11 October 2021

The UK-UAE tech partnership is a promising sign of things to come


Since leaving the EU, the United Kingdom has been confidently and assiduously seeking new partnership all over the world, including in the Middle East. As Anne-Elisabeth Moutet noted on CapX recently, September’s meeting in London between Boris Johnson and Abu Dhabi’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed, underlined the particular importance of British ties with the United Arab Emirates.

An important part of this ‘new special relationship’ is a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) centred around technology exchange. This bilateral partnership, while hugely valuable for both countries, will only be translated into globally significant outcomes when shared in international forums. Here, the two countries’ commitments to artificial intelligence exchange and investment are a blueprint for others to adopt.

The MoU comes as Britain seeks to build on the relationship set out in this spring’s Integrated Review, where green technology development and tackling illicit global financial flows were listed as key shared objectives. It also follows 2019’s UK-UAE Research Forum on Artificial Intelligence, which brought together companies and investors to discuss AI applications in domains as diverse as urban planning, space, education and security.

Since the signing of the MoU the UAE’s Tawazun Economic Council – which works in collaboration with the UAE Armed Forces and Abu Dhabi Police – has agreed to strengthen cooperation with the UK’s Ministry of Defence in defence and security-related research and development. British Exports Minister Graham Stuart has already signed the memorandum that will see Tawazun work with the MoD’s Defence and Security Exports agency on future AI projects and streamlined and secured supply lines.

While defence tech is a clear focus of the new partnership, collaboration on policing and security are equally valuable. Both countries have made this a priority nationally: the UK has a National Policing Digital Strategy, which acknowledges the increasingly digital nature of crime while setting out clear targets for modernisation and technology adoption. Meanwhile, in just a few years the UAE Police Force has transformed from an outdated, analogue organisation into one which provides 200 policing services via smart platforms.

Important though such bilateral arrangements are, international organisations such as Interpol have an even more important role to play.  The spirit of collaboration and prioritising of new technologies which underpin the ‘Partnership for the Future’ should also be part of the UK’s ambitions in international forums from Interpol to Nato and the UN Security Council. Should the UAE’s candidate be elected to the head of Interpol, the UK will have a strong basis from which to build technology collaboration.

To continue and embed the cooperation embodied in the MoU, and allow the promises of the MoU to be translated globally, the UK and UAE should seek further forums for collaboration in areas such as artificial intelligence. Taken in the round, this strengthened relationship with a key regional player represents a timely advance in bilateral and international relations – one which will only strengthen British national security interests.

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Robert Clark is a Defence Policy Associate at the Henry Jackson Society. Prior to this he served for 13 years in the British Army. He can be found on Twitter @RobertClark87

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.