GCC Members Consider Union

At the Gulf Summit held in Manama late last year, four leaders from  the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) failed to attend. Their  absence stood in silent rebuke to the message the Saudi king had chosen to  deliver to those in attendance, in which he demanded they reflect deeply upon  the path the GCC was headed and called for sober reflection upon what had been  achieved over the past 31 years. In the king’s words, the council “had failed to  meet the hopes and aspirations pinned upon it.”

For this reason he stressed the importance of taking steps that require “a  transition from the stage of cooperation to a stage of union in a single  entity.” It is well known that that the Saudi king surprised the attendees at  the GCC conference held in Riyadh just over one year ago in December 2011 when  he made his famous call for the political unification of the Gulf.

At the time, none of those assembled were particularly enthusiastic about  the idea, and most countries in the region harbored fears that accepting the  invitation would be tantamount to submitting to a Saudi bid for regional  hegemony. And so the idea was buried and the initiative was remanded to a  committee of experts for study. The Saudi king repeated his call in his speech  given at the Manama summit, and once again it failed to elicit an enthusiastic  response from anyone save the king of Bahrain, who views unification with the  GCC (or, at least, with Saudi Arabia) as a way for his regime to escape its  current predicament.

The remarks by senior Saudi and Bahraini officials last month at the most  recent GCC conference reflect both governments’ desire to speed up efforts at  forming a ‘Gulf Union’. Both the Saudi and the Bahraini monarchs contributed to  heightening expectations of what might come out of the summit. Yet in the end  the conference’s concluding statement failed to include anything out of the  ordinary.

On the contrary, it simply reiterated the rhetoric of past GCC conferences:  that this was an exceptional summit convened in turbulent conditions and  required strategic decisions. The official media focused on two clauses in  particular: one which pertained to the signing an amended Gulf Security  Agreement and another calling for the establishment of a unified military  leadership.

GCC possesses no united security doctrine

Gulf officials needed 18 years of debate simply to accept the amendments  that Kuwait had set as conditions for its acceptance of the security agreement  signed in 1994. Much of this delay was attributable to popular apprehension in  Kuwait that the Security Agreement would act as a gateway to Saudi interference  in their internal affairs. The Kuwaiti government, at the urgings of successive  parliaments, insisted that the agreement not contain any clauses requiring the  extradition of citizens wanted in other countries, or permitting security forces  to cross the border to pursue or detain fugitives. Moreover, the agreement will  not enter the implementation phase until the Kuwaiti parliament ratifies it.

Despite the outcry raised by the announcement of the security agreement, it  does not represent a fundamental departure from the tradition of close relations  that has characterized the various security services of the Gulf countries. But  it provides them with additional tools to coordinate in the realm of internal  security, especially regarding rising challenges faced by all the member states  of the GCC, albeit to varying degrees of severity. Political and security  officials must therefore come to an agreement concerning a unified security  doctrine that would specify the common dangers confronting them.

The glare of the media spotlight does little to render the task easier. For  example, the UAE is waging a security and propaganda campaign against the Muslim  Brotherhood, even as that movement forms one of the mainstays of the regional  strategy being pursued by Qatar and even as two ministers in the Bahraini  government are themselves members of the Brotherhood. At a time when both Saudi  Arabia and Bahrain are staging crackdowns against the Shiite populations, Shiite  MPs sitting in the Kuwaiti parliament constitute a key pillar in the Kuwaiti  government’s ongoing struggle with its opponents.

Unified military leadership

One of the most important motives for the foundation of the GCC in 1981 was  the defense of the region’s ruling families. Less than a year later, the  formation of the “Peninsula Shield Force” was announced. It was intended to  serve as the nucleus of a joint military force, yet none of the ruling families  in the Gulf was interested in, or capable of, confronting the obstacles  hindering military coordination between states that, though wealthy in natural  resources, lack the demographic depth necessary for developing conventional  military power.

Moreover, they suffer from the absence of unconventional defense strategies,  political will and popular legitimacy. It is true that the Iraqi attack on  Kuwait created a temporary circumstance favorable to the spread of calls for  increasing military coordination between the countries of the GCC in order to  prevent a similar situation from repeating itself. At the same time, some called  for the formation of a unified Gulf army to take the place of the largely  symbolic “Peninsula Shield” joint force. Yet, despite the announcement  in December 2000 that a joint Gulf defence force had been agreed upon, and  despite the agreement some nine years later on a ‘GCC Defense Strategy,’ nothing  much came of it.

Historical schisms between the ruling families of the Gulf contributed to  perpetuating the crisis of a mutual lack of trust. This lack of trust has so far  thwarted all attempts at forming a unified military council including the  transformation of the Peninsula Shield Forces from symbolic units to the nucleus  of a unified military force. On the contrary, the Peninsula Shield forces that  entered Bahrain in March 2011 to help suppress the popular protest movement were  composed entirely of Saudi units, troops, and officers. Kuwait and Oman  abstained from participating at all in the intervention to avoid facilitating a  precedent for a Saudi Brezhnev doctrine.

For over three decades, the GCC has been unable to coordinate its efforts in  the military realm, let alone establish a central military leadership possessed  of a unified military doctrine. This is not to say that military cooperation is  nonexistent, but that it occurs exclusively when the GCC militaries fall under  American military command, as happened during the war to liberate Kuwait.

Washington opposed to gulf military cooperation

Despite the urgency of members’ security concerns, and the role they played  in the founding of the GCC in the first place, none of its member states  attempted to turn it into a viable alternative for the existing bilateral  relations between each country and the U.S. (which, since the fall of the Shah of Iran, has come to  constitute the dominant military power in the Gulf). Here, it is insufficient to  highlight the mutual suspicions harbored by each of the ruling families against  the others, nor to note that the paramount desire of each is to protect their  particular interests. The U.S. does not believe that it needs to deal with the  GCC as a regional entity so long as it fails to vigorously pursue the  implementation of its regional policies. It has therefore insisted upon  negotiating free trade agreements with each Gulf state separately; we can see it  doing the same in the security and military realms as well.

Escalating military expenditures

One seeking the secret to the vitality of this “lack of coordination” between the member states of the GCC, and the role of the outside world in  perpetuating them, may gain insight by reviewing the details of military  expenditure. According to figures of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, total military  spending of GCC member states exceeded $79 billion — more than the military  budgets of great powers like Russia, Britain or France and more than the six  largest military budgets of the Middle East (those of Egypt, Syria, Pakistan,  Israel, Turkey, and Iran) combined!

Most of the spending by GCC member states is devoted to covering the costs  of importing military equipment from the U.S., Britain and France as well as  training and maintenance services. However these military imports are undertaken  without any rigorous study of the security needs of the countries involved, or  of the region as a whole. Neither are they coordinated with the other states of  the GCC, or preceded by study of their joint security needs. Instead, this money  is spent through piecemeal deals between each individual GCC member and the  particular arms manufacturer. Due to the prevailing climate of mutual suspicion,  none of the Gulf states know the precise details of what equipment or hardware  the others have imported.

In addition to this “lack of coordination”  there are difficulties  posed by rampant corruption and the temptations of vast commissions in arms  deals (that in some cases exceed hundreds of millions of dollars). Both factors  have turned vast stores of arms in the Gulf into dumping grounds for weapons and  equipment no longer fit for service due to their advanced age, or incapable of  being effectively employed due to the scarcity of personnel trained in their  use. The multiplicity of weapons systems, the incompatibility of their sources,  reflects the inability of the Gulf countries’ military forces to coordinate with  one another. Exacerbating this challenge is the dependence of the armed forces  in at least three Gulf countries upon soldiers recruited from abroad,  particularly from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

More than 31 years since the foundation of the Gulf Cooperation Council, its  six member states still do not know what its role ought to be, or what limits  ought to circumscribe its behavior. It will not suffice for the leaders of the  Council to answer those questions by repeating old answers about ‘security  agreements’ that have been on offer for over twenty years — or to recycle talk  of a ‘unified military leadership’ that has been on offer for over thirty. And,  of course, it will not be enough for the Saudi King to repeat his flight from  the present and claim that “unity is the solution.”

The above article was translated from As-Safir al-Arabi, a  special supplement of As-Safir newspaper whose content is provided  through a joint venture of As-Safir and Al-Monitor.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/politics/2013/01/saudi-arabia-gcc-announcement.html#ixzz2IEd6JnLJ