„The world is dangerous – that’s why we’re here at IDEX.“ William Cohen is former US-Secretary of Defence and led the Kosovo-Campaign in 1999. His international consulting firm, the Cohen Group, has strong ties in the gulf region. He is speaking to a select audience at the luxurious Armed Forces Officers Club in Abu Dhabi, which this year hosts the opening conference for IDEX, the largest weapons fair of the world. The audience consists of highly decorated military officials that have travelled here from all over the globe. Men clad in the white Kandora (the traditional Emirati garb) fill the seating rows in the front, there are few black suits – the international uniform of politics and business seems just like another kind of color-coded folklore amidst the blinking medals of commanding officers, white suits of naval commanders and the tassels and cloths of the local sheikhs.

During breaks, snacks are served with Arabic coffee, in a setting of shiny marble and glittering chrome. The Officer’s Club is one of Abu Dhabi’s finest addresses, under palm trees you can hear the gurgle of indoor-waterfalls, and like an artificial sky, a curved metallic dome spans over this postmodern flamboyancy, which was built by French architect Roger Taillibert in the ‘90s on commission of Sheikh Khalifa.

Forty-five nations are participating in this year’s “International Defence Exhibition”, represented by more than 1200 companies. Aserbaijan, Bosnia, Japan, Latvia, New Zealand and Slovenia are among the newcomers. The “danger”, that William Cohen’s statement refers to, is undeniably present in the region and provides a motivational frame for those who have come here to look for hot deals on military machinery. The United Arab Emirates are “an island of stability in an ocean of unrest” according to an opening statement, and one can see the effort of building a national identity that is loosely based on notions of exclusive wealth, security and a kind of real estate modernity under construction. It is a world of temperature-controlled interiors, self-driving cars and fluid capital: A promise that has also had an impact on cultural entrepreneurs, academics and art workers from all over the world, who are drawn to Zayeed island’s future museum district and the recently completed NYU-campus. Walking through the exhibition, aesthetic distinctions slowly come apart and it starts to feel like the defence fair and the spaces of the global art elite are part of the same vision, an air-conditioned phantasma built on money and sand.