x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Our growing global role helps spread peace and prosperity

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed talks about foreign policy on National Day.

Excitement and anticipation of the UAE's 40th National Day have been building all year. This weekend sees the joyous celebration of both the independence and the unity of our United Arab Emirates. Although it is a great milestone for our country, 40 years is not a long time. The majority of our population, in fact, is younger than the country.

Yet there are also those in our community who do remember what life was like before the founding of the UAE in 1971 and how different it was from today. Only one generation ago, most people in this part of the Gulf did not live long past 60 years old.

It is indeed amazing today to witness the changes that can take place in the space of a generation. The UAE now has the second largest economy in the Arab world, and the most sophisticated banking and financial services sector. Our country's airports form a gateway to the world for millions of passengers per year, cementing our role as an international hub and point of transit between the developed and the developing world.

Today, citizens of the UAE enjoy benefits such as the guarantee of modern medical care and the right to education - for both girls and boys. Indeed, our country has come so far that we have gone from one of the least developed in the world to being an innovator in the Middle East, a country that UAE nationals and residents alike are proud to belong to.

With so much prosperity at home, it is easy to forget that for all its blessings, the UAE is located in a tough regional neighbourhood, marked in many places by war and unrest that is vividly present. A deliberate and carefully balanced foreign policy, therefore, is necessary to keep the UAE safe and ensure that the next generation enjoys a life as bountiful and secure as this one.

This foreign policy stands upon three core foundations, as established by the late President of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and continued under the presidency of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan: striving for peaceful and friendly relations with all countries, being a good global citizen and responsible member of the international community, and always being ready and willing to help those less fortunate.

One of the most important keys to the UAE's ability to thrive in an unsteady region is that it has good friends.

Although our troops are amongst the best trained and most professional in the region, this wasn't the case on the eve of our independence.

As a brand new nation, the UAE in 1971 was not as strong as it is today. Yet during those difficult times, when many doubted the ability of the federation to survive, the UAE's founders, through wise diplomacy, crafted good relations with both our neighbours in the region and our allies outside of it.

This skilful forging of diplomatic relationships helped ensure that the UAE remained secure in a volatile region and was able to thrive despite nearby wars and the aggression of neighbouring countries that sought to take advantage of our young state.

These friendships today remain a cornerstone of UAE foreign policy, and have grown and evolved over the years into partnerships as our country has become one of the pillars in our region's security.

And while the UAE continues to build upon its existing friendships, it is also forming new ones as the globalisation of diplomacy and trade helps us forge working relationships with countries as far afield as South America or the Pacific islands.

The UAE is able to form these new relationships because our diplomacy enables our country to play the role of a good global citizen. We are active in problem-solving on matters of global importance, such as climate change, which we help address through our hosting of the UN's International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi. Likewise, we do our duty when called upon, such as our air force's contributions to the international effort to enforce Security Council Resolution 1973 in Libya, and in Afghanistan where we have more than 1,300 troops on the ground, or in other parts of the globe where we are needed and can support a just cause.

Finally, we set a quiet yet strong example of our values through our country's large commitment to humanitarian aid throughout the world. In 2010, the UAE disbursed a total of Dh2.8 billion in grants and loans to development, humanitarian and charity programmes worldwide. The funds dispersed went to more than 120 countries. And while our heritage says that charity is valuable for its own sake, it also has other returns. By bettering the lives of those less fortunate around the world, UAE aid contributes to stability in some of the most precarious corners of the globe, from Afghanistan to the Horn of Africa. The UAE's strong policy of giving is the right foreign policy move to achieve our objective of peace and stability for all.

Therefore, on this anniversary, while enjoying the treasures that our country and our families offer us, it is important to reflect on our role in the world today and our continued commitment to the challenges we face as a global community of neighbours.

It is this global mindset that will help the UAE stay peaceful, happy, and secure for another 40 years, and beyond.

- Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed is the Minister of Foreign Affairs