tribes to a regional economic powerhouse. It’s known both for its conservative Islamic roots and its flamboyant displays of wealth — from building boutique islands to the recently-completed Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. There are those who see it as a forward-thinking seat of innovation, representing the future of a more open and progressive Arab world. There are others who view it as a land of decadence driven by greed … and spiraling out of control.

The country is composed of seven Emirates, each a semi-autonomous region under the sway of a ruling family, some even maintaining their own defense forces. The federal military, the Union Defence Force, is the nation’s primary military power. (UDF F-16s pictured.) The Emirati make up roughly 20 percent of the country, representing the wealthy tribes and families that rule and administer the country. The remaining 80 percent of the population is expats and laborers. A large portion of the labor force comes from impoverished and war-torn nations like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Lebanon.

The UAE has recently fallen upon misfortune with a huge drop in the price of oil. Dubai’s thriving port economy is threatened by Somali pirates to the south. Nonetheless, the UAE remains an economic giant. The country is also an important regional political player. During the Gulf War, the UAE helped expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait, and provided troops for Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. Currently the UAE provides access to air and naval facilities for American and other militaries, most recently becoming home to France’s first permanent military base in the region. The UAE is also one of the few Arab countries to have deployed troops in support of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, a fact that only recently became public.

Despite the UAE’s thriving economic and political dealings with the West, the relationship is not without complications. Many in the region see the Emirati as decadent, and treasonous for courting the West. Also, in contrast to the relative openness of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, many of the Emirates are much more conservative. It should also be noted that while the UAE has and continues to be an important partner in American and European military and counter-terrorist initiatives, it was one of only three nations to officially recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s government when it seized power a decade ago — the other two being Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

The UAE is a young nation, and a very important one. It’s vital we understand the Emirati outlook on the world, and how it regards its own place in the international community.

(Photo: Lockheed Martin)

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2 Responses to “Kevin in the UAE: Land of Contradictions”

  1. Derek says:

    Thought it might be of interest to readers that Korea initiated increased bilateral defense cooperation with the UAE in order to secure the contract for four nuclear power reactors. The deal allegedly involves UAV, cruise & ballistic missile technologies, according to The Korea Times.

  2. [...] of the Iranian government. Tensions with Iran have been an important factor in helping to solidify U.S.-UAE relations. However, though political relations between the two countries are strained, relations with the [...]

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