Smart Power Strategy for the United Arab Emirates

Subject: Economics
Pages: 8
Words: 2221
Reading time:
9 min
Study level: PhD


Armitage and Nye define the concept of power as “the ability to influence the behaviour of others to get a desired outcome”.1 In the globalizing world, the countries begin to interact with one another more often and more closely. Over the course of the centuries, it was demonstrated that harsher and more rigid models of power tend to act in an aggressive manner agitating the states around and causing tensions, insecurities, and instabilities. As a result, due to the rapid technological progress in the contemporary world, the weapons and wars are becoming increasingly dangerous for the participants, the states around the conflict and the globe in general. Consequently, today, the world’s society is in need of softer models of power, the ones that do not function based on the principle “it is better to be feared than to be loved”.2 Acquiring allies due to cooperation and mutual benefits of the peaceful and productive nature are the objectives of such power. As a state located in one of the areas characterized by the high level of tension, the United Arab Emirates is in need of the new model as its adoption would be likely to ensure its secure and profitable future. This paper presents a proposal of a smart power strategy for the UAE that would involve such aspects as security cooperation, gaining more international allies, and the emphasis on diversification and education in terms of economic development and relations.

Smart Power as a Concept

Under the circumstances on an ongoing military tension in multiple regions of the globe, the elimination of armed conflicts has become the priority number one for the world’s leaders and states. The hard power associated with the application of force and violence is aligned with the realist theory in the international relations.3 At the same time, the soft power is an approach alternative to the hard power. In its nature, soft power is based on the mechanisms other than violence. For instance, a good demonstration of soft power application would be persuasion. That way, in a situation resolved with the help of soft power, the winners are not the states with the strongest armies but the states with the richest resources.4

Finally, smart power is recognized to carry the features of both soft and hard powers.5 Due to the fact that this concept is relatively new, it lacks in analytical use as its definition is rather vague.6 However, the popularity of the term and the practice of smart power grow by the year. Currently, the concept of smart power is frequently used in the discussions of the power strategies. The combinations of soft and hard power approaches could be balanced differently within smart power tactics. As a result, a clear and fixed outline of what is or is not included in the smart power strategies does not exist. For instance, the non-violent strategies employed by the states of the European Union are recognized as soft power but not as smart one. As a result, it may be difficult to differentiate between these two approaches at times.

In the book by Armitage and Nye, smart power is discussed using the example of the foreign policy of the United States and its main objectives such as innovation and technology, global development, alliances with other countries, and economic integration.7 Also, the authors define smart power as the development of “an integrated strategy, resource base, and tool kit to achieve American objectives, drawing on both hard and soft power”.8 The approach is created in order to ensure the preeminence of the United States as a powerful agent on the global arena. Having spent a large amount of money on funding of the military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the USA came to the conclusion that investing in hard power strategy does not help to increase the state’s level of security but only aggravates the conflicts with the other countries that may respond by terrorist attacks.9

Just like the United States is rethinking and rebuilding is perspective, style, and actions at the world’s arena, the other powerful agents in their regions are starting to consider new approaches as well. Since being involved in a military conflict resulting from the application of fear-based hard power in foreign policy always results in long-term adverse outcomes and devastation of the economies, none of the states are interested in having wars burst out on their territories.

Observations and Objectives for the UAE

Learning Lessons

Developing the smart strategy of its own, the UAE is to consider the experiences of the other parts of the world. For instance, the soft power of the European Union in terms of immigration, financial help, and open borders has resulted in multiple challenges such as growing local unemployment (based on the arrival of the laborers from the cheaper countries), the need for financial support of the jobless, low promotion of education (and skills shortage as outcome), tense relations between the states within the Union (since rich countries are getting richer while poor ones are used for their resources). The EU is making conclusions based on their excessive softness of power being reluctant as to the Association with Ukraine, a country with large potential (natural and human resources), but highly unstable economically and politically and likely to destabilize the whole Union.

Learning from the European experience, the UAE should: a) diversify domestic economy (to increase its independence); b) take control over the immigration and foreign labor; c) partner with the leading countries of the world and the GCC for better security; d) develop smart power-based security strategy to achieve safety without aggravating conflict (focus on the cooperation and alliances supported by benefits and trade instead of deploying troops).

Basically, the orientation to the European model of power is helpful for the UAE, but the adjustments are required in the form of stronger leadership and more controlled partnerships in terms of the state benefits.

Seeing Challenges

There are several current challenges in the UAE. In the sphere of politics, the visible disadvantage is the criminalization of the political opposition, so the tendency towards democratization is recommended.10 Additional issues highlighted by the author were the challenges to equality of the diverse communities and the creation of people-centered policies in order to overcome the growing income gap between the rich and the poor.11 On the international level, the author raised the question of security concerns in relation to the human rights problems that positions some of the freedoms as the aspects compromising the sustainability of the security.12 Finally, along with the other Gulf states, the UAE needs to develop peaceful and cooperative partnerships to be able to protect themselves from the extremism that is a realistic threat in the area.

Economic Development and Diversification

As a country whose economy is highly dependent on its production and realization of oil, the UAE requires economic diversification. The key spheres for the revenue diversification are tourism, manufacturing, and financial services.13

Attempting to minimize the reliance on oil revenue, the UAE has adopted multiple changes; as a result, its dependence on the oil price fluctuations decreased by 55% over the course of 2014 and 2015.14 The UAE has improved their quality of export goods including beverages and tobacco, livestock, crude materials, minerals, and manufactured goods among others.15 One of the primary benefits of the diversification is the creation of a stronger private sector in the country.

Implementing Tax Policies

However, due to the tax policies in the UAE, the state revenues had not increased along with the growing non-oil income. To resolve this problem and expand the state budget, the UAE needs to make its soft power in business harsher and adopt the practice of taxation of the private businesses just like it is done in the vast majority of the world’s countries. That way, the UAE will increase its GDP, which would make it easier for the state to overcome the difficulties caused by the low oil prices.16 Moreover, becoming richer, the UAE will increase its attractiveness as a trade partner.

Creating Stronger Trade Relations

The UAE needs to search for new international partnerships with powerful developing states. India and China are excellent candidates. Using the human resources of the former, the UAE will improve its fields of science, IT, education, and medicine. The latter can supply resources for profitable manufacturing.

Gaining International Allies

Partnering with Neighbors

Alliances with the other states are the key component of the smart strategy as they lead to the maximisation of resources and opportunities.

Within the smart strategy, the foreign policy of the UAE should target the creation of closer relations with the countries within the GCC; in particular, those whose economies are currently in a state of the rapid growth. The UAE is an attractive business partner as its economic position is influential allowing the states to form bilateral interactions. Today, the United Arab Emirates is one of the emerging donors of the global development who increase their spending on the foreign aid and gradually gain more influence in the financial landscape of the world.17 The UAE is focusing on the provision of the foreign aid to the Muslim states within the Gulf region and in North Africa. The infrastructure, education, and healthcare projects are the spheres in which the emerging donors are the most interested.18

Partnering Globally

Within its smart strategy, the UAE is to increase its contribution to the global development and expand the range of states to which it directs aid. The tendency is that the UAE, along with its GCC neighbors are seen as the representatives of the Islamic culture who take little to no interest as to the matters outside of the region. This perception contributes to the financial and cultural isolation of the UAE and the other states in the region and shapes their image as selfish and hostile. The state image needs changes. To attract Western partners, the UAE should democratize its political system and decriminalize the opposition and pluralizing the political environment. However, such changes take time. That is why the UAE needs to focus on the cooperation with the countries outside of the GCC area to bring new opportunities such the exchange of resources, and business interactions. Knowing the importance of the cultural identity to the state, it is possible that aiding the other Islamic countries in the world could be a natural tendency in the strengthening of the UAE’s international partnerships.

Security Strategies

The political instability in the Gulf region caused by the frequent outbursts of extremism and the existence of powerful extremist organisations is one of the primary challenges of the states attempting to develop economically. The most significant cause of concerns and tensions with the investors from the United States and Europe is the military conflict in Syria whose territories were taken over by the Islamic State.19

Opposing Foreign Extremism

It is in the interest of the UAE for the conflict to resolve as soon as possible. That way, a part of their smart strategy should be the participation in the operation against ISIS featuring a coalition of the states from various regions. This action definitely aligns with the hard power strategy as it involves sending troops to Syria to fight Daesh. However, acting in this manner, the UAE would improve its cooperation with the other states opposing the IS (both inside and outside of the Gulf region). Additionally, in the long term, the resolution of the war in Syria would result in the attraction of foreign capitals in the GCC (the UAE included). The smart aspect of this realist approach to the situation lies in the new cooperation opportunities with the USA, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the other members of the anti-IS coalition.

Eliminating the Chances of Domestic Extremism

Another significant aspect of security concerns lies within the population of the state. The communities and individuals who are demoralised and depowered due to the economic challenges, the social gaps, and inequitable treatments are more vulnerable to falling under the influence of the extremist moods.20 That way, the smart and nonviolent strategy of addressing the challenges to the regional security combines the hard power military alliances and soft power in a form of the insurance of the domestic wellbeing by means of addressing the population’s concerns and saving the people of the UAE from suffering inequalities pushing them to the employment of the radical behaviours. The citizens who are happy and content are less likely to become interested in the violent and aggressive ideologies of the extremist groups and organisations.


The UAE is one of the leading states in the Gulf region with a rapidly developing and powerful economy. It is potentially threatened by the instability in the area. This concern may be solved with the help of a smart power strategy, an approach that combines the features of both soft and hard powers. The military conflict in Syria affects all the GCC states and forces them to seek ways of strengthening their security. As the application of the hard power alone is likely to aggravate the conflict and result in the direct involvement of the state in an armed confrontation, the smart power strategy designed to improve the national security through the increase in wellbeing of the population, maximisation of resources, and the economic growth is a preferred option for a state such as the UAE.


Al Asoomi, Mohammad. “How diversification drives the UAE economy.” Gulf News. 2015. Web.

Al Rashedi, Musallam M. “The UAE National Security Strategy in the 21st Century.” Report, School of Advance Warfighting, 2005.

Armitage, Richard L. and Joseph S. Nye. CSIS Commission on Smart Power. New York: the Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2007.

Callen, Tim, Reda Cherif, Fuad Hasanov, Amgad Hegazy, and Padamja Khandelwal, Economic Diversification in the GCC: Past, Present, and Future. New York: International Monetary Fund, 2011.

Cross, Mai’a K. Davis. “Europe, a smart power?” International Politics 48 (2011) : 691-706. Web.

Kane, Frank. “Innovation is key to economic diversification, UAE Economy Minister says.” The National. 2015. Web.

Pallaver, Matteo. “Power and Its Forms: Hard, Soft, Smart.” Master’s thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science, 2011.

Peracchio, Claire and Lorenzo Piccio. “What you need to know about global development’s emerging donors.” Devex. 2015. Web.

Watkinson, William. “Syria conflict: UAE will join anti-Isis ground operation despite Bashar al-Assad warning.” International Business Times. 2016. Web.


  1. Richard L. Armitage and Joseph S. Nye, CSIS Commission on Smart Power (New York: the Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2007), 6.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Matteo Pallaver, “Power and Its Forms: Hard, Soft, Smart” (master’s thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science, 2011), 3.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Mai’a K. Davis Cross, “Europe, a smart power?,” International Politics 48 (2011) : 693.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Armitage and Nye, CSIS Commission on Smart Power, 5.
  8. Ibid, 7.
  9. Ibid, 10.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Frank Kane. “Innovation is key to economic diversification, UAE Economy Minister says,” The National, Web.
  14. Mohammad Al Asoomi, “How diversification drives the UAE economy,” Gulf News, Web.
  15. Tim Callen, Reda Cherif, Fuad Hasanov, Amgad Hegazy, and Padamja Khandelwal, Economic Diversification in the GCC: Past, Present, and Future, (New York: International Monetary Fund, 2011), 4.
  16. Kane, “Innovation is key to economic diversification.”
  17. Claire Peracchio and Lorenzo Piccio, “What you need to know about global development’s emerging donors,” Devex, Web.
  18. Ibid.
  19. William Watkinson, “Syria conflict: UAE will join anti-Isis ground operation despite Bashar al-Assad warning,” International Business Times, Web.
  20. Musallam M. Al Rashedi, “The UAE National Security Strategy in The 21st Century,” (report, School of Advance Warfighting, 2005), 4.