The cold war between Iran and the GCC states seems to have put off any genuine rapprochement at this time between the two sides of the Gulf
The issue of a lasting and stable security arrangement for the vital and chronically unstable Arabian Gulf region has bedevilled both regional and international players for too long. Both sides have tinkered and tried different strategies and tactics and have gone through many US doctrines since the British exit from the region. From the Shah as the policeman of the Gulf, the Carter Doctrine, the Nixon Doctrine and the twin pillars, Clinton’s dual and differentiated containment against both Iraq and Iran to president Bush’s doctrine and its preemptive components and operation Iraqi Freedom and consequent occupation of Iraq that led to wedging the US in the midst of Gulf security mechanism.
While it may be logical and geo-strategically feasible to involve all regional Gulf players as active participants in a lasting and durable Gulf security through inclusive, rather than exclusive approach based on 6+2 strategy — that is the six GCC states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and UAE in addition to Iran and Iraq — there are some ground realities that may impede this. Realistically, a lasting and durable Arabian Gulf security arrangement will not be sustainable and feasible by excluding Iraq and Iran — though not while they hold their current policies towards the region.
Here are the reasons why: The fact on the ground, unfortunately, does not support this logical yet naive take on Gulf security and the main hurdle to that is the shenanigans and provocative abrasive Iranian meddling in regional politics. The US unwittingly exacerbated the instability of the Gulf region and contributed to the fragile and precarious lack of balance of power, which has been the main reason for the chronic instability, mayhem and wars that have left their indelible marks on a traumatised region that has suffered for too long from irredentists and hegemonic states attempting to exploit the status quo in their favour. That was the case under the Shah of Iran and later with Saddam Hussain who occupied and pillaged Kuwait. Even today, Iraq, with its ongoing divisive politics, sectarian tensions, propped up by Iran which waited out the Americans to exercise its shenanigans and spread its influence in Iraq, deny Iraq any positive role in any future Gulf security regime.
On the other hand, Iran’s overarching agenda and project to become the major anchor state of the Middle East, with its relentless drive from western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean through the Gulf, Yemen and Iraq to seize the opportunity, up the ante and meddle in the Gulf states’ affairs — through interfering, instigating, creating sleeping cells, resorting to espionage and stirring sectarian strife to undermine the GCC states — makes it more of a challenge and source of instability for the GCC states.
Moreover, Iran’s showdown with the West over its nuclear programme, war posturings, crippling sanctions, medium-range missiles and ongoing naval exercises are factors that undermine any positive role Iran could play jointly with the GCC states to form a constructive Gulf security architecture to safeguard the Gulf involving all the regional players in safeguarding its security.
It was ironic to hear the unprecedented tough language by the GCC leaders regarding Iran in the GCC summit held in Manama last month. In the final communique, the GCC states demanded “that Iran end its interference in the region”, reiterating the GCC’s long-held mistrusts and lack of confidence of Iran and how they continue to view Iran as “their main rival”. “The council expressed its rejection and condemnation of the continuing Iranian interference in the affairs of the Gulf Cooperation Council states and called on Iran to stop these policies.” Iran replied by bellicose statements; mocking the GCC states and engaging in a week of military manoeuvres that stretched over one million square kilometres in the Gulf and northern Indian Ocean, attempting to intimidate its GCC neighbours with what Tehran dubbed as “Velyat 91” war games. Such reckless and provocative military drilling, Iran’s continuing meddling in GCC and other Arab states’ affairs and threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz are not the way to go if Iran wants to instill confidence in the troubled relations between the two sides. Clearly, it has emerged as a destabilising and irresponsible player in the Gulf region.
Thus the cold war between Iran and the GCC states seems to have put off any genuine rapprochement at this time and negate any productive or constructive role for Iran to play in any Gulf security regime.
At the strategic level, Iran’s role in propping up the thuggery of Bashar Al Assad’s regime in Syria — an “in your face” Iranian strategy sabotaging the GCC’s role in the Syrian debacle. Thus a rivalry is emerging today between the GCC states, Turkey and the West on the one hand, vs Iran and its proxies led by Syria, Iraq and Hezbollah on the other to prop up the Syrian regime, in what could be seen as a Sunni -Shiite rivalry — adding another layer of mistrust between the GCC states and Iran.
The complete reliance by the GCC states on the US as their protector and upsizing its armament and military expenditure by purchasing weapons systems to the tune of $64 billion (Dh235.39 billion) in the way of a “new US arms transfers” in the period from 2008-2011 alone is not a lasting recipe for a secure and sustained security architecture in this troubled region.
The current security architecture is unsustainable and leaves the GCC bleeding financially and relying on a single protector. The only viable option in the foreseeable future is to engage in a mixed and new strategy of outsourcing regional security needs with major international actors and getting the GCC’s act together by engaging in a serious unity drive by fast-tracking Saudi monarch King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz’s initiative, especially after approving the security treaty and the “establishment of a joint GCC military command and coordinate closely among the GCC’s security and intelligence agencies.” It is hoped this could be a prelude to that elusive Gulf union, ushering in a new security set-up. The question is whether this is possible?
Professor Abdullah Al Shayji is the chairman of the political science department, Kuwait University. You can follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/docshayji