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UAE Foreign Policy against Iran and Iraq

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) represent the country that has rapidly developed in a short period of time. Being the backward part of the region with the low standards of living and primitive economy, the UAE could be included in the list of the stable, safe and prosperous world states. The government of the UAE and the other countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) consider the USA to be the key security guarantor for the Persian Gulf region. The UAE constitute one of the reference points for the USA in the Persian Gulf region. The geographical location and environment of the UAE covering the territory of 83, 6 thousand, along with the presence of indigenous people and the extended coastline occupying more than 700 km, as well as the overland borders (about 1000 thousand km), impose the special requirements on the maintenance and protection of its security and territorial integrity. The task is aggravated by the lack of the regulation in the disputes and disagreements that arise between the neighboring countries because of the territories and borders. The UAE is rather vulnerable to the politics of such countries as Iran and Iraq. Therefore, being based on the U.S. interests in the region, the foreign policy of the UAE is directed against the politics of Iran and Iraq and strives for reducing their influence and increasing the security in the Persian Gulf region.


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The foreign policy of the UAE should be examined in the context of the complex and ambiguous geopolitical environment of the country accompanied with the contradictions and crises, along with the regularly arising sharp armed conflicts and wars for the access to the oils in the Persian Gulf region (Hellyer, 2001). This confrontation between the new local centers of force, Iraq and Iran, was added with the rivalry and gave the explosive character to the already turbulent situation. As a result, the region in the close proximity to the UAE became the center of wars and armed conflicts, with the involvement of numerous countries. The main armed conflicts include the 8-year Iran-Iraqi war, the capture and annexation of Kuwait, the Baghdad mode followed by the Operation Desert Storm, the invasion of the U.S. troops and the international coalition to Iraq in 2003, which resulted in the military operations and violence (Hellyer, 2001). Taking into account the vulnerability of the military position of the UAE, the regional, sub-regional and international threats imposed the special requirements on the foreign policy of the UAE.

The foreign policy of the UAE is characterized by the dynamism, reasonableness, suspension, and balance. At the same time, the Arab and Islamic identity of the country draws much attention in every possible way. Abu Dhabi flexibly reacts to the changes occurring both in the Persian Gulf region and on the international scene. In these conditions, the UAE leaders place a consistent focus on the issues of the international security in the region, and the UAE in particular (Almezaini, 2011). In the view of the lack of the sufficient possibilities for the provision of the external security and defense, the UAE put emphasis on the development of the military-political partnership and building allied relations with the leading countries of the West including the USA, France and Great Britain, which resulted in the conclusion of several agreements on the military cooperation in the 1990s (Hellyer, 2001). At the same time, much attention continues to be paid to the strengthening of the military-political interaction within the Gulf Cooperation Council.

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The foreign policy of the UAE is carried out according to the principles introduced by the president and founder of the country, the sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahayan. The UAE has assumed the liabilities on the maintenance of peace, stability and safety for all neighboring states and the international community in the region (Almezaini, 2011). In order to achieve these purposes, the country purposefully promotes the bridge between the states, the maintenance of partnership and dialogue. The support regarding these instruments of the international interaction allows the government to proceed with the effective and well-balanced policy and support the efficient communication and interaction with the international community.


The modern army allows the UAE to exert the political impact in the region which disproportionately exceeds the size of the country. The current ability of the UAE to project the force in the region is a result of the long-term cooperation with the USA in the field of defense (Almezaini, 2011). The basic principle of the foreign policy of the UAE includes the compliance with the justice and legal regulations as well as the non-interference with the internal policy of other countries (Hellyer, 2001). Moreover, the UAE is committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes and supports the efforts of the international organizations aimed at strengthening the supremacy of the international law and monitoring the provisions of conventions and contracts. Hellyer (2001) states that the security and stability are the priorities of the UAE:

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The interests and priorities of the United Arab Emirates in foreign policy derive from these conditions, but they also reflect the views of the country’s leadership. First, the key priority, naturally, is that of seeking security and stability within the immediate region of the Arabian Gulf, including both the states of the peninsula and the two other littoral states, Iraq and Iran (p. 162).

The development of closer ties with the neighboring countries in the Persian Gulf region through the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is one of the main features of the UAE’s foreign policy. The conflicts in Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and other states and the initiatives necessary for their resolution formed the basis of the dialogue between the UAE and the world leaders. The UAE strives for peace, safety and stability in the Persian Gulf region along with the normalization of the relations between all countries to reach fair resolution of the conflict in the Middle East.

The system of the American domination in the Middle East is grounded on the stimulation of the conflicts and their ultimate resolution with the direct or indirect intervention of Americans. The level of the military-political presence of the USA in the Middle East increases with each arising conflict. In this regard, Iran with its Islamic revolution has played the key role since the end of the 1970s. The U.S. hegemony in the Middle East is further strengthened through the opposition to Iran.

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Iran is the UAE’s neighboring state, which should be examined from two perspectives, namely Iran as a state and society and Iran as the expansionist foreign policy. The policy of Iran causes the religious wars, enhances the instability and promotes the distribution of chaos in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen (Sadjadpour, 2011). The UAE does not aspire to be the leader in the region. Instead, the country is trying to be the example of tolerance for its neighbors that do not make any attempts to change the world order.

The official strategy of the national security of the Islamic Republic of Iran is directed at the liquidation of the American law enforcement agency in the Middle East, including the USA, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the other Arab countries. Such a strategy also facilitates the counteraction on behalf of the Americans. The actions of Iran are also directed at influencing the policy and actions of the leading powers present in the region, either as the partners or as the antagonists of the U.S. interests in the Middle East. Katzman (2017) states that in the relations with Iran, the UAE tries to take the hardline:

Like Saudi Arabia, the UAE tends to take hardline positions on Iran and Iran’s regional activities, despite having closer commercial ties to Iran than Saudi Arabia does. The UAE is acting in concert with Saudi Arabia and some of the other GCC states in the wide range of military or political activities intended to blunt Iran’s regional influence (p.10).

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Besides, the factor of traditions also plays an important role in the global balance of power. According to Ibish (2017), at the new historical level, Iran reproduced the cultural break of the kernel of the Islamic world between the Persians and the Arabs with an informal dispute over superiority. This fundamental cultural contradiction in the modern Iran is covered by new Islamic revolutionary ideology, influencing all Persian Gulf states, including the UAE (Ibish, 2017). In its turn, the UAE takes the necessary measures aimed at minimizing the Iranian impact on the country, its interests, and security.

The territorial dispute with Iran over several islands in the Persian Gulf such as the Big and Small Tunb and Abu-Moussa is one of the factors of the anti-Iranian foreign policy of the UAE. The islands, captured by Iran in 1971, have the strategic location in the input to the Strait of Ormuz. The viewpoint of the USA on this question is reflected in the support for the appeal of the UAE to hold the negotiations regarding this dispute (Sadjadpour, 2011). The UAE does not trust Iran and tries to provide the export of oil to these locations if the strategic Strait of Ormuz is overlapped or mined by the Iranians. In July 2012, the UAE loaded the first oil tanker in the Fujairah port on the bank of the Gulf of Oman after the completion of the oil pipeline construction to this port.

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Despite the previous disagreements with Iran over the territories of the three islands belonging to the UAE and the fear of the nuclear program in Iran, the UAE leaved all channels of the constructive interaction open for the confidence-building and peaceful resolution of all unresolved conflicts (Katzman, 2017). The UAE demanded to give these islands back and confirm that these measures do not have any validity irrespective of how long the seizure of territories could continue.

Apart from that, the government of the UAE urged the international community to convince Iran to respond to the peaceful initiatives of the UAE. It called for the fair resolution of the on-going conflict either by means of the direct negotiations between two countries, or by its investigation by the International Court of Justice in accordance with the principles of the UN Charter and rules of the international law (Hellyer, 2001; Sadjadpour, 2011). The UAE insists that Iran should solve this delicate problem in order to strengthen the good neighborhood, cooperation, and development of the common interests along with the achievement of security, stability and prosperity in the region.

The UAE claims that Iran is the main threat to their country and the region in general. In 2015, the UAE political elite announced the concern in regard to the agreement of the USA with Iran on its nuclear program. In January 2016, the UAE recalled the ambassador from Iran after the incident around the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Tehran. In February 2016, the country restricted the movement of its citizens to Lebanon and lowered the status of their diplomatic relations with this country. However, the tension between the USA and Iran was essentially reduced when the new U.S. president Donald Trump occupied his post.

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The UAE is an active supporter of the Iraqi government in its efforts to develop the political decisions in order to achieve security and stability within the country. According to Alterman (2007), the UAE joined the anti-terrorist coalition formed by the USA in an attempt to fight against the extremist Islamic formation “Islamic State” in Iraq and Syria. The country provides the base for the military contingents of the member-countries of the anti-terrorist coalition. The UAE supports the beginning of the gradual withdrawal of the foreign troops and expansion of the powers of the Iraqi government (Alterman, 2007). The UAE confirmed the support of the Iraqi people and the restoration of the national security along with the legislative and economic institutes in the country, and the efforts aimed at the restoration of the country.

The UAE continues to render the large-scale help, both diplomatic and financial, to the new government in Iraq aimed at restoring the stability and security in the country (Alterman, 2007). The UAE wrote off the Iraqi debt equaling to about $7 billion. The country insists on the need for the territorial integrity of Iraq, its sovereignty and independence, promoting the Islamic identity for the protection of its disintegration (Kinninmont, 2015). The UAE is one of the few Arab countries that have the functioning embassy in Baghdad.

Since 2014, the UAE has been included into the coalition struggling against ISIS on the territory of Iraq and Syria. The UAE participates in the exchange of the intelligence information, the logistic support of the shock groups along with the drawing of the independent blows and support of the government army on the territory of Iraq (Ibish, 2017; Alterman, 2007). The interaction with the other members of the coalition is carried out through the coalition institutes and the bilateral channels. Generally, the participation of the UAE is minor. For the UAE, the fundamental motive of the participation in the campaign against ISIS is similar to the one of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It consists in the fear of the new force representing the threat not only to the interests of the UAE in the region but also to their safety on its territory in the long term.

However, in later years, the relations of Iraq with the UAE worsened because of the domination of the Shiites in the government in Baghdad. At present, owning the Iranian help to the Baghdad government, the UAE is not involved in the bombings on the territory of ISIS in Iraq (Alterman, 2007; Kinninmont, 2015). At the same time, the UAE together with Germany became the leading participants in the restoration and stabilization of the inner regions of Iraq freed from the ISIS. The UAE and Germany created the joint fund to finance these efforts.

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In order to improve the relations of the UAE with Iran and Iraq, it is necessary to take the effective measures aimed at the reduction of the tension between these states. First of all, the UAE should persuade Iran to stop meddling in the domestic affairs of the other countries, including the UAE. The shift in the diplomatic relations between the countries is likely to result in the normalization of the mutually profitable collaboration of two countries (Katzman, 2017). Moreover, the UAE should take actions regarding the increase of the efficiency of the struggle against ISIS. The armament of the Sunnis, living in the southern region of Iraq, would essentially increase the efficiency of the warfare directed against the ISIS. The Jihadists repeatedly tried to conquer the tribes of the southerners based on the never-ending feeling of the historical grievances for the oppressions of the Shiites. Therefore, the UAE can win due to their armament.

Apart from that, the new inclusive dialogue of the UAE with Iran and Iraq on the questions of the regional security can positively affect the U.S. strategy aimed at reducing the impact of warfare on Iran in the Persian Gulf region (Ibish, 2017). Its integration in the structures of the region will create the opportunities for the decrease of tension between Iran and the UAE, at the same time allowing the USA to demand the compensation for the actions posing the threat to the key American interests in regard to Tehran (Sadjadpour, 2011). Therefore, the UAE should attempt to stabilize the security regime in the region, as it will decrease the level of dependence of the Persian Gulf countries on the American presence.

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Another step in the regulation of the diplomatic relations between the UAE and Iran and Iraq includes the creation of the informal system allowing the technical specialists to discuss the international problems of the regional security including all potentially interested parties. The collision of the interests of the coastal states is the cornerstone of the current dilemma (Ibish, 2017). On the one hand, Iran wants to withdraw the American troops to take the legal actions in Tehran and obtain an opportunity to gain control over the region. On the other hand, the Persian Gulf countries want to preserve the American presence at the expense of the counterbalance with the traditional aspiration of Iran for the hegemony (Sadjadpour, 2011).

In general, it is possible to draw a conclusion that the UAE enjoys the experience of the development of a young state, which has already played a part in the powerful modernization of life, creating the new modern structures of management and production, and occupying a decent place on the international scene for a short period of its existence. The UAE managed to avoid the external shocks, and contribute to the stabilization and the crisis resistance of the Persian Gulf region.

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The success of the UAE in the achievement of the social and economic progress promoted the expansion of the international horizons and the vision of external problems by the authorities. In the environment of the growing organizational and political maturity and the consolidation of the structures of the UAE as a state, its foreign policy changed, keeping up with the on-going changes, and gained considerable experience and dynamism. The dynamism has been demonstrated since the beginning of the 1990s when two rivals, Iran and Iraq, were considerably weakened, and there was the new configuration of forces in the region.

The dynamism of the foreign policy of the UAE developed under the influence of some other factors as well. First, in the process of the increase in the volumes of production and export of hydrocarbons, the more effective and powerful diplomacy and the active actions of the UAE in regard to the international organizations were necessary. Secondly, in the view of the deficiency of the local labor, the influx of the immigrants to the UAE increased. As a result, the relations with the countries of their origin were strengthened.



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