Tuesday 01 December 2015

Many strategic analysts talk about the complex geopolitics of our century but most ignore one lesserunderstood but much more important aspect of state power: national culture. Effective security in our globalized age comes from many sources, but a great strength of the UAE is its unique national culture. Happily, in this month of national remembrance, cultural activities take a well deserved, prominent place in the UAE.

National culture is the way of life, especially the customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time. The modern English term comes from the Roman orator Cicero, who wrote of cultivating the soul; culture meant “place tilled” going back to the Latin colere, “to care for or till” and cultus, “cult or religion,” so authentic culture requires nurturing. The German philosopher Johann Herder argued that a collective form of identity and sense of common destiny was unique to a people with a common culture. The UAE has certainly built and cultivated a unique national identity, an element of culture that gives strength to what the nation does and means.

National culture is demonstrated in many ways. UAE Flag Day recently remembered the efforts of the nation’s founders through our national symbol. HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid said of Flag Day, “On this occasion, we renew our commitment to the people of the UAE that we will do our utmost to serve our nation so that our flag will fly high in every field.” He described the flag as “a symbol of the country’s unity and greatness that represents our aspirations for a better future for the people of the UAE.” This year’s celebrations also honor the members of the Armed Forces who sacrificed their lives for the country. The color red in the national flag symbolizes the sacrifices of the nation’s martyrs, which strengthen the national will. Green symbolizes growth and prosperity; while the white displays the nation’s charitable contributions and support for peace. Black reflects strength and the rejection of injustice and extremism. Along with the flag, the National Anthem is another vehicle of national culture that unifies the nation. Sheikh Mohammed has called upon us to ensure that the values celebrated in the National Anthem are always cultivated.

These are only two elements of national culture. Geert Hofstede has developed a theory to understand the relationship between culture and the values of people using factor analysis. He identifies individualist societies and collectivist societies, distinguished by whether people define themselves by the terms “I” or “We.” Members of individualist societies look after themselves and their families only whereas in collectivist societies people live through loyalty-groups. The UAE is clearly a collectivistic society where close, long-term commitment to the group is strong; such powerful cultural habits strengthen the bond of the nation as well. The UAE is also a country where people affirm the effective structure in its society. Here, hierarchy in organizations reflects accepted norms, centralization works, and leaders value regular consultation; these practices also increase unity and build national esprit.

National psychological power is a closely related concept; it holds that the better the alignment between the views of the government and the views of the people in any state, the stronger the state, reinforcing the important link in Clausewitz’ Trinity between the government and the people. And, in this month of national pride, the recent experiences of the UAE in Yemen clearly illustrate both the passionate dedication of the nation’s leaders and the high degree of conviction among all nationals for the effort there, demonstrating real psychological power within the UAE.

National Day celebrations, the flag and the anthem all combined with immense pride in the nation’s accomplishments and remembrance of the valiant service provided by Emiratis in Yemen will strengthen the hearts of generations and reinforce national influence in the future. There can be no doubt that challenges will continue to test the UAE, but these simple yet powerful cultural elements will consistently build greater unity, patriotic spirit and psychological power within the UAE. Valuing memories, sharing a common language and faith, and living confidently in a well tailored legal and political environment – strong Emirati culture – assures the beating heart of the nation and will enable the UAE to prosper despite all challenges.