Diplomatic ties between France and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have grown significantly closer over the past years. The cordial relations between these two countries encouraged the development of stronger military ties, which led to the establishment of a French military base in the UAE in 2009. In this essay, we will outline the history of military relations between France and the UAE, the current state of these relations and how the relationship can be improved and the future of military relations between the two countries.
History of Military Relations between France and the United Arab Emirates
The UAE is a major partner to France because the two countries have strong economic, cultural and military ties. With regard to economic ties, the UAE is the largest receiver of French exports and investments within the Middle East region. The UAE also has key ties in terms of infrastructure, oil, nuclear energy, education, and electricity with the French government. However, the military ties between the two countries is their strongest link. Not only has the UAE being one of the largest buyers of French military equipment due to their strong military cooperation, but France also established the military base in the UAE (Kennedy & Pant, 2016).
Valery Giscard d’Estaing’s French presidency between 1974 and 1981 was accredited with smoothening relations between France and the Arab world. This is due to the implementation of his version of the “Arab policy”, which not only boosted the French economy but also improved diplomatic ties with the Middle East. Arab countries also benefitted in terms of improved trade relations with France. Since the 1980s, France and the UAE have had a strategic and mutually beneficial partnership. In 1991, the two countries signed a defense pact. At the time, France was viewed as the Western country with the most distanced relationship from Washington, which had frosty relations with the UAE (Souss, n.d). According to Looney (2014), the UAE wanted to benefit from Western technology, especially military technology but did not want to be associated with the United States (US). France was the best alternative to America, and the situation further encouraged the military relations that existed between the two countries. France soon became the chief supplier of military equipment to the UAE with the last American military contract dating back to the 1980s for the supply of a Hawk Missile Defense System.
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Current Military Relations between France and the UAE
With regard to the present military relations between the two parties, the French and Emiratis have cordial and strong relations. The French have bolstered their presence in the Middle East region by the establishment of the military base in the UAE. According to Looney (2014), France opened a military base in Abu Dhabi in 2009. The base, which is operational to date, comprises over seven hundred troops and three military camps which include the training center specializing in both desert zone and urban area combat, the airbase with six Dassault Rafale fighter jets and the navy base, which is the main logistical back-up for all French naval ships operating within the region. The decision to establish a military base in the region that has a strong American presence may have seemed far-fetched. But the establishment was a strong sign of the ties that bind the two countries and was an indication that the U.S. was no longer considered as a strong western ally of the UAE. Schettli states that the establishment of the military base was the culmination of decades of strong bilateral ties between France and the UAE which had signed a new defense agreement in 2009. This new agreement stated that mutual consultations would occur should the UAE come under any threat with regard to their sovereignty, territorial boundaries or security. However, the military base not only serves the interests of the UAE but also other countries within the region. The military base was meant to foster bilateral cooperation between troops from both countries, but it also was used to foster military relations with other countries. For instance, the base was utilized to deliver training programs for Afghani forces in preparation for their commitments in the war-torn country.
Improvement of Military Relations between France and the UAE
In my opinion, the military ties between France and the UAE can be improved by promoting cooperative military maneuvers and training, with reference to the UAE, including the two forces. However, the UAE stands to gain, in terms of better relations and security from France, a less dependent agreement, it would be beneficial to the UAE. France should aim at empowering the UAE and not creating a scenario where the Emirati forces are dependent on it. We believe that both sides should benefit from the military arrangement because, apart from diplomatic ties, the main beneficiary is France due to the protection of the assets in the region. A relationship where both parties benefit from the deal will secure a future and improve the relations between both parties. This can avert feelings of dissatisfaction that can occur in the future due to the biased nature of this relationship. In this case, this can be achieved through the establishment of training programs that would allow the Emirati forces to receive training from France. This is in addition to the Emirati government arranging for instructors from French military academies to train our military forces. With regard to the institution of training programs for Emirati forces in France, we believe that sending some of our forces to French military academies will give them a chance to interact and share ideas with the French military. The academies can also offer a chance for specialized training, for instance, in the maneuvers using new war machinery such as aircraft in facilities that may not be available in the UAE. French military academy instructors should also be invited to teach in Emirati military academies to share their knowledge and expertise with our troops. This is not to say that the Emirati forces lack training, but we believe that a lot can be learned from the French who have one of the best militaries in the world. Therefore, as equal partners, both parties will stand to gain from the military deal and will look for ways to lengthen and enhance this relationship.
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Future of Military Relations between France and the UAE
The military relations between France and the UAE will increase due to the heavy investment in terms of economic, cultural, and in addition, the military ties that both countries are currently enjoying. This is best demonstrated by the relocation in 2010 of the commodore in charge of the Indian Ocean maritime zone, known as Alindien, from a general supply ship that was permanently located in the Indian Ocean to the headquarters in Abu Dhabi. The Alindien plays the all-important role of ensuring peace and stability within the region, French assets and interests are protected in the region and conducting diplomacy with countries within the Indian Ocean region (Saint-Mezard, 2013). The relocation of the Alindien indicated France’s interest in maintaining a permanent military base in the region deemed critical for its energy imports. This is because the recently established military base lies next to the only exit from the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormutz, in the absence of credible land routes for the transport of energy. France is keen on ensuring that the strait is permanently secured to avert possible threats that may hamper energy-transportation such as the crisis in Iran (Schettli, 2015). In addition to this, the military base is located a few kilometers from the Iranian shore which allows the French to monitor Iranian activities especially its nuclear military program. Therefore, France’s continued presence in the UAE will continue to be felt and might even increase as the French move to protect their interests (Saint-Mezard, 2013).
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The military ties that exist between France and the UAE are intertwined with the economic and developmental ties that exist between the two countries. The establishment of a French military base in Abu Dhabi cemented the UAE’s position as a key ally of the French in the Middle East region. Despite the fact that the French military base is beneficial to the UAE in terms of diplomatic and military ties, France stands to gain the most out of this relationship. This is because the base mainly serves to protect France’s interests and assets. Improvements to military relations can be obtained by enabling the UAE to also benefit from the military deals, which seem to favor France, by receiving training for its forces. With regard to the future of military relations between the two countries, we believe that the ties will grow stronger due to the large interests that France has in the region which need to be protected. This has seen the permanent relocation of the French Alindien to Abu Dhabi, in a sign that the relations between these two countries will extend into the future.