A two-day workshop organized by Dubai-based Gulf Research Center (GRC) and Bertelsmann Foundation of Germany called for greater engagement by the European Union in future Gulf security arrangements.
Under the title of “A new window of opportunity? Europe, Gulf security and aftermath of Iraq War,” the event brought together over 30 specialists, including representatives from all the GCC members states and numerous European Union countries, to discuss the impact of the Iraq War on the current security situation in the region and to outline the steps that can by taken by the EU to alleviate the resulting challenges.
Delegates were unanimous in their opinion that in light of recent developments as well as the continued omnipresence of the United States in all matters related to regional security, there is an urgent need for a different approach from the European Union (EU). It was argued that past attempts to bring about a lasting security architecture by the United States, whether through the past twin-pillar, dual containment or preemptive policy approach did not succeed in bringing about a more stable arrangement.
In fact, as a result of the September 11 events and the US decision to oust Saddam Hussein’s regime, the security vulnerability has increased as evidenced by the mounting instability in Iraq, the subsequent possibility of a resurgent Iran taking advantage of the Iraqi vacuum and the growing internal terrorist threat to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States.
While there is no question that the US will continue to play the dominant external security role in the Gulf for the foreseeable future, the participants agreed that there is an urgent need to involve the EU as an actor that can provide greater balance and objectivity on the broad range of issues that fall under the greater security umbrella within the region.
Among the concrete themes elaborated were the security prerogatives of the Gulf States, current situation in Iraq and Iran, applicability of various security models for the region and possibility of expanding the GCC-EU political dialogue on security matters. That the Gulf region could learn and benefit from the European integration process by looking at how Europe was able to overcome the historical differences among its member states was emphasized. Numerous delegates argued strongly that the EU would be useful as a model in terms of institutionalizing dialogue and interaction, but it was agreed that this should not involve simply transferring structures and imposing them on the region. Instead, the emphasis was on selective borrowing based on practicality.
At the same time, participants urged the Gulf countries to also draw on other efforts at regional security structures such as the Association of South East Asian Nations, Asian Regional Forum, Helsinki Process and Final Act of 1975.
While participants agreed that Saddam’s ouster had removed one of the critical obstacles to a broader security dialogue in the region, thereby creating a “window of opportunity”, it had also left Iraq weak, rendering it incapable of playing a stabilizing role in the Gulf. The workshop stressed the urgent need to provide proper security in Iraq and noted that the current US approach is unlikely to produce desired results. Much will depend on the whether the election process scheduled for January will lead to the establishment of a stable and legitimate Iraqi government, the delegates said.
Of equal concern to all attendees were the developments with regard to the Iranian nuclear program and how the possibility of Iran crossing the nuclear threshold might impact the regional security situation. It was mentioned that the Gulf States were closely watching the current European Union negotiations with Iran and that the successful implementation of the current agreement would be significant in terms of establishing the European Union as a legitimate and serious security actor in Gulf issues.
European delegates cautioned from expecting too much from the current arrangement with Tehran, but argued that the matter is serious enough to mandate a speedy agreement. It was also mentioned that Iran has a responsible role to play in the region in terms of alleviating the concerns of the neighboring countries in relation to Iranian intentions.
It was argued that as far as the GCC States are concerned, neither the scenario of a nuclear-capable Iran nor the possibility of a US/Israeli preemptive strike is or should be accepted.
The workshop stressed the need for a more inclusionary security system in the Gulf whereby all the states can interact more regularly in a systematic manner to discuss security concerns, start a process to reduce existing threat perceptions and work on confidence-building measures that can serve as the foundation for a future security architecture. The EU is particularly well placed to take on the role of such a honest broker, it was felt, as it has a regular dialogue with all regional states unlike the United States which views Iran as diametrically opposed to any US involvement in the Gulf.
The key question considered was how the EU can begin to take on a more constructive role in light of its inability and reluctance to commit hard security assets to the region and to move into what is traditionally the US zone of influence. Participants cautioned about the US and Europe getting engaged in competition, although it was made clear that Europe would concentrate on what is does best, i.e. engaging in dialogue and offering a political alternative to existing disputes.
In conclusion, the Europeans urged the Gulf States to get more involved in initiating security discussions among themselves and to clearly express their intention to move away from the current cycle of instability. And, the Gulf States urged Europe to look at the Gulf as an integral part of their own security zone and to give the region the necessary attention that might provide for alternative approaches.