Keynote Speech for the 8th Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, 15 November 2021

General

H.E. Dr Anwar Gargash

Excellencies, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am grateful for the opportunity to stand before you once again at this esteemed conference.

I congratulate Dr Ebtesam Al Ketbi and the Emirates Policy Center for continuing the successful development of this event.

It really has become one of those key annual events that provides policy makers and experts on this region with an opportunity to take a step back and reflect on the challenges of the day.

But in such a difficult region and with the pandemic still raging, it is critically important that we do not get dragged into focusing our attention exclusively on the difficult issues of the day.

We must always give our young people, and those from across the region, something inspiring to aim towards.

So, on this, the 50th anniversary of the UAE’s founding, whilst we are rightly proud of what we have achieved, we do not treat it as an opportunity to rest on our laurels.

I can honestly say that most of the time we have spent discussing the 50th anniversary has been focused on what our young people are going to achieve going forward, not on congratulating ourselves on what we have already achieved.

That is why we are so proud to be hosting the Expo 2020 Dubai, which is fundamentally about exploring how we can work together to shape a better future.

Walking around the EXPO, it generates a sense of wonder about the diversity of the world’s cultures, innovations and creativity, whilst at the same time highlighting our common humanity.

Like with so many things that I have seen during the last 50 years of the UAE’s existence, the EXPO began as just an idea eight years ago and now it is a magnificent reality; one that will become another building block in the constant reimagination of our nation.

This orientation towards the future was also evident when, at the start of the year, we witnessed the successful orbiting of Mars by the UAE’s Hope Probe mission.

And the Prime Minister recently announced that in 2028 we will be sending a spacecraft to orbit Venus and study the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

At the same time, we know that our work to build a better future for our youth must have its roots closer to home.

So, in our 50th year, we have been working diligently on enhancing the mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights in the UAE.

As we launch our National Human Rights Strategy, we have taken important steps forward on women’s empowerment, on strengthening our legal system, and on promoting religious tolerance.

This will continue to be a priority going forward. Our young people rightly expect that the UAE’s progressive values will be fully reflected in our legislation and our policies.

But perhaps the strongest sign of our commitment to our young people’s future is the UAE’s recent announcement of a target of net zero emissions by 2050 – the first in the region and in OPEC.

This is not easy for an economy that has benefited so greatly from oil.

But it comes from both a sense of global responsibility and an innate confidence that with hard work and imagination we can become leaders in new economic sectors.

With this perspective, the UAE also made an offer to host the United Nations’ climate change summit in 2023, known as ‘COP 28’.

At last week’s COP 26, I am delighted to say that our offer was accepted.

This is both a humbling and an energizing responsibility. We plan to make COP28 as inclusive and action-oriented as possible.

We are all still on a learning curve when it comes to climate change and the UAE continues to strengthen its knowledge and policies on this all-important file.

We know we owe it to our grandchildren to leave the country and the world in a good shape, just as our forefathers did for us.

***
Ladies and Gentlemen,

In my view, it is very appropriate that this Conference has been given the title ‘The Post-Pandemic World’.

Let me be very clear – this is not because the pandemic is behind us. The UAE has managed to successfully control the virus here at home, but we know we must stay vigilant and avoid complacency.

We also know that too many people around the world are still waiting for a vaccination, and that we must work collectively and urgently to change this.

But I nevertheless believe the title is appropriate because Covid-19 has already altered some of the geostrategic priorities, and in a way that I believe will have lasting impacts once the pandemic has finally been brought under control.

There are also other geostrategic developments that have accelerated over the last two years but that are part of longer-term trends, unrelated to the pandemic.

So, as we begin the gradual emergence from the pandemic, now is the right time to start to reflect on the implications of these important developments.

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The first change is that geo-economic issues that were once rather taken for granted have now become a higher priority.

And these have somewhat taken the place of the more political issues that have been the traditional focus of foreign policy.

The pandemic has highlighted how critical our global supply chains are.

This may sound self-evident, but when they were functioning well, they were generally left to their own devices.

It is only when there were problems, that we truly realised how vulnerable they can be, and the important supportive role that the government can play in making them more resilient.

For example, we took important diplomatic steps after the onset of Covid-19 to ensure that the restrictions that some countries placed on the export of food did not undermine our food security.

This will be a lasting priority, as we now consider it a core role of our foreign policy to support the diversification of sources of food imports and the securing of supplies, as well as domestic and global innovation in food production.

Equally, we now know how much our health security depends on supply chains for PPE equipment, medically trained personnel, and vaccines.

And we have learned that in a health emergency we are only safe when everyone is safe.

So, we recognize the vital role for diplomacy, not only in securing medical supplies for us, but also in designing a more cooperative international approach to health security.

This ‘health diplomacy’ can help prevent future pandemics and ensure if they do occur we can respond quickly and collaboratively as an international community.

But the pandemic has also reminded us that we cannot take our economic prosperity for granted, and that this needs to be given a higher priority in our foreign policy.

So, we are placing a greater emphasis on the role of economic diplomacy in attracting foreign investment into the country, facilitating UAE investment overseas, and opening markets for trade.

And we are taking steps to make our business environment more attractive, and to enable people who can contribute to our nation to make the UAE their long-term home.

The reality is that policy makers tend to shift priorities for a couple of years following a global shock and then settle back into old ways. This cannot be allowed to happen this time.

It is vital that once the pandemic has passed, we do not allow these lessons to fade from our memory.

These risks to our food, health and economic security are significant and real, and they must now remain at the centre of our diplomacy.

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The second big geostrategic change is that the pandemic has contributed to reordering our regional priorities.

The truth is that the region is not doing much better than it was before the pandemic: we still face similar challenges, from intra-state conflict to external interference in sovereign affairs, and from Islamist extremism to chronic poor governance.

The Arab regional system suffers from the erosion of fundamental tenets of the sovereign nation state, such as the possession of a shared national identity, the government exercising effective control over the entire state’s territory, and the absence of external infringements on a country’s sovereignty.

In almost half of the members of the Arab League, the institutions of the sovereign nation state are seriously challenged by internal conflicts based on sectarianism, failure of governance, and extremism, which are often made worse by external interference.

So as a committed regional and international actor, we know we need to take on even more responsibility for the future direction of our region.

But we recognize more than ever, that in most cases confrontation is not the most productive path, and that instead, diplomacy and enhanced communication is the best way forward.

Therefore, we are working hard to build communication and bridges with all countries, including those that we have serious disagreements with.

And we are doubling down on building economic ties across our borders that will provide our region’s youth with greater opportunity and hope.

That is the thrust of our recent outreach – finding shared interests and seeking to collaborate around our collective future and prosperity.

An example of this is our engagement with Iran.

We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s behaviour in the region, including its ongoing interference in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

Despite this, we have taken steps to deescalate tensions, as we have no interest in a confrontation. The whole region would pay the price of such a confrontation for decades to come.

I am realistic about the chances of success. It will be a slow process. But we hope that over time we can build greater confidence between us and start to make progress towards a more sustainable and mutually beneficial status quo.

We are convinced that Iran’s own security and prosperity will be better served by ceasing its interference and working cooperatively with its neighbours.

This prioritisation of diplomacy and communication over confrontation has also been evident in the Abrahamic Accords and our subsequent engagement with Israel.

On the first anniversary of the Accords, I can attest that they have been an important political and economic success.

The Accords have broken a psychological barrier and put us in a better position to build trust and dialogue.

This confidence is not just built by governments, but through the economic and people-to-people links as well.

Over time, this will better enable us to play a supportive role in helping Palestinians and Israelis to reach a just and sustainable two-state solution, and to ensure the formation of an independent Palestinian state.

The UAE looks forward to playing a constructive role towards that end.

At the same time, the developments in Afghanistan have been very troubling for us. As well as the obvious ongoing humanitarian compassion for the long-suffering Afghan people, there are two main reasons for our concern.

One is that we are of course staunchly opposed to Islamist extremism. We see this as possibly the single greatest threat to the future of the region.

They want to take the region backwards. They do not want open economies and societies, women’s empowerment, or different faiths practicing side by side.

And, of course, we resolutely oppose violent groups such as Al Qaeda and Daesh, who the Taliban must not allow to have a foothold in Afghanistan.

But Afghanistan also concerns us because of what it might imply about the US’s role in the region and the nature of the international system.

The US continues to be the UAE’s predominant security partner. It has always been easy for some to blame the US for the problems in the region, but the fact is that its presence and reliability over the last few decades has been an important stabilising factor.

We know that its role is changing, but it is still a vital one. And consistency and reliability are very important for stability.

So, it is critical that we work with international partners and cooperatively within the region to limit instability and avoid the emergence of power vacuums.

We have had numerous vacuums over the last decade. As a result, there has been competition to fill the spaces created, whether that be from regional powers or non-state actors such as Daesh.

This has resulted in a great deal of confrontation, but without decisive results.

We cannot stand by and watch these vacuums filled by malign actors. But as the region emerges exhausted from the pandemic and years of conflict, we must further enhance our diplomatic efforts to resolve these issues.

So recent contributions by the UAE to supporting a difficult transition in Sudan – or addressing the worrying situation in Ethiopia – have been focused on using our relationships and good offices to deescalate, urge dialogue and avoid a path of confrontation.

We must accept that internal considerations are complicated ones. But as responsible neighbours and members of the international community, we must do all we can to avoid confrontation and ensure a peaceful resolution to these issues.

So, jointly with our partners in the US, Saudi Arabia and the UK, we have encouraged a return to dialogue in Sudan, called for the restoration of the civilian-led transitional government, and urged all parties to ensure that peace and security is a top priority.

Where possible – and with all due humility about the limits of our potential role – we have also been helping to facilitate dialogue between countries in dispute.

This needs to be complemented by continued efforts to have more effective multilateral discussions in the region.

This is never easy, but the recent Conference for Cooperation and Partnership in Baghdad was a good model.

So, as we emerge from the pandemic, the UAE’s regional approach will be focused on stepping up bilateral and multilateral dialogue to address our common challenges.

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These regional developments are taking place in the context of a changing world order and in particular the growing tensions between today’s two unrivalled great powers – the US and China.

This is the third major geostrategic development, and it is affecting almost every country in the world.

Most countries have no desire to be forced to choose between one great power or another. The international system cannot afford a new Cold War in which the world splits into two ‘spheres of influence’.

Indeed, I would argue that the global order built since the Second World War has benefited all countries, including the US and China.

Without doubt, the UAE has gained immeasurably from an open trading system and from the principles of sovereign equality, political independence and the peaceful resolution of disputes that are set out in the UN Charter.

Global cooperation on issues ranging from climate change and financial stability to sustainable development and human rights, benefits all countries and peoples.

So, it is in everyone’s interest to maintain a rules-based order – one that is pragmatic enough to adapt to the reality of contemporary power dynamics, but one that enables all countries to be secure, autonomous and prosperous.

The risk is that due to a combination of domestic political pressures and insufficient diplomacy, the great powers will fail to reach this win-win scenario, and default to a less advantageous one.

But other nations are not simply onlookers to these developments.

Enough countries share a desire to avoid a new Cold War that diplomacy can help build a sort of moral consensus on a pragmatic vision for a reformed but mutually beneficial world order.

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

When the UAE takes up its seat in January as an elected member of the UN Security Council, these pandemic and post-pandemic geostrategic realities will inform our approach.

First and most urgently, we must enhance our collective efforts to ensure that the whole world emerges as quickly as possible from the pandemic, and that the international community is better prepared to address global challenges.

This includes paying attention to some of the world’s problems that respect no borders – from food insecurity and climate-related threats to nuclear proliferation and economic inequalities.

Second, we will support efforts to enhance dialogue and communication with the purpose of resolving conflicts, not simply ‘managing’ them.

As the Arab group representative on the Security Council, we will work to enhance communication among Arab countries and strengthen the role of regional organizations in the peaceful resolution of disputes.

Third, we will promote multilateral cooperation to combat terrorism and extremism, with a particular focus on combatting the ways extremist ideologies flourish and holding terrorist groups accountable for their crimes.

Fourth, we will champion the role of women and girls in promoting peace. We do so not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it works.

Finally, where we can, we will seek to build bridges between the great powers on the Council.

This will include engaging in dialogue with other countries to explore how to reinforce an open and collaborative world order.

Across all our work on the Council, rest assured that we will always take a resolutely principled approach to our decision-making.

Our votes will be aligned with the principles of the UN Charter. They will be informed by consultation with other Arab Group members and other relevant non-Council members. And they will be rooted in the consistent, long-standing principles of UAE foreign policy.

Ultimately, I hope that all countries will see value in being able to depend on the UAE’s consistent, autonomous and principled approach.

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At the heart of the UAE’s post-pandemic foreign policy will be an even greater focus on diplomacy and communication.

The pandemic has not changed everything. Most of today’s regional and global challenges are similar to those that existed two years ago.

However, it has served to reorder priorities.

It has also made it clearer than it ever has been that diplomacy is the best way to tackle the challenges we face in our profoundly interconnected world.

 

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation