The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced its withdrawal from a US-led maritime coalition, indicating a re-evaluation of its security requirements, according to its Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In a statement quoted by the state news agency WAM on Wednesday, the ministry said, “Following our ongoing assessment of productive security cooperation with all partners, two months ago, the UAE withdrew its participation in the Combined Maritime Forces.” The UAE further asserted its commitment to dialogue and diplomatic engagement in advancing regional security and stability, and ensuring navigational safety near its shores in line with international law.
This decision marks a significant turning point in the region’s geopolitical framework, modifying the dynamics of international maritime security cooperation.
The 34-nation task force, based at the US naval headquarters in Bahrain, was established to counter terrorism and piracy in the Red Sea and Gulf areas.
These regions encompass some of the world’s most critical shipping routes. Since 2019, the escalation in tensions between the US and Iran has seen a spate of attacks on vessels.
The UAE, given its strategic location along vital maritime trade routes, had been a proactive participant in the US-led coalition. Earlier in May, the US announced a bolstering of its “defensive stance” in the Gulf, attributing an increase in commercial shipping attacks to Tehran.
Late April and early May saw Iran seizing two international oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, including the Niovi, en route from Dubai towards the UAE port of Fujairah. Iranian officials stated that one of the tankers had collided with an Iranian vessel and attempted to escape, while the other was drawn into Iranian territorial waters by judicial order following a legal complaint.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the UAE’s decision to withdraw was rooted in disappointment at the perceived lack of US response to Iranian threats.
US and Gulf officials told the US newspaper that the UAE was disheartened and had sought stronger US action to deter Iran following these recent incidents.
However, the UAE dismissed these reports as “mischaracterisations” of the dialogues between the two nations.
Kristian Ulrichsen, Fellow for the Middle East at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, suggested that the UAE’s action was indicative of Abu Dhabi’s dissatisfaction with Washington. He told Al Jazeera that the move echoed frustrations in Abu Dhabi over the perceived reluctance of the US to actively safeguard its partners and reestablish credible deterrence in the Gulf.
Andreas Krieg, an associate professor at the Defence Studies Department of King’s College London, said the UAE-US relations were experiencing “a bit of a rough patch,” with Abu Dhabi perceiving the US as consistently failing to fulfil its role as a regional security guarantor. Krieg suggested that this perception had prompted regional players to diversify their security partnerships and independently address security gaps wherever possible.
Krieg elaborated that the UAE was utilising the tanker incidents symbolically to highlight the perceived failure of the US security partnership, demonstrating to the US their sovereignty in choosing their alliances.
“The UAE is also resisting US demands to sever relations with Russia and China … they need to diversify their partnerships from the US, including with Russia and China, to serve its security interests,” he added.
“The UAE is signalling to Washington in the context of the maritime partnership that the US requires Emirati support as well and that the UAE have leverage in this bilateral relationship too,” Krieg explained.
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