The UAE's BRICS membership and the global role of middle powers

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For much of the 20th century, international diplomacy was primarily molded by a global framework where superpowers held sway over most of the world’s political and economic assets. The early 1990s, however, marked a shift toward a singular dominant power structure, with the United States taking the role as global leader. Yet today, a fresh transformation is underway, one in which a multipolar landscape positions middle powers as crucial actors.اضافة اعلان

The decision to invite six new members – Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE (all of which are considered middle powers) – into the BRICS group of economies brings substantial value to advancing economic diplomacy and political reconciliation in a rapidly changing global landscape.

Cooperation has become essential in a world grappling with shared global challenges. However, the existing framework of international relations is buckling beneath the weight of enduring and emerging geopolitical rivalries. The rekindling of prolonged land warfare through Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shattered the notion that such conflict was consigned to history. The impending divergence in trade and technology between the US and China has far-reaching implications. The specter of rising isolationism and protectionism looms. Meanwhile, the rapid ascent of artificial intelligence and pressing concern over food scarcity further compounds the array of issues global leaders must confront.

The transition to a multipolar world order means middle powers now have an active role in shaping norms, mediating conflicts, and fostering collaboration. The complexities of challenges like climate change, health crises, and terrorism demand collective solutions, and middle powers, armed with diplomatic acumen and adaptability, step in to bridge divides.

For the UAE, joining the BRICS grouping, comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, signifies the nation’s ambition to amplify its geopolitical sway, encourage multilateral cooperation, and adapt to a multipolar world. As a nation that has navigated its way to prominence on the world stage, the UAE’s interest in aligning with the BRICS takes on significance beyond mere financial considerations. The move presents a forum that resonates with the UAE’s pursuit of global strategic partnerships.

One of the standout advantages for the UAE lies in economic diversification and growth opportunities. By aligning with key partners through a network of Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements (CEPAs), the UAE could expand trade possibilities. The UAE has already inked CEPAs with India, Israel, Indonesia, Turkey, and Cambodia, with plans for more in the pipeline. Coupled with its membership in BRICS, these steps could fortify the UAE's global trade and logistics standing. A testament to this potential is the thriving UAE-India bilateral trade, projected to reach $100 billion by 2030. Trade between the UAE and Brazil has also increased by a whopping 32 percent between 2021 and 2022.

BRICS nations boast robust economies that account for a significant portion of the global GDP. China, in particular, has emerged as the UAE's largest non-oil trading partner, and bilateral relations remain strong. Technological cooperation is flourishing, ranging from COVID-19 vaccine research and production to collaboration on space missions like the UAE’s Rashid lunar rover.

By aligning with the BRICS economies, the UAE can diversify its trade relationships, tap into new markets, and extend its economic reach while maintaining its traditional European and North American connections. This diversification is pivotal for achieving the UAE’s goal of doubling its GDP by 2030, reducing oil dependency, and fostering a knowledge-based economy.

Through engagement with the BRICS, the UAE stands to attract talent and investment. Indian IT companies already leverage the UAE as a hub to tap into nearby regional markets. Education partnerships with Brazilian universities can also contribute to the UAE's innovation landscape. In 2022, Abu Dhabi-based Mubadala invested in two medical universities in Brazil with around 2,000 students. High-profile events, like an annual UAE-BRICS tech summit, could stimulate professional networking. Similarly, a UAE-BRICS startup accelerator would amplify the UAE’s attractiveness as a hub for innovation, investment, and talent acquisition.

At a time when global confrontation is on the rise, Abu Dhabi sees long-term investment in cooperation as the best way forward. The UAE's foreign policy aims to strengthen relations with various actors, including the US, China, India, Russia and the European Union. This aligns with Abu Dhabi's broader initiatives, fostering relations from the Global North to the Global South. As the UAE gears up to host the COP28 climate change summit, its perspectives could enrich BRICS deliberations on critical matters such as sustainable development, climate change, counter-terrorism, and regional stability.

The UAE does not see its accession to the BRICS as joining a bloc. On the contrary, it sees it as diversifying its partnerships and markets while preserving its traditional relations with the rest of the world. This was made clear by the UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, when he said: “The UAE has consistently championed the value of multilateralism in supporting peace, security, and development globally.”

BRICS membership empowers the UAE to bolster its multi-alignment strategy by fostering its diplomatic ties with the US through initiatives like I2U2 (Israel, India, UAE and US) and with China through the BRICS group. The intricate challenges confronting our world necessitate collaborative efforts that transcend individual superpowers. The ability of middle powers to bridge cultural gaps, foster economic ties, and uphold global values makes them indispensable players in international governance.

Nickolay E. Mladenov is the Director General of the Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy in Abu Dhabi and a Visiting Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is a former UN Under Secretary General and Foreign Minister of Bulgaria.

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