As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, observing the behavior of Western vassals in the Muslim world can serve as an indicator of how the multipolar global order is being reshaped.
One important entity to keep an eye on is the autocratic regime in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
On February 26, the UAE surprised many by abstaining to vote in the UN Security Council that called for condemnation of Russia’s invasion.
The primary force behind the Security Council resolution was the United States.
The UAE’s ruling caste is beholden to Washington to maintain its illegitimate grip on power.
So, what does the UAE’s vote reflect?
The Russian invasion has confirmed that the multipolar world order is here to stay and there will be many situations where smaller players will have to juggle their interests.
In multipolarity, every entity will have multiple options of balancing out their interests.
In the absence of a single dominating force, weaker entities will have to be careful not to cross the redlines of competing powers on strategic issues.
This, however, will apply predominantly to state entities based on an authentic political system, not a medieval monarchial regime.
Assessing the UAE’s political system in historic context reveals that it is beholden to a particular global architecture which is undergoing rapid change.
Even though the UAE regime tried to balance its position by voting against Russia at the non-biding UN General Assembly vote, the overestimation of its own importance in the rapidly changing global order may impose huge costs.
UAE type regimes—essentially creations of the West-centric hegemonic order—are likely to face much tighter controls of their long-time global bosses.
While the UAE has shown some degree of independence by abstaining to vote in the crucial Security Council resolution, as NATO-Russia standoff translates into a global cold war-like conflict, Abu Dhabi will face greater pressure to follow its old command center—the White House—with minimal autonomy.
In the new multipolar global order, it will be less time consuming and cheaper to keep old vassals than gain new ones.
As the US is familiar with the intricacies of regimes in the Persian Gulf, it is highly probable that Washington will expect its longtime vassals to continue their pro-American line.
Thus, the UAE’s attempt to juggle between various emerging poles of power will essentially stretch it and it might even snap.
Juggling between various powers in the multipolar order will require a certain principled framework and a robust political system.
In the new world order, smaller actors will be forced to adopt contradictory policies.
Sometimes the regimes will have to please one power center economically and displease it politically, while at other times it will be exactly the opposite.
For this to work, there needs to be a workable mechanism in place.
As for each disliked policy, every power center will attempt to make it costly for regimes that failed to accommodate them.
In unexpected developments, governing entities without a working political system will often adopt policies with the aim of ridding themselves of immediate pressure points, with little or no attention to long term consequences.
The UAE has opted to attempt to please both Russia and the US.
The hawks in Washington who know the intricacies of UAE’s internal political and economic dynamics, however, are unlikely to forgive their vassal for refusing to show total subservience when needed.
To understand this, one must examine the UAE’s relationship with Washington holistically.
The Emiratis’ regional and non-regional advances cannot be viewed separately from Washington.
While it is not guaranteed that the US will ditch the ruling caste in the UAE, it cannot be ruled out either.
Disposing of its vassals in a crude fashion is part of America’s foreign policy, from Saddam Hussain to Hosni Mubarak.