GCC countries rethink their regional role

Article Summary
To protect their security and stability, the GCC countries must change some of their policies to cope with changes and developments taking place on the international scene.

The international system is experiencing a period of worsening chaos. This situation requires the reconsideration of international alliances based on a conscious and continuous interpretation of international variables. This also requires a willingness to re-examine policies and positions that were usually deemed to be axioms, but not anymore. In the past, the prevailing idea was that Gulf states must primarily rely on themselves in order to meet the security challenges facing them. If it appeared to them that they are unable to cope alone with these challenges, they would be entitled, as independent entities, to seek the support and help of allied and friendly countries.

This perspective was based on the idea that the security of the Gulf is not only a Gulf concern, but it is also at the top of concerns of allied and friendly countries. This concern is most commonly witnessed in the NATO states, for obvious reasons, at the forefront of which is their interest in the continued flow of Gulf oil. By extension, it was realistic to believe that these countries will rush to fulfill the security requirements of the Gulf since they have an interest in protecting the status quo and stability of the region.

This perspective remains important and relevant in Gulf and international [political] calculations. However, today it is subject to re-examination and placed under test. The decline in the United States' standards of military, economic and political power is affecting its ability to rush to the rescue of its friends. The pivot strategy adopted by the Obama administration by virtue of which the US shifted its interests and a part of its forces from the Middle East to the Pacific region is affecting the US’s readiness to intervene in the Gulf region. Some predicted that Washington would abandon this policy after the Ukraine events. But these expectations have not been realized, as the new US strategic choices were not made based on contingency considerations and it is not easy to renounce them under the pressure of European contingency.

Moreover, the dependence on Gulf oil still prevails. However, given that the US turned into an energy source and in light of the changes that have transformed Iraq — and will possibly transform Libya in the near future — into an ally of the US, the dependence on Gulf oil is expected to drop. If we add to this American picture the European inclination toward peace, it would be realistic to re-discuss the impact of the new international changes and developments on the Gulf’s regional and international role and the formulas drafted to ensure stability and security in this part of the world. In this respect four main choices are available:

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First, the Gulf regional and international neutrality

What is meant here is not the mere declaration by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries of their regional and international neutrality, but also the international and regional recognition of this neutrality, as was the case for Austria after World War I. However, this recognition is not easy to obtain. The US is not ready to let go of former President Jimmy Carter’s principles easily. In parallel, European countries are not ready to give up their strong ties and interests in the Gulf states. Moreover, historical experience showed that countries adopting absolute neutrality are usually the first victims of wars and major conflicts. Therefore, neutrality is not guaranteed by treaties and conventions if it is not accompanied by the ability to protect.

Second, the establishment of a Gulf security system

Such a system can be established, at least theoretically, through direct negotiations between Iran and the GCC. Yet, this project is seemingly unlikely to happen at present. In the Gulf, there is a high degree of mutual suspicion which does not allow such a system to be created. Under this mutual suspicion, this project is viewed as an attempt to turn Iran into a mere regional power, while in the eyes of the Iranians, it equates [the influence of] international powers. In parallel to this option, there is an Iranian option that is based on an understanding between two world powers, namely the United States and Iran. In this view, the status of Iran has been firmly rooted following the US-led war on Iraq. The war has pushed the latter from being one of the Arab countries opposing the Iranian influence in the region, into an Iranian ally that promotes Iran’s regional and international role. Based on this classification, joint arrangements for the Gulf security and the US-Iranian–Arab interests are possible, from an Iranian standpoint. However, this point of view will not be acceptable for the Gulf Arab countries, as it turns the Gulf into a region governed by an American-Iranian condominium, while the Gulf countries desire to be a key party in any Gulf equation.

Third, a regional Gulf-Egyptian–Turkish alliance

Bringing these three parties together in a joint security system provides the capabilities and potentials to guarantee the protection of the status quo in the Gulf, and to avoid any regional or international tendency to establish hegemony over the Gulf region. The current conditions are good enough — especially if Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is elected president of Egypt — for the pillars of the Gulf-Egyptian ties to be laid. Yet, the obstacle to this alliance resides in its third pillar, namely Turkey, following the remarkable victory of the Justice and Development party (AKP) in the municipal elections. These results will make Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan even more committed to the regional policy he has adopted so far, namely the policy that has distanced him from Cairo and Gulf countries.

Fourth, the promotion of the regional Arab system

The regional Arab system has suffered from heated problems, particularly in Syria and Iraq. This project has faced tremendous obstacles and difficulties in the past, yet it is still operating, and the best evidence is that the Arab summit was held and other institutions continue to fulfill the tasks entrusted to them. Its limited role and lack of efficiency are probably among the factors that have led to its survival. It does not consist of a threat and a competitor to the current political entities, nor does it require member states to sacrifice their authority. Nevertheless, the regional Arab system needs a state or a group of countries that considers its revival and revitalization one of its key priorities. The GCC is capable of undertaking such a role, which will certainly reap its major economic benefits in the long run. As for the short and medium terms, the economic incentives may not be the foundation of the revitalization of the regional Arab Gulf system’s role, but rather the political and security incentives will remain the basis. If the regional Arab system is instilled, and if this firm establishment is reflected in a rapprochement and genuine understanding between Arab countries, the immunity of such countries will be consolidated. It will also help spread Arab peace among these countries, and [this system] will emerge as a cornerstone of regional and world peace. The shift from the role of maintaining the status quo into conducting reforms will help reinforce Gulf and Arab peace.

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Found in: oil, us-iranian relations, obama administration, gulf states, gulf security, gulf politics, gulf cooperation council, gcc, abdel fattah al-sisi
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