In light of the situation in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), talk about Gulf security is no longer a local topic, but has exceeded its boundaries to become a subject of research and debate worldwide. Due to the interests of many nations and peoples with the course of events here, specifically regarding the future of the region, world powers and conflicts, this topic must be analyzed.
It is not a secret that there are different security visions in the Gulf region, whether from Iran or the GCC. These are age-old differences and not a result of conflicts or extraneous events. The GCC is known by virtue of its size as having limited defensive capabilities – it never posed a threat against any major powers. In fact throughout history, the Arab Gulf states were allies of several strong states outside the region.
Since the advent of the Portuguese in the fifteenth century in this region followed by the British in the eighteenth century and ending with the United States in the present time, the policy of the Gulf states has been the same. They see the presence of these foreign forces as a necessity to maintain security in the Gulf, with a condition of non-interference over faiths, doctrines and systems of governance.
The birth of the Gulf Cooperation Council at the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war came in the early ’80s, when the Gulf region at the time was like an empty playground after the British exit and the refusal of several states to have any kind of external presence in the region. Hence, the GCC was established presumably to fill this void and promote unity and common interests between these Sunni states.
But despite the passage of many years for the GCC, the security issue was not clearly defined and only emerged during the crisis of the Iraqi invasion over Kuwait in 1990, when everyone looked towards Saudi Arabia to take responsibility for leadership. That conflict forced the Gulf states to restore its security accounts and reach agreements bilaterally with foreign countries, especially the United States of America.
Things went well for many years. But maintaining security in the region requires a long-term policy. In the case of the Gulf region, the best strategy is to look at the issue of the Iranian nuclear file and the preparation of an international work plan on how to deal with Iran as a neighbor and respect it as a partner and a power and not an enemy.
While the Gulf Arab states did not object to the United States’ attempt to balance the Iranian power, the outcomes of such a move will not be easy. The Iranian nuclear agreement offered a golden opportunity to take a major step towards creating a new security order in the Gulf to balance powers and decrease the pressure over US commitments. This may not be the right policy now or the perfect timing, but it is a fact of life and the GCC has to be alert to deal with it.
Now, will Iran, after the agreement, move towards reconciliation and adopt a new international system in dealing with neighbors in the region, or will the agreement help Iran in the region at large to achieve its stated objectives, such as exporting the revolution in every sense of the phrase? This question cannot be answered directly in light of the turbulent conditions experienced in the region now.
I believe the GCC needs to hold responsive strategic perceptions without regard to the potential US policy to Iran, creating an informal network that enhances debate to establish a regional security dialogue, in particular between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The GCC must set up a platform for dialogue on security challenges to reduce tensions and improve predictability towards common concerns while dealing with all world powers.
The United States needs to have an in-depth diplomatic strategy now to collect consensus to build a long-term unified security and political policy for the Gulf. The GCC also needs to build an adjustable public opinion that is open to responding to changes occurring in the world and the region to maintain security for both its peoples and citizens – Sunnis and Shiites.