The wider Gulf region is a critical component in concerns about global stability and security. No area of the world has captivated the daily headlines in the past decade as much as the region that encompasses the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), Iran, Iraq, Yemen and beyond that the adjoining areas of Central and South Asia – primarily Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Greater Middle East with its perennial Arab-Israeli conflict. The events of 2011 and the corresponding ‘Arab Spring’ has cemented the spotlight even further.
For better and for worse, the Gulf will remain the focal point of attention in the coming years. Iraq continues to struggle in its attempts to bring about a more stable domestic political environment while the continuing dispute over the Iranian nuclear program holds within it the potential for another round conflict. In addition, the circle of instability that surrounds the Gulf stretching from Palestine, to Afghanistan, Pakistan, to Yemen, Somalia and Egypt will undoubtedly contain regional and international repercussions. Added to all of this has been the unprecedented wave of political change that has swept through the Middle East since the beginning of 2011. This wave has impacted the GCC as well including Bahrain and Oman most prominently. With the added domestic political dimension, the specter of Gulf security has been broadened by another factor.
To properly comprehend Gulf dynamics, the area of focus needs to include the immediate regional actors (the six GCC states, Iran, Iraq and Yemen), the wider regional neighborhood (Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Syria, Turkey, Israel, Somalia), and the broader international community (the United States, Europe, Russia and increasingly Asian countries such as China and Japan) in a complex system of interaction where significant stakes are at play. Moreover, Gulf security cuts across a host of overlapping and complex factors including concerns about energy security, terrorism, weapons proliferation, border disputes, political development, education, human rights, climate change, just to name some of the more obvious examples.
Within this environment, the GCC states have attempted in recent years to carve out a role for themselves with the objective to promote a policy of dialogue and cooperation that could ultimately serve as a basis for better and more structured security relations both within the region and with external actors. The US-led war on Iraq in 2003 served as a catalyst in the sense that the GCC states were forced out of their slumber to recognize that its almost exclusive reliance on the United States as the sole security guarantor for the Gulf had not brought about a more secure regional environment. Instead, a series of antagonistic relationships remained in which the voice of the Arab Gulf was hardly heard and the national interests of the GCC were rarely recognized.
With its preeminent position in world energy markets and buoyed by large budget surpluses that have since 2003 in particular led to the GCC’s tremendous overall development, the Arab Gulf states have shifted gears and sought to interact with all parts of the globe in unprecedented ways. This can be seen as part of an effort to explore new relationships and find different mechanisms that could contribute to regional stability. The involvement with the rest of the world is thus being increasingly defined by the GCC states themselves instead of having outside policies being exclusively imposed on them. The involvement of both Qatar and the UAE in the NATO-led operations against Libya beginning in March 2011 is symbolic of the determination to shape policy instead of being shaped by it. Moreover, the rising importance of the region in economic terms, especially for the world economy in the wake of the global financial crisis, serves as a powerful magnet drawing the attention of various powers to the issues defining Gulf security. In this context, the Arabian peninsula’s location as a half-way point between Europe, Asia and Africa not only represents the crossroads for world commerce, it has wide-ranging geo-political and geo-strategic consequences as well.
To properly understand the complex dynamics that are driving regional and international developments, The Gulf Forum 2011: The Gulf and the Globe will explore the various challenges that exist and identify the strategies that need to be employed by the GCC states to promote their interests and contribute to more concerted efforts for regional stability and security. The Gulf Forum 2011 will further provide a platform for all those concerned with the region’s outlook to outline their policies and how they themselves can assist in moving the region out of its perennial cycle of conflict.