x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Development: the bedrock of UAE foreign policy

As Qatar showed the region and the world, brighter futures are possible if nations open themselves up to one another and to the world.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE's foreign minister, was not the only Arab statesman to address candidly the US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks last week. But in doing so, he made a more important point: he emphasised the connection between human development and human security. It is this link that will frame much of the conversation at the GCC summit in Abu Dhabi that begins today."Real security comes not from erecting walls," he said when asked about the UAE's position on Iran's nuclear ambitions at a recent security conference.

Military capabilities are only one component of a defence strategy. Development efforts that tear down borders between people and nations also make this region more secure, despite real anxieties about Iran's nuclear ambitions. The release last week of US diplomatic cables containing the assessments of high-ranking officials in the Arab world underscore those concerns. But "the GCC military is for defensive purposes only. No one should misunderstand their purpose", Sheikh Abdullah said on Saturday, dismissing the prospect of pre-emptive attacks.

And as the UAE's agenda was explained further, it was clear that the greatest priority is not, in fact, Iran: "The biggest threat facing the GCC is extremism," the Foreign Minister said. Here, Sheikh Abdullah recaptured the UAE's foreign policy from those in the West and elsewhere who seek to define it otherwise.

One answer to extremism is engagement within the GCC and collaboration toward meeting development goals. The National has outlined how a comprehensive monetary policy and fewer trade barriers within the GCC can unleash innovation in the Gulf. GCC nations are already united in their peg to the dollar, with the exception of Kuwait's peg to a basket of currencies. But stronger institutions are also required to make economic integration a reality, including a workable GCC Central Bank. Saudi Arabia, as the largest market in the region, must not lose sight of its role in making this a reality, or its wider responsibilities towards its Gulf counterparts.

And there is now one more standard for Gulf engagement: Qatar's winning bid to host the 2022 World Cup. As Qatar showed the region and the world, brighter futures are possible if nations open themselves up to one another and to the world. That is a foreign policy goal that all can embrace.