France and the United Arab Emirates have allegedly sealed a deal that would place a French naval base in the emirates — a move that would greatly further the goals of both states.
French daily Le Monde reported Jan. 15 that on his recent trip to the United Arab Emirates, French President Nicolas Sarkozy signed a deal that will establish a permanent French naval base in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. While STRATFOR cannot at this time confirm the truth of the report, such base would make a great deal of sense for both the French and their prospective hosts. For France the benefits are obvious. In the aftermath of the presidency of Jacques Chirac, France under Sarkozy is seeking to bury the legacy of Gaullism. Part of that means working hand in glove with the United States. Part means to stop expecting to be able to command the other European states to serve French interests. And part means taking concrete steps to insinuate French power into critical nodes rather than obsess about cultural influence in the many relatively unimportant territories that used to be French colonies. A base in the United Arab Emirates — which would allow France to assist U.S. efforts at maritime security, give it a position wholly independent of Europe, and insert itself into a critical region area where Paris never had a colonial footprint — serves all three purposes. For the United Arab Emirates — or more specifically, for Abu Dhabi — the logic is more complex. The Persian Gulf is a touchy region for small states. Iran dominates the east side, Saudi Arabia the west, and foreign powers drawn by its energy reserves are constantly coming and going. The United Arab Emirates' strategy until now has been to serve as neutral ground to avoid any one power achieving domination over it, while making itself valuable as a trading partner and energy supplier to all. It therefore has given most of the region’s players a stake — even if only a small one — in the United Arab Emirates' continuing independence despite territorial disputes with Iran and economic tensions with Saudi Arabia. And while the United Arab Emirates is friendly with the United States, it is the only state of the western gulf that has not housed a major U.S. military presence. That dance has become labored of late. U.S.-Iranian tensions are forcing the United Arab Emirates to pick sides — something that would end a generation of carefully crafted policy. Hosting a French base, however, would introduce a new player to the equation — one that often serves as a bridge between different worlds already. France is a U.S. ally (and one that is clearly ascendant in American eyes), so Washington will not be overly annoyed, and while Iran will not be thrilled about any foreign military presence in the Gulf, a French presence is probably the best that could reasonably be hoped for. With one agreement the United Arab Emirates can introduce a new player, achieve a greater degree of security and maintain its position as the region’s sandy Switzerland. Plus, of course, all politics are local. The United Arab Emirates is a confederation of emirates of which Abu Dhabi — the specific emirate that supposedly signed the deal with Sarkozy — is only one. According to the political deals that bind the United Arab Emirates together, leadership of the emirates as a whole is something that is supposed to rotate. Abu Dhabi has (so far) prevented that from happening. Having the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle put into port from time to time is an excellent way for Abu Dhabi to ensure that it remains on top.