France’s exquisite use of soft power 16, January 2008Posted by thegulfblog.com in French IR, Soft Power, The Emirates.
Tags: Abu Dhabi, France, Soft Power
Abu Dhabi has another French import to join its already impressive Gallic collection. Not satisfied with enticing both the most famous French University (the Sorbonne) and museum (the Louvre) to the city-state, it has now gone and seduced the ‘Armée Française’ into maintaining a permanent garrison of 400-500 troops in Abu Dhabi itself.
This development is due in no small part to the history of the French in the country. The ties between the French and the Emirates generally and Abu Dhabi specifically go back to at least 1971 with the signing of the original oil concessions. Since then, French companies have been heavily investing in various Abu Dhabi based companies, notably ADCO and ADMA. The French acquisition of a permanent military base in Abu Dhabi is, therefore, but the latest example of France’s exquisite use of soft power. Soft power is the ability to get others to do what you want without the use of any coercive means at all. France have made themselves such attractive international friends to those in the Emirates that they will pay somewhere from $800 million to $1 billion to borrow art work and to borrow a name for twenty years. Not forgetting, of course, asking a foreign non-Muslim power to station troops in the homeland.
What does Abu Dhabi feel that they are getting out of this? Stability? Military protection? Surely the last thing that the region needs is yet another military force conducting exercises in and around the perilously narrow Straits of Hormuz? Presumably, Abu Dhabi sees this as another kind of bulwark against any nefarious Iranian activities. However, let’s not forget how easily the Iranian Revolutionary Guard utterly humiliated the British Royal Navy only last year. Would they have thought twice if it had been a French boat? Of course not. Both countries are ex-colonial (although the French are getting less and less ex-colonial by the day) countries with deep seated beliefs about their place in the world which are not necessarily borne out by empirical evidence. As De Gaulle put it his particularly inimitable way, “France can not be France without greatness.”