Territorial disputes: The Persian Gulf (Part 14) [Post 174]

Oman and the United Arab Emirates

The UAE-Oman relationship has been marked by tremendous changes and rapid developments. During the past three decades, unresolved boundary disputes have not hindered the two countries’ quest for greater economic cooperation, which eventually led to a better relationship. 

The 1999 UAE-Oman border pact distinguished itself in one specific aspect: the two countries enhanced their socioeconomic relations exponentially. The accord opened the door for cooperation in the fields of trade, tourism, investment and other areas.49 The UAE investment in Oman reached very high levels, with almost $5 billion invested in the last three decades.

A boundary agreement reportedly signed and ratified with UAE in 2003 for entire border, including Oman’s Musandam Peninsula and Al Madhah exclave, but details of the alignment have not been made public (i.e. contents of the agreement and detailed maps showing the alignment have not been published).

Historical Background

In the second half of the 1940s, two major political changes took place in the Arab Gulf region. 

The first was the transfer of Britain’s Political Residency headquarters from Bushire on the Persian side of the Gulf to Bahrain on the Arab side. This transfer resulted in the severing of London’s longstanding connection with Persia, marking the renewed importance of the Arab Gulf emirates. 

The second was the transfer on April 1, 1949, of responsibility for the Political Residency from the government of India to the Foreign Office in London. This marked a new British attitude towards the lower Gulf.

Until the 1930s, because of specific agreements with several rulers, the British refrained from interfering in the internal affairs of what were called the Trucial Sheikhdoms, so long as the peace at sea was kept.
British attitudes towards the Sultanate of Oman, on the other hand, were sharply different. Omani “independence” had been ensured after Britain and France undertook to respect a sovereign Sultanate in 1892.

Equally important, the British perceived their relationship with the sultan as a useful counterbalance to their various “relationships” elsewhere in the region. Indeed, London persuaded successive sultans to greet nascent emirates with less than full support, if not outright hostility. In part as a result of this legacy, and in part because of its own imperial history, Omani perceptions of the emirates before 1971, and the UAE after, have resulted in incident-prone ties.

Between 1952 and 1999, the UAE-Oman relationship went through four distinct phases: 1952-71, tense relations dominated by the Buraimi crisis; 1971-79, political thaw; 1979-99, more relaxed political and economic exchanges; post-May 1999, a far more optimistic outlook, provided various actors abandoned past suspicions.

The UAE and Oman: Opportunities and Challenges Link to the complete document
CIA’s World Factbook Link to the complete document
Oman and UAE: Comparisson Chart Link to the complete document


This post is based on Jorge Emilio Núñez, Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics (Routledge 2020).Previous published research monograph about territorial disputes and sovereignty by the author, Jorge Emilio Núñez, Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017.


Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Thursday 10th December 2020

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World


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