SS2 June 2021


Alexandra Maria GALAN 

University of Bucharest



Abstract: It has become more and more important to study the interconnections across the cultural and security sector and imagine how changes in one sector can disrupt operations in the other one. This paper is trying to chart the eVol.ution of cultural influences over state security, arguing that security interests are defined by leaders who respond to cultural factors. 

Also, by analyzing the basic cultural dimensions, we will be able to see in what measure citizens coming from different states, with a different history, values, ideology, politics, religion, can influence the security policy and strategy of the state where they are relocating.

Keywords: Security culture; state security; politics; UAE; state culture;
Contact details of the authors:  


Institutional affiliation of the authors:  

University of Bucharest

Institutions address: Calea Plevnei, 59, Bucharest, 010223, Tel +40 21 313 90 07 

Fax +40 21 322 02 77,

Today we face a world increasingly more conVol.uted, strongly influenced by the idea of nationalism in an unparalleled globalized society. It has become more and more important to study the interconnections across the cultural and security sector and imagine how changes in one sector can disrupt operations in the other one. This paper is trying to chart the eVol.ution of cultural influences over state security, arguing that security interests are established by leaders who react to cultural factors. Also, by analysing the basic cultural dimensions, we will be able to see in what measure citizens coming from different states, with a different history, values, ideology, politics, religion, can influence the security policy and strategy of the state where they are relocating.

That leads us to the following questions: Is the security of a state culturally bound? People from different cultures can affect significantly the strategy and the behaviour of a state[198]? Now turning the hourglass, can we assume that the wave of top management Europeans working in Middle Eastern companies has contributed to a metamorphosis of the Arab world towards a more open society? This paper was researched and written between 2015 -2020 and is based on desk research, and personal observations while living in Dubai from 2012 to 2015.

The theory of security-culture has long been perceived under the conceptual umbrella of state behaviour. Carl von Clausewitz speaks of war, as “a confrontation between the will of two people”, suggesting that the will of a belligerent is the product of moral factors which can be summarized as a culture[199]. Sun-Tzu underlines the significance of “self-knowledge and knowledge of one’s enemies”, bringing arguments that knowing your enemy’s culture can help you win the war[200]. Going even further, we can say that culture is the expression of a natural mélange between values, beliefs, and norms. So before looking at the definition of security culture, I would rather separate the two concepts.

The culture of state A will be different from the culture of state B, mostly because its strategic principles were influenced by external factors like geographical position, neighbouring countries, and to some extent by the state’ political, cultural, and cognitive peculiarities[201].

The security principles of a state, conjugated with ideas about morality and the necessity of the use of force, led to the birth of its defence institutions, paving the role of that specific country in global politics. When talking about the origins of security culture in a state, it all comes to a common denominator – fear of invasion[202]. Historically, when a state was formed, within its cultural behaviour you would find “unwritten laws’’ about the safety of the people, border& land protection[203]. Robert Putnam speaks about the state institutions shaped by history: “Whatever other factors may affect their form, institutions have inertia and robustness. They, therefore, embody historical trajectories and turning points. History matters because it is “path-dependent”: what comes first (even if it was in some sense “accidental”) conditions what comes later. Individuals may “choose” their institutions, but they do not choose them under circumstances of their own making, and their choices, in turn, influence the rules within which their successors choose”[204]. These institutions were midwife to veritable security culture. The concept of security culture developed as an independent notion after the end of World War II, when states became more focused on preserving their peace and security rather than in a conflict again. Nevertheless, with very state looking to expand its capabilities, by making strategic choices, while taking into account variables such as geography, culture, potential threat, they started to realize that their national policy choices are shaped by collective strategic cultures, imported from their historical experiences.

As I was pointing earlier, because the culture of state A is different from the culture of state B, most probably their security principles differ too. In some particular studies, the security culture is seen as “a tool of political hegemony in the realm of strategic decision-making”[205]. EVol.ving from our way of understanding danger and threat, security institutions started to be separated into external and internal security, and between national security and public safety.

Kim Jiyul in his paper “Cultural dimensions of strategy and policy” identified 3 basic cultural dimensions that seem to be essential in causing political and strategic action:

1.  Identity: the basis for defining identity and its linkage to interests.

2.  Political Culture: the structure of power and decision-making.

3.  Resilience: the capacity or ability to resist, adapt, or succumb to external forces[206].

By analysing the concept of security culture, we will take into account the history of conflict/ cooperation between two states.  As causal linkage, we will also take into consideration the USA – UAE – EU close relationship through the lens of national identity and shared commitment to regional security in the Middle East[207].

Let’s take the case of the USA, a country founded by immigrants that learned to value freedom of speech and the rule of law, moulding a democracy different from any other country at the time. Can we say that the cultural background of each individual that moved to the USA contributed to the edification of a society that accepts and promotes liberty as its core value? How about the United Arab Emirates? In 2010, expatriates in the UAE were estimated to number 7,316,073 persons, twenty times the 1975’s figure of 356,343. Foreign nationals thus made up 88.5% of the country’s total population[208]. It is important to mention that unlike in other GCC states, a quarter of working expatriates were in managerial posts[209]. During the early stages of the Arab states, nationalism guided them to identify both with whom they should “naturally” associate and who could potentially pose a threat. This common identity and threat, in turn, created the desire for certain normative and institutional arrangements to govern inter-Arab security politics[210].

Geographic contiguity had left a legacy of cultural, strategic, political, and economic interaction, which, in turn, produced a regional identity (khaliji)[211].

At the core of Britain’s ambition to reaffirm its position in the Gulf, was of course the defence cooperation with the UAE. Talk of the UK restating its commitment to the region can be traced back to a Defence Cooperation Accord (DCA) signed between the UK and the UAE in 1996[212], one of Britain’s largest defence commitments outside of NATO. The text of this bilateral Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA)is classified. Nevertheless, the DCA was accompanied by a separate “Status of Forces Agreement” (SOFA) giving U.S. military personnel in UAE certain legal immunities[213].

First, we argue that the security environments in which states are embedded have an important cultural and institutional part, rather than just material[214]. Second, we argue that cultural environments affect not only the incentives for different kinds of state behaviour but also the basic character of states, everything depending on the leader’s identity and on the forces that shape his decisions[215]. State identity is also influenced by the direction of top companies and institutions that converge under its roof. The sum of cultural contributions led by decision-making actors from these institutions/companies will determine a variation in the state identity. Variation in state identity, or changes in state identity, has effects on the national security interests or policies, as we will see in the chart below. (Chart of variations in security culture)

In the case of the UAE, we have selected the top 10 companies from all industries in 2020 (table 1), and looked at the top management, the country they came from, and we tried to chart how the leaders of the majority countries (UK and USA) further influenced the security policy and culture of the UAE.

Fig. 1 Chart of variations in security culture

Individual culture is strongly influenced by other cultural dimensions like: leadership, management, interpersonal communications and relations. Languages, cultural do have and don’ts and negotiation skills are examples of what this dimension would consider[216].  Understanding the role of identity as an important dimension is therefore a vital element of our research, mostly because the foundation for policy and security strategy of a state is made of individual and collective values, interests and purposes.

When it comes to resilience, its importance is incorporated in the definition itself. Many scholars have given different definitions, but for our research, I will take into consideration the definition used by Pfister and Suter 1987, and Ross Schneider in 2008, connecting resilience with global governance, talking about “actions employed by individuals and groups in the face of economic liberalization, labour market reforms, and change in public service reforms”[217].

The United Arab Emirates, and more precisely Dubai, earned in recent years the title of an innovative and adaptive land, where the cosmopolitanism has become a value of everyday life. UAE not only adapted to the impact of Globalization, but it also found the perfect window to innovate in all the essential areas, passing the test of resilience through its integration with transnational institutions – (The United Arab Emirates opened a mission at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, followed by a new permanent mission to the European Union in Brussels in 2013, being the first Arab country from the Gulf region to do so). – Also, a key point of its resilience is the state’s ability to make its citizens happy about the way the state is handling its internal and external affairs. There is no secret that in 2011, there was some critical activism in the UAE, calling for greater political space, meaning gender equity in the Federal National Council (FNC), and balanced distribution of seats among the 7 Emirati states[218]. These demands were quickly answered with political and economic measures. By creating a Ministry of Happiness and adopting certain laws, citizens were pledged to bring their contribution to the welfare of the state. This kind of call for civic action and public service finds its roots in the American model as well, when we think at John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” asking every American citizen to bring their contribution to the public good. UAE also established two new ministers of state positions for “tolerance” and for “happiness”, each headed by a woman. The duties of the ministry of cabinet affairs were expanded to include planning for “the future,” referring mainly to a “post-oil future,” according to UAE officials[219].

The UAE “democracy” was not and will never be similar to the Western democracy, but they’ve managed to acclimatize that esprit de corps within its society, and by doing so, the UAE implemented successfully different social tolerance programs and distribution of national wealth[220], with the outcome of proud and satisfied citizens. As a direct consequence, that was translated in to economic stability. The Emirati leaders also consider that since the citizens are free to express their concerns through traditional consultative mechanisms, like the open majlis (councils) held by many of them, the country doesn’t need Western-style political parties and elections for a legislature or other representative body, because that would only aggravate divisions among tribes and clans, and cause Islamist factions to become radical, opening UAE politics to regional influence[221]. The UAE leaders confer great importance to cultural harmony, especially at the political and strategic levels. State strategy deals with the impact of cultural factors in the formulation, implementation, and outcome of policy and strategy. The UAE government is trying to create an environment of inclusion by assimilating the cultural factors that can influence political and strategic decisions. When you rule over a country of more than 120 nationalities, this kind of policy has to be consolidated through a conscious socialization process and acculturation of all citizens. The best way to do it is to allow the management of top companies to elect its board members and CEOs worldwide. “Top management acclimatization” in the UAE comes as an answer to the government’s desire to be diplomatically recognized by members of the international society.  By granting European and Western “brains” to take part in the architectural process of UAE’s security culture, it bestows them the international legitimacy and leverage they need.

TOP 10 UAE COMPANIES IN 2020 according to

Forbes Middle East[222]

Company Name CEO Country
First Abu Dhabi Bank Andre Sayegh USA
Emirates NBD Shayne Nelson Australia
Etisalat Group Hatem Dowidar Egypt
Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank Ala’aEraiqat UAE
DP World Robert Woods 

Mark Russell

Dubai Islamic Bank Adnan Chilwan India
Emaar Properties Amit Jain USA
Mashreq Bank Ahmed Abdelaal UK
Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank Sandeep Chouhan India
ALDAR Properties Talal Al Dhiyebi UAE

Table 1. TOP 10 UAE COMPANIES in 2020 according to Forbes Middle East

This approach is providing an interesting lens to improve our understanding of the role of expats in the UAE, especially the international collaborations and the impact on the security culture of the state. Besides the election of multicultural top management in the UAE ranking companies, another good example is the USA State Department designated programs promoting democracy, rule of law, independent media, and civil society in the UAE, including the broader Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI)[223].

In this case, the USA is not the only example. In 2011 was established the UAE UK Business Council (UUBC), as the 1st business-led organization dedicated to facilitating greater trade and investment between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the United Kingdom (UK)[224]. In 2016, after BREXIT, and the prospect of losing its geopolitical influence as well as its access to the European single market, the UK looked once again towards the GCC countries. The United Kingdom allegedly announced that will increase its defence cooperation with the UAE and other gulf countries, by appointing a defence advisor for the Middle-East, establishing a permanent naval base at Bahrain’s Mina Salman port, enhance its presence at Dubai’s Al Minhad Air Base, and developing further military training efforts in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman.[225] In this eVol.ving context, the UAE is shifting from a traditional oil monarchy characterized by ideological loyalty to a gradual modernization of its defence force, by procuring arms and new technologies, but also by offering international training and “on-ground expertise” to its troops.

We could generally analyse the Arab armies through the dichotomy “institutionalization vs patrimonialism,” to see how the integration of other nationalities have influenced the country’s development and if the security culture of the UAE changed somehow under these circumstances. The UAE heavily invested in the institutional fragmentation of its security sector. On the one hand, by doing so, they started to compose modern armies by mixing professionals in the upper echelons, mercenaries, foreigners, and locals. [226]This strategy brought a new kind of money loyalty outpacing ideological loyalty while diminishing political risks in the long-term. In other words, it structurally changed the army’s regime protection choice, by preventing a return to authoritarian rule like in other Arab countries.

In the United Arab Emirates, the rise of élite forces has been modifying the traditional status quo, and in some cases, it has become even more powerful than the national army in terms of military capabilities and direct- relationships with the ruling leaders. That is the case for the Emirati Presidential Guard or EPG.

EPG is the perfect example showcasing the government’s search for an alternative, to enhance timely response capabilities vis-à-vis new security challenges. Even though in the GCC countries the security culture is differently structured, mostly because each state had different challenges throughout their history, the UAE reformed its army mostly to consolidate national balances and strengthen foreign projection. As we might expect, this approach had a direct positive impact on the economy, leaving the impression of stability and predictability in the international arena. Since 2010, the EPG represents a growing pocket of military power in the UAE, constantly deploying, engaging, and being somehow privileged to report directly to the deputy supreme commander of the UAE forces, the Abu Dhabi crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan[227]. Emirati leadership realized earlier than neighbouring monarchies (Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia), that military reform is not only about arms procurement and modernization, but also about the development of strong diplomatic ties with key countries(like the USA)[228], and also about the increase of defence budgets that will foster expertise, focusing on the development of local defence skills.

All these priorities are as interconnected as possible. First, by increasing its defence budget, the UAE allowed itself to bring military experts from other countries to teach local forces. This local expertise was later translated into the development of their manufacturing defence industry, materialized through the creation of EDIC (Emirates Defence Industry Companies) in 2014. In 2019 EDIC was absorbed into the EDGE, a new defence industry holding company owned also by the UAE government. The EDGE is structured into five clusters:  Platforms & Systems, Missiles & Weapons, Cyber Defence, Electronic Warfare & Intelligence, and Mission Support[229]. The UAE cultural capacity is strongly connected with the country’s ambition to allocate resources for education and human capital. Investing in programs meant to acculturate expats without erasing their cultural heritage and roots, will prove to be a smart long-term strategy. Investing in a skilled working-force from overseas was the first step that helped them to create the state’s capacity for informed local decision-making people. This can be also seen in the growing number of UAE research papers, published in top quartile journals. According to the Clarivate[230] report on UAE’s place in the Web of Science research ecosystem, UAE overall research productivity, as measured by the publications indexed in the Web of Science Core Collection has raised impressively, particularly after 2012 onwards. UAE publications indexed in Web of Science Core Collection increased by400% from 2008 to 2018. The increasing number of specialized publications, research articles, in the same period of time was even more impressive – 450%.[231]The UAE has shifted from a conservative self-preserving foreign policy, towards an influential player in power politics, in the MENA region and overseas.


The United Arab Emirates can be considered an example of a state in the Middle East, mostly because it knew how to mixt its institutional development, a strong political and economic vision for the future, its resources, and its undeniable geostrategic position, all to be seen as equal with other superpowers, and as a trustworthy partner for the regional security. This paper tried to chart the eVol.ution of cultural influences over state security, arguing that security interests are established by leaders who react to cultural factors. In this sense, by analysing the chart of top management in the ranking of the 10th largest companies in the country, and the history of state-to-state collaborations, we were able to establish that citizens coming from different states, with a different history, values, ideology, politics, religion, can influence the security policy and strategy of the state where they are relocating, in our case the UAE.

Western diplomats, policymakers, and politicians are encouraged to spend time with their Emirati counterparts, as UAE increasingly sees its relationship with other western countries as one of the equals. Some of the western diplomats understood that while the UAE has a complex system of institutions, it is individuals who need to be lobbied and convinced on key policy issues[232]. And what better way to do that than to appoint to the management of the biggest companies in the country, people able to export their vision and business model, a model that has repercussions on the security culture of the state. This, together with the characteristics of a cosmopolitan state such as the United Arab Emirates, has contributed to a metamorphosis of cultural values towards a more open and reliable society.

In future research would be interesting to see how this security culture helped the UAE to mitigate the Iranian threat without provoking a confrontation. Also, it would be interesting to see how it used its alliances abroad with the USA and UK to protect its vital trade corridors and at the same time fight against the Muslim Brotherhood while protecting its status-quo from regional rivals like Iran, Qatar, and Turkey. The United Arab Emirates is still on a development path, starting with its military reform that has been redrawing civil-military relations in the country and continuing with its Western-style secular private education universities, tools used to combat extremism and build balanced relations with countries oversea.





1.    Herlihy, David, Medieval Culture and Society, Macmillan & Co Ltd, London, 1968

2.    Hollifield, J. F., Immigrants, Markets, and States: The Political Economy of Post-War Europe, Harvard University Press Cambridge,1992

3.    Katzenstein, J. Peter, The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics, Columbia University Press, New York, 1996

4.    Putnam, D. Robert, Making Democracy Work, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1993

5.    Tzu, Sun, The Art of War, Allandale Online Publishing, 2 Park House, Leicester

6.    Von Clausewitz, Carl, On War, Princeton University Press, 41 William Street, Princeton, 1989

7.    Waltz, N. Kenneth, Theory of International Politics, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, University of California, Berkeley, 1979


Studies and articles

8.    Ardemagni, Eleonora; Profazio, Umberto, New Armies for a New Era Decrypting post-2011 Arab Military Reform Trends,  Research Division – NATO Defense College, Rome, No. 145, March 2018

9.    Bianco, Cinzia, A Gulf apart: how Europe can gain influence with The Gulf Cooperation Council, in ”European Council on Foreign Relations”, 2020

10.                        Bourbeau, Philippe, Resilience and International Politics: Premises, debates, agenda, in ”International Studies Review”, Vol. 17, No. 3, 2015

11.                        De Bel-Air, Françoise, Demography, Migration, and the Labour Market in the UAE, in ”Gulf Labour Markets and Migration Rapport”, GLMM EN, No. 7, 2015

12.                        Duffield, S. John, Theo Farrell, Richard Price, Michael C. Desch, Isms and Schisms: Culturalism versus Realism in Security Studies, in ”International Security”, Vol. 24, No. 1, 1999

13.                        Jiyul, Kim, Cultural Dimensions of Strategy and Policy, in ”Strategic Studies Institute”, US Army War College, 2009

14.                        Johnston, Alastair Iain, Thinking about Strategic Culture, in ”International Security”, Vol. 19, Number 4, MIT Press, 1995

15.                        Katzman, Kenneth, The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy, in ”Congressional Research Service”, 2017

16.                        Klein, Bradley S, Hegemony and Strategic Culture: American Power Projection and Alliance Defence Politics, in ”Review of International Studies”, Vol.. 14, No. 2, 1988

17.                        Lantis. S. Jeffrey, Strategic Culture and National Security Policy, in  ”International Studies Review”, Vol. 4, No. 3, 2002

18.                        Salisbury, Peter, Risk Perception and Appetite in UAE Foreign and National Security Policy, in ”Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa Programme”, July 2020

19.                        Saul Kelly and Gareth Stansfield, Britain, the United Arab Emirates and the defence of the Gulf revisited, in ”International Affairs” (Royal Institute of International Affairs), Vol.. 89, No. 5, 2013



20.                        Brigadier General Ibrahim M. Al-Nakhi, The Gulf War: U.A.E. Participation in that War, Approved for Public Release, U.S. Army War College, Carusle Barracks, Pa 17013-5050; Ad-A264 530

21.                        National Bureau of Statistics, Analytical Report on Economic and Social Dimensions in the United Arab Emirates 2009 , Abu Dhabi: NBS, April 2010

22.                        UAE’s place in Web of Science research ecosystem, report, Web of Science Group, Clarivate Analytics, 2019