The following is a report on the most recent Gulf Cooperation Council Summit meeting by John Duke Anthony, president and CEO of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations and the only outsider to have attended all 16 summit meetings since the inception of the GCC in 1981.
The sixteenth annual Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Heads-of-State Summit was held in Muscat, Oman, December 3-5, 1995. A wide range of needs and interests of the six Council members-Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)-was addressed. First-time observers and the media concentrated on the absence of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd for health reasons and on Qatar's absence from the closing session because of the way the Summit elected the GCC's new secretary -general, H.B. Jamil Ibrahim Al-Hujayla of Saudi Arabia.
These two incidents made for interesting commentary outside the region, but they were hardly momentous. Neither called into question the GCC's near-term or future viability. While Qatar's unprecedented behavior at the end was irksome [its representative walked out, it paled in comparison with the number and kinds of flareups and embarrassments that the GCC and other Arab countries have experienced within the Arab League.
For those whose interests are affected by whether a GCC summit reflects change or steadfastness, this report provides context for the summit's achievements. Appended to the report is a description of what ordinarily transpires as a result of advance preparation for a GCC summit:, agendas, process, decision making and follow-up.
Special care has been taken to convey a range of viewpoints expressed to me by officials of and advisers to the governments of individual GCC countries and the Secretariat. Many of these viewpoints are seldom reflected in the Western literature on what the GCC countries would likely do or not do in relation to various defense, economic and foreign policy scenarios. In several instances, the insights and indications imbedded in such viewpoints reflect perspectives that are at variance with conventional American thinking. For that reason, they need to be considered in conjunction with any planning and implementation of U.S. policies and positions toward the GCC region.
STRATEGIC ISSUES I: BORDERS
A prominent feature of the previous summit's conclusion in Bahrain was outgoing GCC Supreme Council Chairman King Fahd's challenge to his colleagues to exert their utmost effort to resolve as many intra-GCC border disputes as possible before the Muscat Summit. In this regard, major progress was achieved between Oman and Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE, and between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. With all but a few minor touches remaining to be incorporated into Oman's border agreements with the UAE-involving mere meters in dispute in the village of Dibba, which Oman shares with the UAE emirate of Sharjah on the Musandam Peninsula-the Sultanate is likely to be the first GCC country to have fully demarcated borders with all of its GCC neighbors.
In August 1995, Oman and Saudi Arabia agreed to the last remaining territorial issues in dispute between them, with the Sultanate conceding a few meters to the kingdom. Earlier, Oman had relinquished to Yemen its claim to disputed territory near Yemen's easternmost, and Oman's southwestern-most, border. As one of the Sultanate's ministers put it, "Our rationale for adopting such a conciliatory stance toward Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Yemen is strategic. It is in our interests that there be a keen sense of 'us-ness' in the relationships we have with our most immediate neighbors."
In the wake of the governmental change in Qatar in mid-year, an Omani official informed me that a mild detente had been reached prior to the summit between Saudi Arabia and Qatar over that part of their border which had been the cause of dispute and even armed clashes in the past two years. He gave partial credit for the achievement to pre-summit, behind-the-scenes mediation and diplomacy orchestrated by Sultan Qaboos of Oman.
However, a potentially more complex border issue between these two countries may be in the offing as Saudi Arabia proceeds to develop the Shaybah oil field, most of which lies in Saudi territory and a small portion in Abu Dhabi. By agreement between Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia in 1974, the party developing the majority of the field, in this case Saudi Arabia, has the right to own the field in its entirety and to have the full financial benefit of its development. Once the field is ready for production and export, Saudi Aramco intends to send the crude through a pipeline yet to be built that will link up with existing Saudi Arabian facilities at Abqaiq. From there, it would be sent northward to terminals within the Kingdom at Ras Tanura or Juaymah. Whether the implementation of such plans could involve a heightened Saudi security presence in the area of Qatar is a matter of some concern to various Qatari officials.
Despite the significant breakthroughs of the past year, progress on other longer-standing border disputes continues to lag. The main case in point remains the more contentious and multifaceted border dispute between Bahrain and Qatar. Even so, this summit brought the Bahraini and Qatari heads of state and their foreign ministers together privately for more than two-hours, their longest talks in quite some time.
The UAE's territorial dispute with Iran over three islands claimed by two UAE emirates-Ras Al-Khaimah and Sharjah-is a matter of an altogether different nature. The discrepancy between the two countries' populations-60 to one in favor of Iran rules out any realistic UAE resort to force as a means of rolling back Iran's occupation and fortification of Abu Musa Island, the larger of the three territories in dispute and the one claimed by Sharjah. In the past several years, Tehran has imposed de facto total sovereignty over Abu Musa, taking over the island's administration and building missile sites.
The UAE has repeatedly called for dialogue or other peaceful, legal and diplomatic efforts as a means of resolving the dispute. Specific UAE suggestions have been to refer the issue to the International Court of Justice in the Hague or to a bipartite commission, such as the one that settled the border dispute between Oman and Yemen. Thus far, Iran has refused to consider either suggestion.
Tehran has, moreover, adamantly refused to agree that the key issue from the UAE side-sovereignty over all three of the islands-ought to be a legitimate item for discussion. The most recent effort to settle the matter through third-party mediation occurred on the eve of the Muscat summit at a meeting of the two sides representatives in Doha, Qatar. However, that effort, like all the others to date, foundered over Iran's continued refusal to show any flexibility on the sovereignty question.
The effort to demarcate Kuwait's border with Iraq registered progress in the past year in terms of U.N. involvement but remains a matter of pan-GCC concern. On the one hand, leaders in the GCC countries acknowledge the unprecedented historical significance of the Kuwait-Iraq border's being demarcated and guaranteed by an international organization's key decision-making body, i.e., the U.N. Security Council. On the other hand, many GCC leaders believe that the overall atmosphere regarding, the border between the two sides is so unhealthy as to signal the strong likelihood, if not certainty, of an Iraqi attempt to alter the status quo at the first opportunity. Unless the situation changes, the fear 1s that the seeds sown by the U.N. solution in favor of Kuwait are already ripening in such a way that it is only a matter of time before Iraq will challenge the border again. Such an act would risk setting in motion a possible renewal of the 1990-1991 conflagration, which no one in the region-Kuwaitis their fellow GCC members, and a great many Iraqis-wishes to see repeated.
Some of Kuwait's GCC colleagues are troubled by their perception that Kuwait seems to endorse a Maginot Line or Berlin Wall approach to its border with Iraq. Kuwait s critics argue that neighbors who do not communicate with one another in a continuing search for common ground will likely have little inclination to behave toward one another in a neighborly manner. Kuwaitis find such views patronizing and lacking in empathy for the trauma that they continue to feel as a result of the horrors of Iraq's invasion and occupation. Non-Kuwaitis counter that this is all the more reason for Kuwaitis to redouble their efforts to put the past behind them in the interests of the pressing demands of the present and the future, i.e., when the sanctions against Iraq are lifted.
The inability of the GCC members to resolve all of their border disputes continues to have a direct impact on the nature and extent of their cooperation on -GCC defense matters. This is not to overlook, however, the following: the pan-GCC military exercises in the UAE in 1983, in Kuwait in 1984, and in Oman in 1987; the establishment in 1984 of Peninsula Shield, a symbolic joint force combining units of all six countries at Hafr Al-Batin, in Saudi Arabia; the annual meetings between the armed-forces chiefs of staff and ministers of defense since the GCC's inception; and the bilateral, trilateral and multilateral exercises between various GCC countries and the United States, Great Britain and France.
Additional accomplishments include the GCC countries' inviting Egyptian and Syrian senior officers to observe some of the GCC's joint military exercises; the signing by five GCC countries of Defense Cooperation Agreements (DCAs) with the United States and similar cooperative undertakings with Great Britain, France and Russia; the implementation of agreements to pre-position U.S. military equipment as a contingency to prevent a conflict or defend against one that has begun; the purchase, primarily by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, of significant amounts of advanced weaponry and defense systems; and the highest level of cooperation in the history of American involvement in the region in such matters as information sharing, joint training and familiarization visits among senior staff.
No one denies that each of these elements of progress is part of a long-term effort to build a credible system of deterrence and defense. Neither does anyone deny the immense importance of the U.S.-GCC consensus reached on the following strategic essentials: coalition building, the necessity of U.S. power-projection capabilities and a forward presence, the frequency of combined exercises, and the maintenance of U.S. security-assistance programs as well as a readiness to fight.
Yet, despite these achievements, a range of pressing defense needs has moved far more slowly toward a satisfactory resolution. Some of these needs are specific to one or more of the GCC countries. Among the remaining challenges to resolving satisfactorily pan-GCC defense needs are (1) the still skeletal structure of the six countries' joint defense force; (2) a timetable and other specifics related to the GCC members' commitment to expand the force's numbers from 10,000 to 25,000; (3) the UAE's long-delayed decisions on major weapons procurement; (4) the diminished financial ability of some customers to pay for purchases already committed to; and (5) in the eyes of some advisers to the GCC members' defense establishments. the questionable validity of various regional-security threat assessments being pressed upon the GCC countries by their allies, especially the United States.
Driving much of the pan-GCC concern about defense matters are economic issues need and affordability, questionable priorities regarding the allocation of scarce financial resources, and the fact that the boom period of the 1970s, when major defense purchases went largely unchallenged, is long since gone and unlikely to return again m the foreseeable future.
Various GCC leaders also acknowledge that the financial demands to meet their national and collective defense requirements are being increasingly questioned by local critics on the following grounds: (1) the purchase of expensive arms and defense systems is perceived as siphoning away an inordinate amount of the countries' wealth to foreign states and corporations whose interests are not always the same as those of the GCC members, and (2) a belief that the enormous amounts of arms purchased in the 1970s and 1980s went largely unused by the United States and other Allied Coalition forces in reversing Iraq s aggression against Kuwait.
A more pervasive reason expressed to me by several GCC policy formulators is that the United States, as the world's sole superpower and a country heavily' dependent upon the continued free flow of oil from the Gulf, may be overstating the nature and extent of perceived threats to regional security. To paraphrase the words of one among several leaders who expressed this view, American military leaders are being disingenuous if they expect the GCC countries to believe that unless they purchase massive amounts of American equipment, Washington will grow weary and wary and perhaps consider withdrawing its commitment to ensure Gulf security for the foreseeable future.
Giving these viewpoints further salience in the eyes of many among the GCC countries' _political elites is the fact that the Iran-Iraq War and the 1990-1991 Kuwait crisis hit all six GCC members with a level of unexpected expense that is without a parallel in their history. They are still trying to recover. In addition, their chief source of revenue, petroleum, remains tied to the U.S. dollar for strategic economic reasons. The continued linkage is not cost-free. Because of the dollar's continuing fluctuation against other international currencies, not to mention the U.S. government's mounting fiscal difficulties, the GCC countries' coffers-and the best efforts of their economic and defense planners-are often adversely affected by U.S.-related factors over which they have no control and little influence.
Strategy versus Tactics
GCC-U:S. differences in appreciation of strategic and tactical imperatives drive such points further home. From a U.S. view, Iraq's threat to Kuwait in October 1994 required a response of an entirely different nature than the U.S. and other international reaction to the Iraqi buildup against Kuwait in late July. 1990. In 1994, from a U.S. strategic mobilization , American credibility turned heavily on decisiveness and speed of mobilization and deployment.
The views of U.S. and GCC officials who spoke to this writer about Operation Vigilant Warrior offer interesting contrasts in terms of perspective and analysis. U.S. leaders involved in the Operation emphasize that a dynamic interplay of several complex factors, some occurring simultaneously and others in rapid sequence, resulted in the U.S.-led coalition response that deterred Iraq from attacking. First, according to a senior official, there was the period, spanning fourteen consecutive days beginning in late September, when
...Baghdad intensified its denunciations of U.N. sanctions and escalated anti-American, anti-coalition and anti-Kuwait rhetoric. Then, towards the end of this period, Iraq mobilized and deployed large numbers of forces, uploaded ammunition, and increased the readiness of its air defenses to levels not seen since the end of the conflict in 1991. By October sixth, two Iraqi Republican Guard Divisions were headed toward assembly areas south of the Euphrates.
With these reinforcements, Iraq could threaten Kuwait with eight divisions, their lead brigades being positioned a mere fifteen miles from Kuwait City. Opposing Iraq's military was a relatively small package of coalition air, ground and naval forces. Given initial Iraqi advantages, the Iraqi military was capable of rapidly seizing Kuwait City and continuing its attack into northern Saudi Arabia. Collectively, these indicators provided unambiguous warning of impending hostilities. Subsequent American and coalition air, ground and naval deployments were designed to block and defeat such an attack....
We now know from various intelligence sources that Saddam did intend to attack and that it was the joint and combined make-up of the force deployments that deterred him from attacking. Moreover, on the matter of consultation, U.S. military and American embassy personnel, throughout the period in question, were in close contact with regional leaders, sharing intelligence, informing them of the threat, and working with them to devise appropriate responses.
Despite the strategic successes of the operation, the perspectives of GCC analysts, facing the same October 1994 threat, were in some cases quite different One cabinet-level official asked me, "Are we expected to accept that the United States seriously thought that Saddam Hussein, after all his country has gone through and continues to suffer, with no end in sight, would really try to invade Kuwait again?" Another asked,
U.S. strategic and domestic considerations of the moment aside, wouldn't the deployment of a single U.S. military unit inside southern Iraq have served the same purpose to deter Saddam from going any further and thereby saved everyone a lot of expense and needless anxiety?
At the end of the day, Washington presented us with an enormous bill for covering the operation's costs. Given the struggle that all of us are facing with our budgetary deficits, now into their twelfth consecutive year, the massive U.S. deployment and the amount we were billed for it could not have occurred at a worse time.
On the somewhat different matter of U.S. unilateral policy initiatives toward Iran, similar discordant views were expressed to me by officials of the three lower-Gulf GCC countries, for whom the greater threat to regional security is not Iraq but Iran. The comments of one, whose views closely paralleled those of others who spoke their minds on the matter, merit citing in full.
Given the length of our general defense cooperation over the past decade and a half, one wonders what lessons our American partners have learned regarding the sensitivity of our leaders and even ordinary people as to how we and our strategic partners relate to our biggest and most powerful neighbor, Iran. As all of us border Iran, we have no choice but to find some way to get along with it One would think this would translate into Washington's taking our views into consideration whenever it considers confronting or dramatically changing any of its policies toward Tehran. However, when the Clinton administration announced its unilateral embargo against Iran this past spring, we were not consulted.
What would be the reaction of Americans-the executive branch, Congress and the media, if we were to declare unilaterally that we had severed all economic ties with Canada or Mexico and that elements within our government were seriously considering punitive actions against those who failed to follow suit?
As it is, even 15 years after the fact, we are still trying to live down the consequences of Washington's refusal in 1980 to obtain permission to use our facilities for invading Iran in an effort to free the American hostages. Perhaps most U.S. officials have forgotten, but many here still remember. I hope I've made my point.
The views of individuals such as these, who work the issues on a day-to-day basis and are in touch with popular sentiments, are by no means monolithic. Neither do they necessarily represent the views of their heads of state or their defense and foreign ministers. The adversarial or negative tone of such views is partially offset by more senior officials, many of whom are quick to acknowledge the strategic logic of a role differentiation between the United States and the GCC countries on matters pertaining not only to Iran and Iraq but to other issues as well (e.g., burden sharing, coalition building, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, etc.).
At the highest levels of national leadership within the six GCC countries, there is broad agreement that a superpower such as the United States, and to a lesser extent France, Great Britain, Russia and China, performs an important role in helping to deter would-be aggressors or intimidators in Baghdad and Tehran. Moreover, notwithstanding the misgivings of many about the unilateral U.S. embargo against Iran, on the one hand, and the reservations of some GCC leaders regarding Washington's and London's adamancy that Iraq be made to comply fully with U.N. Security Council resolutions stemming from its aggression against Kuwait, on the other, various GCC leaders acknowledge that the end result-a deterred Iraq and Iran-is in their strategic interest.
As one official put it,
Washington's role-to thwart the expansionist or hegemonic aspirations of Baghdad and Tehran-is one that, unaided, we would not be able to accomplish. In our joint efforts to strengthen regional security, the United States has no choice but to remain present and engaged with our defense forces. Our task necessitates a somewhat different approach. Being neighbors of two countries that in the past decade and a half have threatened our security, it is to moderate and mediate the U.S. and other allied roles. At the end of the day, our respective roles complement each other.
Most U.S. defense and foreign-policy planners seem to realize that more and more GCC Arabs are questioning the underlying rationale for current U.S. Gulf defense policies. As the situation is not as clear cut as it seemed to be in the immediate aftermath of Operation Desert Storm, the strategic window of opportunity for hammering out additional defense cooperation agreements and informal memoranda of understanding may be rapidly closing. If evidence of this trend is needed, one, in the realm of political-military affairs, was provided by three UAE nationals who follow the GCC region's foreign-policy dynamics closely. All three expressed what they claimed was their own and many of their colleagues resentment at perceived U.S. strong-arm tactics designed to pressure their government into implementing a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).
The need for the United States to manifest an appropriate degree of sensitivity to the controversial nature of these unprecedented undertakings in certain GCC countries, in the eyes of these informants, remains of paramount importance. Behind GCC critics' concerns over this issue is their knowledge of how such agreements fanned the flames of anti-Americanism in pre-revolutionary Iran and Libya. Similar tensions embedded in the same kinds of agreements came close to exploding in recent months in Okinawa. Several GCC countries' leaders expressed the view that U.S. insistence on having its views prevail in matters of such sensitivity to the host country could easily jeopardize the trust, intimacy and confidence-key factors in effective defense cooperation- between two countries.
A related criticism was that U.S. regional-security threat assessments are understandably tailored to serve U.S. strategic, economic and corporate interests, but of questionable validity if measured against the yardstick of GCC national, regional and intra-regional interests. Examples cited relate to the transparent U.S. interest in having the GCC states assist the United States economically in snoring up the American military-industrial complex, in extending the life of production runs and lowering the per-unit costs of key defense items, m buoying the profitability of U.S. arms manufacturers, and in pressing the GCC militaries to purchase expensive manpower- and maintenance-intensive defense equipment when smaller, less expensive and more easily maintained and interoperable equipment would likely suffice to meet the kinds of threats that many GCC leaders envision as realistic.
U.S. critics are often quick to dismiss such views as naive and ill-informed. One such individual commented,
No one is downplaying the impact of domestic sentiments on foreign policy. This is something with which both sides have to contend. The GCC countries need for us to do certain things a certain way and for us to avoid doing certain other things that, in their culture, would be offensive if not explosive. Likewise, if we're to succeed in making the region more secure for the future, we need for these countries to do certain things a certain way and to avoid doing other things that could prevent our objectives from being achieved.
The U.S. decision to adopt and implement a policy of high-level and broad-based engagement in pursuit of Gulf security was bound to be and will likely remain controversial in the eyes of Iran and Iraq. The decision, however, needs to be viewed in context and compared to the previous much lower-key over-the-horizon approach of the 1980s. The decision was driven by the strategic need to ensure that neither Baghdad nor Tehran entertains any illusions or doubts with regard to U.S. intentions. It was designed to convey the magnitude and seriousness of our commitment to do whatever is necessary to ensure the Gulf against future international conflict. And it was made in close concert with the extensive input and comment of the GCC countries themselves, whose goals, if not always the preferred means, are the same as ours.
Within the GCC region, the strategic wisdom of such formulations is disputed less than its practical implications. In this regard, more than one GCC analyst pointed out that it is often the patronizing, condescending, and at times seemingly heavy-handed manner of the senior partner that unnecessarily offends and demeans the junior member in a relationship. Several GCC countries' representatives wondered whether the United States was sufficiently aware of these and other factors behind the mounting hesitancy of some UAE leaders to purchase a significant number of advanced U.S. fighter aircraft, helicopters and/or naval vessels.
Such discrepancies in analysis and viewpoint between a superpower and a smaller power are natural. They flow from the different foreign policy interests that characterize the United States, other allied nations and each of the GCC countries involved. It is natural for the United States to give prime consideration to viewing Gulf defense requirements from within a strategic context such as the necessity of being able to fight two regional conflicts simultaneously. Such a context is at once global and regional in perspective. It is also influenced by American domestic politics, which continue to weigh in, sometimes heavily, on practically any matter regarding U.S. military relationships with Arab and Islamic countries.
It is equally natural that the GCC governments and citizens consider in their viewpoints and decision making processes factors that do not apply to an American formulated equation. Why and how GCC leaders feel they have little choice but to relate differently than others to Iran and Iraq is rooted in the understandably and inevitably different perspectives of their national, regional, and intra-regional interests.
In sum, U.S. and GCC interests are more convergent than divergent. Resolving, ameliorating, or in some cases merely managing the divergences effectively is inherent in the challenge that both sides continually face in the effort to build and sustain a more credible regional system of deterrence and defense.
Summit participants acknowledged the need to strengthen their cooperation on ways to combat terrorism and other forms of politically inspired violence and noted the series of violent acts since the last summit: the attempted assassinations of Egyptian President Husni Mubarak and Lebanese President Elias Hrawi, as well as the continued instability and violence in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, and the West Bank and Gaza.
At the previous year's summit in Bahrain, no one spoke more pointedly and forcefully about this subject than Oman's Sultan Qaboos, who condemned in the strongest possible terms the regional rise in militancy, extremism and fanaticism cloaked in the guise of religion. He also served notice that the GCC leaders would not tolerate those who, in espousing radical alternatives to the existing systems of government, would sow chaos and havoc among the most peaceful and prosperous countries in the developing world.
There was even more concern with this subject this year than last, illustrating how seriously the GCC leaders view the phenomenon. No one doubted the reason. The summit convened barely two weeks after an unprecedented bomb explosion at a key facility of the Saudi Arabian National Guard in Riyadh, after the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin, and amidst threats by opposition leaders in Bahrain to engage in mass demonstrations against the government if prisoners still being held as a result of arrests linked to political protests over the past year were not released.
During this year's summit, the GCC leaders backed up their commitment to counter such threats to the member countries by a show of force in support of Bahrain. Before the summit had ended, members of elite Saudi Arabian National Guard units had begun setting up camp near the causeway linking the island state and Saudi Arabia. Such a move was intended to confront any disturbance during Bahrain's December 16 National Day festivities, when demonstrations and civil protests were threatened to take place. These did occur, but not on the scale envisioned. The Kingdom's move to support Bahrain came under the aegis of the December 1981 Bahrain-Saudi Arabia Security Agreement. A nearly identical 1992 agreement exists between Riyadh and all the other GCC countries except Kuwait. In addition, a pan-GCC security agreement designed to deal with similar contingencies has been in place for several years.
The GCC leaders are intent on conveying the maximum support for Bahrain's increasingly difficult challenge of dealing effectively with a well-organized opposition movement, fueled primarily by a growing number of unemployed whose economic and political prospects are bleak. In a breakthrough of sorts, Kuwait made a serious offer at the summit to absorb as many of Bahrain's qualified, currently unemployed citizens as possible.
The dissidents' denials notwithstanding, it is also true that for some time their activities have been abetted by Iran. Of interest, however, is that the exceptional intimacy between Bahrain and the United States in the field of defense cooperation has thus far not been an issue among the dissidents.
In informal side meetings, participants also discussed the recent bombing of a Saudi Arabian National Guard facility in Riyadh. The summit host, Oman, places extraordinary strategic importance on its close ties to Saudi Arabia, which accounts for the strong support given the Kingdom as it wrestles with its own brand of domestic terrorism, some of which is encouraged by outside forces, as in Bahrain and Oman.
Prominent in the Kingdom's approach to such matters is the array of new talent that has been infused into the country's Council of Ministers and civil service in recent months. One non-Saudi Arabian after another at the summit remarked to me how impressive they consider the depth and breadth of indigenous Saudi talent, which exceeds the core of professionals of the other five GCC countries combined. Neither was it lost on anyone that Saudi Arabia did not arrive at this position overnight. It was a result of the Kingdom's strategic decision in the 1960s, during the reign of the late King Faisal, to commit the maximum resources possible to educating and training the coming generation to be the country's leaders.
In private asides, more than one non-Saudi Arabian expressed concern about the Kingdom's domestic situation regarding the government's relationship with the country's radical extremists. Most GCC analysts acknowledge the historical antecedents of the phenomenon, i.e., the late King Faisal's placement of large numbers of conservative leaders close to the religious establishment in positions of importance to counter the radical Arab nationalist trends of the 1960s.
Awareness of background to the current situation, GCC leaders acknowledged, is one thing; having a strategy in hand to confront the dangers that the situation represents is quite another. In the present context, none offered an easy answer to the challenge that radical Saudi Arabians professing religious ideals represent in the quite profoundly different circumstances confronting the Kingdom in the mid-1990s.
As a result, in the year since the last summit, the concerns of various GCC leaders have deepened. A common theme is apprehension about what could happen if the Kingdom is unable to rein in the extremist activities of its fringe groups. The fear is that radical individuals and groups elsewhere in the region may interpret the perceived Saudi tolerance of the challenge these groups represent as a license to accelerate their own efforts to infiltrate or otherwise influence the state apparatus of other GCC governments.
STRATEGIC ISSUES II: ECONOMIC COOPERATION
The principals also reviewed the implications of various global and regional economic trends. The emphasis was on further steps necessary to keep abreast and if possible ahead of the at times dizzying pace at which such new and potentially formidable trading blocs as NAFTA, APEC and the WTO are being formed.
The Nature of the Challenge
Among the more topical issues raised for discussion were joint ventures, standardization, privatization, human-resource development, job creation, localization of the work force, procurement policies, easing of travel and transportation among the GCC countries, enhancing the movement and exchange of goods, services and labor, and reciprocal professional accreditation (e.g., among lawyers, accountants, engineers, et al.), as well as consideration of specific issues in the energy, agriculture, manufacturing, water, electricity, industrial and telecommunications sectors.
To a greater extent than at any of the previous summits, certain economic and business issues received special emphasis. lo addition to privatization-a new buzzword in the lexicon of all GCC economists and planners-these included the creation and strengthening of stock and other capital markets, the need to deal more effectively with the member governments' recurring budgetary deficits, and the challenge of attracting ever-greater percentages of the GCC citizenries' immense private-sector liquidity (most of which is invested abroad) back home and into the member states' national development processes. Equal attention was devoted to the need to forge firmer foundations in the area of trade, investment, technology cooperation and joint commercial ventures with their major trading partners.
For all their good fortune in possessing fully half of the planet's proven hydrocarbon energy resources and the cheapest "production" costs of such resources anywhere in the world, many GCC countries planners acknowledge that, from the twin perspectives of national development and intra-GCC economic cooperation, the GCC countries remain collectively haunted by the continuing weakness of their non-oil sectors. To be sure, in its first 15 years the GCC has made significant progress in developing intra-GCC commerce. From a beginning low of barely 3 percent of their total GDP coming from their trade with one another, the level has steadily climbed to between four and five times that figure.
However, insiders who work the issues on a day-to-day basis acknowledge that further significant growth in this direction in the near future is unlikely for several reasons. For example, the nature and orientation of the six countries' economies are still more duplicative and competitive than complementary. More specifically, the major customers for the GCC countries' exports continue to be not each other, but the energy consuming markets of Asia, Europe and America.
This trend is likely to continue until the oil runs dry or until substantial economic diversification has taken place in the GCC. But the latter goal remains thwarted because the immense private wealth in the region continues to find far more lucrative investment opportunities abroad than at home. How to reverse these trends, i.e., how to devise a system of rewards sufficient to persuade their respective private sectors to invest more m national development enterprises is one of the greatest economic challenges facing the GCC countries.
The International Dimension
The GCC's ongoing economic dialogue with the European Union (EU) was also emphasized. The dialogue is older, much more developed. and far more structured and focused than the GCC's discussions with Japan and the United States. Highlights were the GCC's ongoing meetings with EU officials in Brussels, the most recent GCC-EU industrial dialogue in Grenada (the sixth such meeting-to date, while there have been no such dialogues with the United States or any other countries), and the upcoming GCC meetings with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials m Vienna.
Far less comment was devoted to the GCC-U.S. Economic Dialogue. This, in part, in the eyes of many in the GCC region, is a reflection of how far behind the United States, m comparison with Europe and Japan, remains in its commitment and dedication of resources to cultivating the GCC market.
Although many Americans will dispute such an assessment, arguing that the United States ranks either in first place or no lower than the top five among the trading partners of all six GCC countries, the counter view holds that the annual value of EU exports to the GCC countries is nearly double that of the United States, and Wowing, at America's expense; four out of every five GCC purchases of foreign items are goods and services that are not American, and time and distance considerations often make doing business with the United States significantly more expensive than with an EU country. Finally, the U.S. government, in the eyes of GCC business leaders, continues to impose barriers (e.g., tax, licensing and other legal requirements), which preclude increased U.S.-GCC business relationships.
Admittedly, the United States dwarfs all others in two key facets of its relations with the GCC countries: energy and defense. Here they are as strong as, if not stronger than, they have ever been. However, the non-oil private-sector dimension of the GCC-U.S. relationship is not nearly as strong.
No GCC or U.S. leader denies that the foreign competition for winning and retaining GCC business is intense. For one thing, America's competitors are free of almost all the technical and legal shackles that hamper U.S. efforts to capture and maintain a growing share of the GCC countries' markets. Second, U.S. competitors benefit considerably from an array of their governments' financial support packages that, in the case of the United States, are either illegal or politically and ethically unpalatable.
Finally, increasing numbers of GCC analysts are of the view that it is unwise for any country as dependent upon the GCC region as the United States to place such a large percentage of its long-term planning eggs in the GCC's energy and regional security baskets. Admittedly, from a strategic, economic and political point of view, these are the big-ticket items. Moreover, in a post-Cold-War era where the United States is the world's sole superpower, it has little choice but to remain focused on the grand strategic constants and variables that determine whether the region is at peace or in conflict.
The British, Dutch, French, Japanese and others, however, are relatively unencumbered by such constraints. In most any Gulf geopolitical or security calculus, they can afford to and almost always do act tactically. It 1s not that anyone m the GCC would prefer the United States to lessen its concentration on strategic issues. Rather, it is to suggest that the overwhelming focus on such matters by the United States risks neglecting appropriate emphasis on other aspects of the relationship. These aspects, over the longer term, can be just as key to building and sustaining a more well-rounded and mutually beneficial relationship.
MAJOR FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES
Many analysts fail to understand why the GCC countries have continued to place their unfinished business with Iraq at the top of their annual foreign-policy priorities for the past five years. Iraq is hardly the threat it was before, and a growing number of GCC Arabs are increasingly concerned about how the repeated extension of the U.N. mandated sanctions against Iraq is hurting the Iraqi people. But, although various GCC leaders have expressed sympathy for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, there is not a fundamental weakening of the GCC countries' resolve with regard to insisting that Iraq be made to comply fully with the U.N.-mandated sanctions.
Something different and far more profound lies behind the GCC heads of states’ reasoning on this issue. In deciding a course of action in a pan-GCC context that will assist their respective interests, each GCC member places itself empathetically in the shoes of a fellow member who has been aggrieved by a non-GCC country. In such a context, the overriding consideration is that all due support and benefit of the doubt be given to the victim as the victim states its case to the other five GCC members. Failure to do anything less, or professing to be neutral, would, in GCC eyes, be the worst possible position to adopt. Accordingly, GCC members are collectively opposed to a position of neutrality, lest the same thing happen to them were they to call for help against an aggressor.
There is no possible reason for the GCC country to want to jeopardize, even if only potentially, the unqualified support of its fellow GCC members and other Arab allies vis-a-vis such a future contingency. No GCC member country wishes to see such a precedent established, living in the shadow of two overwhelmingly stronger neighbors, Iraq and Iran. From the perspective of their own national interests, needs, and concerns, the GCC countries have no difficulty placing themselves in Kuwait's shoes.
Behind their continued hard-line support for Kuwait are several considerations. First, virtually every single GCC leader 1s appalled by the lack of any serious, good faith effort by Iraq to address such issues as compensation for Iraq's aggression against Kuwait, repatriation of the Kuwaiti and other nationals that the Baghdad regime continues to hold hostage in Iraq, and return of the vast amounts of scientific data and equipment and priceless Arab and Islamic cultural artifacts that Iraqi soldiers looted from Kuwait and carted off to Baghdad during the occupation of Kuwait.
Second, Baghdad's compliance with U.N. resolutions relating to the dismantling of Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction programs, equipment and facilities continues to be unacceptable, prompting GCC representatives to note how negative and in some cases intimidating Iraq's behavior appears to its GCC neighbors. Any softening of their r solve on this issue risks sending the worst possible message to Baghdad and potentially to Iran.
Third, leaders in the GCC countries continue to believe, as do many Americans, that the lessons learned from the 1990-91 Kuwait crisis are fundamental and far-reaching, especially in view of the quest for establishing a post-Cold-War international order. The GCC countries, in their own self-interest, seek a semblance of the same kind of security and predictability that characterized much of the world's inter-state relations, including those in the Gulf region, from the late 1940s until the mid-1980s.
In this context, it is of transcendent importance to the GCC countries that there be no weakening of international resolve regarding the basic principles imbedded in U.N. resolutions adopted in response to Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait. "After all," as one GCC country's minister put it, "the sanctions are upholding U.N.-approved, legitimate and non-violent means of forcing Iraq to comply with the will of the world's most important international organization. Who, in all seriousness and with an eye to the consequences, would argue to the contrary, i.e., that the Iraqi regime not be held accountable for violating its neighbor's internationally recognized rights to national sovereignty, political independence, and territorial sovereignty?"
As another GCC country's analyst explained it,
The course that was set and outlined in the U.N. resolutions of 1990 and 1991 was unanimously agreed to by the U.N. Security Council members. The frustrations in not seeing the sanctions produce the desired results to date is hardly a reason for switching to a different policy of appeasing and rewarding Iraq for its having been successful in consistently lying to and defying the United Nations so as to avoid compliance.
We see no reason to abandon the strategy behind the policy. Instead, we feel an appropriate course of action was charted by the navigators responsible for the resolutions. Don't forget the legitimate and non-violent objectives of these resolutions: the provision of compensation to the victims of Iraq's invasion and the prevention of a recurrence of Iraqi aggressive actions in the future.
Critics who claim that the policy is responsible for causing hardships to thousands of innocent Iraqi people are technically correct, but misleading. Any informed observer will acknowledge that we ensured that very specific arrangements were provided to alleviate any and all humanitarian and related needs to the Iraqi people. Moreover, specialists are aware that Oman, during its two-year tenure on the U.N. Security Council, worked as hard as any country to ensure that practical ways of meeting the Iraqi people's legitimate humanitarian needs were put into place.
In sum, any lessening of international resolve on an issue of such global importance to the system of international relations being fashioned for the future would, in the view of many GCC leaders, have potentially disastrous consequences for their hopes of being able to forge a credible system supportive of regional peace, security and stability.
Many observers at the summit had difficulty understanding why Iraq overshadowed Iran as the top priority on the GCC's agenda. They argued that Iraq s ability to pose a serious threat to the GCC in the short run pales when compared to Iran's. Moreover, they pointed out that while Iraq is under international surveillance, inspection and control, Iran, which borders all six GCC countries, has tens of thousands of its citizens working in several GCC countries and is only under surveillance-mainly by the United States. In singling out Iran for special attention, each GCC member recognizes that one day it, too, could find itself in a situation vis-a-vis Iran similar to that of the UAE-in a dispute over territory or a disagreement about maritime boundaries.
Any effort to contest such a dispute would pit the vastly under-manned and under-armed defense forces of the GCC countries against the overwhelmingly greater power represented by Iran's much larger population-at 60 million, more than twice that of the entire GCC-and its far more numerous and experienced armed forces. The latter, at just under 400,000 troops, are more than double the armed forces of all the GCC countries combined. To be left standing alone in such a potentially gross mismatch of strength is a plausible nightmare that each GCC country seeks to avoid. Recognizing that any one of them could fall prey. to Iranian territorial ambition at some point m the future, no GCC state wants to risk being unable to marshal the maximum intra-GCC support possible.
The UAE, as noted, faces Iranian occupation of three islands long claimed by UAE member states Ras Al-Khaimah and Sharjah, Iranian military fortification of the largest of those islands, the imposition of de facto Iranian sovereignty over all three of the islands, and repeated Iranian refusal to discuss the question of sovereignty over the islands. In wanting to avoid any escalation of the conflict, elementary prudence and strategic wisdom argue that the GCC, as a whole, strongly support the UAE case against Iran. The same considerations dictate that the GCC as a whole, like the UAE individually, seek to solve the dispute through dialogue and diplomacy rather than through resort to armed force, saber rattling or inflammatory statements.
The UAE, with the full support of its GCC colleagues, continues to enunciate the principles at stake. It is also determined that Iran's persistent refusal to discuss the substance of the dispute not come cost-free. The UAE insists on linking its own and the other GCC members' willingness to expand their relationships with Iran to Tehran's willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue aimed at settling the dispute peacefully.
Of all the GCC countries, Oman and Qatar are the two most keen to maintain dialogue and continuously search for common ground with potential adversaries such as Iran and Iraq as a means of persuading them to alter their policies. For this reason, throughout the summit, Oman and Qatar, except for supporting the UAE in the case of the disputed islands, refused to single out Iran by name.
A majority of the other GCC members, however, were willing to state their very specific fears vis-a-vis Iran's developing its nuclear program. Moreover, few denied that one of the GCC's main reasons for stepping up dialogue with the EU and its planned meetings with the IAEA in Vienna m 1996 is almost entirely related to concerns regarding Iran. The purpose is to explore ways of stopping the largely Europe based network that supplies Iran with much of its nuclear materials and technology.
Oman, as host and the key GCC policymaking and decision-making coordinator for most of 1996, succeeded m deleting certain pointed references to Iran. On the nuclear issue, for example, the final communique was oblique and subtle, i.e., it expressed reservations about Israel's failure to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its refusal to allow inspection of its nuclear facilities by the Vienna-based IAEA.
But such reservations were coupled with a much broader one which, the communique's bland language notwithstanding, left no doubt that the focus was on Iran. The GCC leaders' insisted that the Gulf region be made free of nuclear-weapons development programs by any country. In other words, a condemnation of Iran's nuclear program had been proposed and largely: agreed upon.
A second and less subtle way of advising Iran to change its ways if it harbors any hope of establishing and maintaining a relationship of trust and confidence with the GCC countries was the way terrorism was addressed. Here again, the members chose not to mention Iran by name. The GCC leaders condemned terrorism as a ruse by secular extremists to capture power by employing the rhetoric and other trappings of religion. In so doing, some observers thought that the GCC had in mind the extremists behind the recent string of violent events in Algeria and Egypt. To be sure, the GCC leaders sympathize with the efforts of the governments of those two countries to cope with religiously cloaked radicalism on their soil. However, the six countries' overriding concern was directed toward Iran.
A third device drove home the pan-GCC concern about Iran. A literalist would be unable to tease from the G C countries' very pointed statements of support for Bahram's efforts to contend with externally supported unrest that the remarks were aimed exclusively at Tehran. But, notwithstanding the severe economic problems that lie at the root of Bahrain's domestic unrest, many agree that Iran helped to provoke and sustain the repeated demonstrations against the Bahrain government by opposition groups during the past year.
The Middle East Peace Process
Following the GCC's establishment in May 1981, some analysts of Middle Eastern affairs foresaw that the GCC countries might seek to influence the perennially deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Arab-Israeli dispute. In a significant way, albeit other than as some might have preferred, these analysts were not disappointed. Saudi Arabia's then Crown Prince Fahd, with the backing of the leaders of the other GCC countries, was as forthright as any Arab head of state in tackling a key dimension of the conflict. Working m close consultation with Palestinian leaders, Fahd offered practical proposals for resolving the conflict peacefully through the creative use of politics and diplomacy.
Specialists have not forgotten that it was this intra-GCC strategic initiative-known first as the Fahd Plan and later as the Saudi Arabian Plan-which helped to bring about such dramatic transformations in the PLO's peace strategy from 1982 onwards. Few subsequent plans helped as much to point the PLO and ultimately the peace process in the direction that carried it forward from the Madrid Conference in 1991 to all the subsequent meetings between Palestinians and Israelis and Israelis and other Arabs. Indeed, with the possible exception of Egypt and Jordan, no other Arab country, or in the case of the GCC no other grouping of Arab countries working in concert, has persevered as assiduously and astutely from behind the scenes to nudge the peace process along the road to a settlement.
Against this background of concern for bringing one of the longest of the twentieth century's unresolved conflicts to an end, the GCC heads of state assessed the achievements of the peace process to date and the challenges that remain. Regarding the latter, they reviewed the unfinished business between and among the Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrians, including the continuation of Israeli policies that perpetuate Israeli occupation and deny Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian sovereignty.
In the past two years, the GCC and its member countries have taken several unprecedented steps to hell) the peace process continue along its forward-looking path. Among these have been Bahrain's, Qatar's and Oman's separate hostings of the first meetings between Israelis, Palestinians and others ever held in the Arabian Peninsula.
Only Egypt, Jordan and Morocco among the Arab countries have surpassed the GCC countries in their efforts to establish common ground among the participants in the conflict. The GCC countries stand second to none among Arabs and Muslims in their financial support for the Palestinian Authority. In September 1994 they decided to rescind their participation in the 40-year secondary and tertiary economic boycott of Israel. Oman hosted the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on December 24, 1994, and Qatar agreed to be the host for the 1997 Middle East/North Africa summit. The latter event will be one in a projected series of meetings between large numbers of Israelis, Arabs and others aimed at fostering greater regional economic and business cooperation.
Despite the GCC countries' proactive interest in and broad support for the Middle East peace process, their leaders retain reservations about the way m which issues of such great sensitivity as Jerusalem have been and are being handled by the Israelis and the principal sponsor of the peace process, the United States. GCC leaders and ordinary citizens alike are concerned by the way that Israel has continued to act in less than good faith on this and certain other contentious issues such as water sharing, Israel's insistence on the rights of its citizens to continue colonizing Palestinian land, refugees, security and borders.
Uncertainties regarding these issues lie behind the less than optimistic outlook of many about the prospects for an early end to this constraint in the GCC countries' relationships with other Arabs, not to mention their relations with the United States. Many GCC leaders believe that the obstacles yet to be overcome between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrians, both singly and collectively, are likely to require years of protracted effort by all the parties concerned.
U.S. and, to a far greater extent, Israeli domestic political posturing on sensitive peace-process issues will likely continue to make matters difficult for GCC leaders. It 1s probable that Israeli and U.S. policy on two questions-Jerusalem and the Israeli settlements on Palestinian and Syrian land, including extraterritorial Israeli legal control over the settlers, without the provision of reciprocal rights for Palestinians and Syrians inside Israel-will continue to fuel anti-Israeli and anti-American sentiments within the region.
On the eve of the Muscat summit, the United States, in the eyes of GCC leaders, did not stand tall vis-a-vis such issues. The United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Jerusalem that all of its allies and other members favored. The resolution merely condemned any and all Israeli actions that would impose demographic and administrative changes in the occupied territories. The veto increased to more than 40 the number of times that the United States, as de facto plea bargainer for Israel within the Security Council, has countermanded the democratic voting results of the Council's members. Historically, more than half the U.S. vetoes cast in the Security Council have been on issues affecting Israel.
In a related act that was difficult for America's GCC and other Arab and Muslim friends and allies to accept, the United States abstained from a vote calling on the members to refrain from locating their embassies in Jerusalem as long as portions of that city are under Israeli military and civil occupation. Worse yet, prior to the summit, Congress signaled its intent to force the United States to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in the next few years. That the Congress did so by an overwhelming vote was only one part of the concern expressed. That it did so without regard to what might be the status of the Middle East peace process at the time the policy would be implemented, and in stark contravention of longstanding U.S. policy on this question dating back to President Truman, was cause for even greater concern, especially as it seemed to have been done in deliberate defiance of the United Nations on this sensitive issue. Some asked how such U.S. actions could be reconciled with the notions of governmental accountability, a principle that the United States has increasingly incorporated into its dialogues with GCC and other developing countries' governments.
Weapons of Mass Destruction
The GCC countries' leaders are second to none in their concern over the potentially serious implications of escalating purchases and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). They want no part in this proliferation and spare few opportunities to underscore their vested interest in ensuring that their neighbors forgo the development and purchase of such weapons. In this regard, the GCC members' concern centers on Iraq and Iran. The continuing revelations about the extent of Iraq's ambitious WMD development program have been one prolonged wake-up call about the danger if such trends are allowed to go unchecked. Iraqi officials' repeated denials that such programs exist and their innumerable efforts to deceive U.N. and IAEA inspectors continue to have a chilling effect throughout the GCC region.
Equally disconcerting are the potential regional security implications of Iran's WMD program. Broad strategic agreement exists within the GCC that concern about Iran's capabilities and possible intentions is justified. However, there is less agreement on the best way to address the problem. GCC leaders have decided to press their European interlocutors on the matter since, apart from China, North Korea and Russia, Europe is among the main sources of nuclear technology, equipment and supplies for Iran. This concern also underlies the GCC's intent to open a dialogue with the IAEA.
The larger strategic goal is to slow, if not halt or bring under effective international supervision and control, the WMD proliferation among their neighbors. Short of that, they seek to ensure that other countries cannot conduct relations with the GCC states on a business-as-usual basis if, at the same time, they are abetting Iran's and Iraq's quest to become nuclear powers or chemical or biological intimidators.
In past GCC summits, a significant amount of attention was devoted to the pan-GCC sympathy for the agony of their coreligionists in the former Yugoslavia. However, in this summit, the atmosphere was different. One reason was because the Dayton accords had been hammered out among the disputants immediately prior to the Muscat meeting. It was also different because of the belated but welcomed effort by the United States to see that the Bosnian Muslims be allowed to exercise their rights to self-preservation through self-defense, albeit in concert with a largely American-led Allied Coalition.
The Damascus Declaration
The summit participants also reaffirmed their support for Egypt and Syria, their two most important non-GCC Arab allies. Many Westerners find more symbolism than substance in the GCC countries' relations with Cairo and Damascus. GCC leaders respond that such observers continue to read into the Damascus Declaration something that was never there, i.e., a formal commitment on the part of Egypt and Syria to participate in a system of regional security in the Gulf.
To be sure, early discussion of such possibilities occurred just after the declaration was promulgated in Damascus in March 1991. However, that discussion was very short-lived. The GCC is strongly in favor of forging greater informal defense cooperation with Egypt's and Syria's armed forces. Indeed, Egyptian and Syrian military observers attended the fall 1995 multilateral military maneuvers involving several GCC defense forces in Kuwait, which were designed to enhance their collective deterrence and defense capabilities.
The main thrust of the Damascus Declaration is not on regional defense. Rather, it is on enunciating ways to strengthen the strategic and geopolitical dimensions of the eight signatories respective interests. To this end, Egypt is seen as bringing significant demographic, political and defense assets to the calculus of GCC power and foreign-policy equations. Syria, in turn, brings impressive Arabist credentials to any regional forum, lends balance to the GCC's interests in the eastern Mediterranean and within the Arab League, and is viewed as an important geostrategic counterweight to its neighbor Iraq.
Other Arab Countries
In the period leading up to the summit, the subtext to putting the damage wrought by the 1990-91 Kuwait crisis behind the GCC countries as rapidly and effectively as possible was reconciliation within the broader Arab community. To this end, it was noted that Saudi Arabia's relations with Jordan and Yemen had improved substantially and that Kuwait's position vis-a-vis these two countries and the PLO, while still strained, showed signs that a reconciliation of sorts might not be too far distant.
Two LOOMING ISSUES
Qatar's Case for Itself and against the GCC
Qatar has embarked upon what is arguably the developing world's most ambitious, long-term, liquefied-natural-gas development scheme, aimed at fulfilling a 20-year market niche for assured customers, primarily in Asia, at a development cost approximating $20 billion. It remains locked in a three-part territorial dispute with Bahrain that slows GCC political, defense and foreign-policy momentum; and, in June 1995, there was a change in rulers, the first in the GCC's leadership structure since 1982, when Saudi Arabia's King Khalid died.
These factors exemplify Qatar's unique situation and provide context essential to understanding how Qatar has chosen to deal with the challenges that these phenomena pose. For example, Qataris are aware of the potentially dire implications inherent in the development of their gas reserves since the offshore field from which the reserves are to be exploited lies partly in Iranian waters. A potential reverse of the Kuwait-Iraq Rumaila Oil Field scenario (the reference is to a Kuwaiti oilfield that lies partly in Iraq, which Iraq cited as one of the reasons for its invasion of Kuwait in 1990) cannot be ruled out. In the future Iran could decide to employ a similar rationale for threatening Qatar, thereby posing a major challenge to the still-evolving system of Gulf security.
Qatar's proactive response to the possibility of such a scenario has been to weave as many interlocking benefits as possible between itself and Iran. The strategy is similar in many ways to "constructive engagement," which the United States and other countries employed to wean the apartheid regime in South Africa from its pariah status. The manifestations of this strategy include Qatar's offer to help finance the building of a trans-Gulf underwater pipeline that would carry sweet water from Iran's Karun River to Qatar to recharge its depleting aquifers; Qatar's hosting of a meeting between Iranian and UAE officials to mediate the territorial disputes between those two countries; and Doha's unilaterally asking the World Court in the Hague to intervene in its territorial dispute with Bahrain.
In a more generalized context, Qatar is viewed by its fellow GCC members as less of a team player and more of a go-it-alone actor who does not pay due regard to the other members' needs and sensitivities. Cases in point would be Qatar's policies vis-a-vis Iraq and Israel. Qatar's manner of dealing with Iraq and high-ranking Iraqi officials has at times been viewed as unseemly by other GCC members.
Qatar explains as strategically prudent its policy of engaging Iran by emphasizing the common ground that exists between the two countries. Iraq, too, is a Gulf country, its peoples are overwhelmingly Arabs and Muslims, there are close family ties between many Iraqis and Qataris, the day will come sooner rather than later when Iraq is reintegrated geopolitically into the regional scheme of things in the Gulf, etc. Qatar also admits to a strategic need to be on good terms with Iraq in the event that Iran were to threaten Qatar at some point in the future.
A similar mix of strategic and geopolitical imperatives drives Qatar's increasingly close relationship with Israel. Qatar was among the first GCC countries to hold private meetings with Israeli premier Shimon Peres and other Israeli officials; to host Israelis at one of the peace process's multilateral meetings in Doha; to explore the possibility of supplying Israel with natural gas; and to attempt to replace Egypt as the site for the 1996 Middle East Economic Summit, which brings Arabs, Israelis and others together to further regional economic and business ties.
Qataris defend their initiatives in these areas. They note that the region is in flux because of the end of the Cold War, the advent of the peace process, the formation of new economic and trading blocs, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the ascent of political violence, and other developments of potentially far-reaching significance to the GCC and other countries. Such times, many Qataris reason, call for breaking out of previous modes of thought and behavior.
Many Qataris believe that, in the matter of their territorial disputes with Bahrain, the deck is stacked in Bahrain's favor. Since the late 1980s, Saudi Arabia has been the principal mediator of the dispute and Qataris share a profound skepticism about Saudi Arabia's ability to be impartial in such a role. Qatar points to the territorial, resource sharing, business, financial, political and people-to-people relationships between Saudi Arabians and Bahrainis as evidence that the ties between Riyadh and Bahrain dwarf any comparable relationship of intimacy, trust and mutuality of benefit between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
An equally pronounced and similarly rooted discrepancy, Qataris are quick to emphasize, prevails between Qataris and Americans and between Bahrainis and Americans. ln searching for a way to level the playing field, Qatar astonished a great many people when it devised a three-fold strategy of simultaneously cultivating the United States, Israel and influential friends of Israel in the United States. Despite the controversial nature of its approach, Qataris have indicated to critics that they are not inclined to relinquish such a strategy, and the tactics that accompany it, without satisfactory compensation.
In addition to courting the support of Israelis and American supporters of Israel for key Qatari viewpoints, Doha has sought to ingratiate itself with U.S. political-military officials by quickly acceding to a U.S. need for additional sites to preposition American defense equipment in the region for future contingencies. Moreover, in a move that was interpreted by many as an act of one-upmanship vis-a-vis the other GCC countries, Qatar went further and announced that it would not only pay for the project, but would allow the United States to have an additional site in Qatar if it so desired.
Even Qatar's critics concede that the ghost of Machiavelli must be alive and well in Doha these days. Not only does each of the aforementioned strategies contain within it an almost airtight body of strategic and tactical logic, but each also has a fallback tier upon which to rely in the event the main stratagem fails. That is, backing up the pro-Iran stratagem is a pro-Iraq stratagem, backing up the International Court stratagem is an American one and, in the event the U.S. stratagem weakens, there is an Israeli stratagem.
Finally, some GCC analysts believe that backing up all of these strategies is an as yet untested potential master stratagem to provide Qatar the political clout it seeks. According to this view, if and when Qatar s GCC colleagues reach the point of pressing Doha to alter its behavior for the good of the region, Qatar is likely to listen to the complaints and reply, "If there are things we have been doing to which you take exception, we're glad to know that, as there are things that you are doing to which we take exception. If you are ready to talk about matters of substance, we're ready whenever you are."
The GCC's Case for Itself and against Qatar
Leaders in all five GCC countries are increasingly perturbed by aspects of Qatar's foreign-policy behavior. However, there is no consensus as to what irritates them the most. Officials in all five countries question the efficacy of some of Qatar's policies, but are averse to commenting negatively on what Doha would claim to be matters pertaining to its sovereignty.
Virtually all of Qatar's fellow GCC members feel strongly that Qatar's behavior has delayed progress on a much more developed system of cooperation on regional defense issues. As these members point out, hardly had the guns that liberated Kuwait in 1991 fallen silent than the United States, Great Britain and France launched discussions with GCC countries' defense leaders on how best to collectively ensure that such a massive allied mobilization and deployment would not be necessary again. From the beginning, a key component of the strategy has been a much greater degree of intra-GCC defense cooperation than existed during the Iran-Iraq War and the Kuwait crisis. GCC defense leaders emphasize the extraordinary demographic and financial restraints that preclude rapid progress on this front, but few disagree with the soundness of the strategy.
Qatar's GCC critics claim that even if such constraints did not exist, significant progress is precluded by Qatar's not being a team player, roiling the political waters within the GCC, and boycotting major GCC policy formulation meetings. Many GCC analysts believe that as long as Qatar stands aloof from an optimum intra-GCC relationship of trust and confidence on the overriding strategic priorities of GCC and GCC-Allied defense needs, the pronouncements of GCC leaders on regional defense cooperation will not be taken seriously.
In addition, most GCC members believe that Qatar's strategic depth is Saudi Arabia, not Iran. The case is regularly made that Qatar has a vested interest in ensuring that there will always be Saudi Arabian popular support for Qatar against Iran, Iraq or any other non-GCC country. By alternating between a standoff and a provocative relationship with Riyadh, Qatar's policies, in the eyes of many GCC countries' leaders, do not make long-term strategic sense; rather, they equate to short-term brinkmanship with regard to Saudi Arabia and irresponsibility with regard to Iran, if not also Iraq. As there are 300 Iranians to every Qatari, GCC critics of Qatar's policies argue that posturing about the merits of constructive engagement-especially at the expense of strengthening intra-GCC ties-is not likely to carry much weight m the eyes of any Iranian leaders bent on threatening Qatar.
Employment and Youth: Two Pan-GCC Challenges
As this report has sought to indicate, the GCC countries are certain to have their hands full with pressing economic, defense and other foreign-policy challenges until well into the next century. Less well-known are a range of domestic challenges with which each of these countries is simultaneously faced. How they address such challenges will reveal much about the overall prospects for their achieving regional peace, security and prosperity.
In this regard, a domestic sub-theme that surrounded the sixteenth GCC Heads of State summit stood in marked contrast to some of the issues highlighted at other summits. It was self-evident at this summit that whether the countries are richer or poorer, larger or smaller, their leaders are increasingly preoccupied with how best to address two recurring challenges: (1) the rapidly rising demands for citizen employment and (2) one of the sharpest rates of population increase in the developing world. Between 50 and 60 percent of all the GCC countries' citizens are under sixteen years of age. This means that the majority of GCC nationals have no recollection of ' the bad old days." They take the prosperity of the last 20 years as the baseline for evaluating their present and near-term status.
This younger generation has never known anything except unprecedented prosperity and heavily subsidized essentials such as health services, education, housing and employment. Many have come to view such benefits as their birthright, a perpetual entitlement. The challenge facing each GCC country's government Tor the foreseeable future, is, therefore, to demonstrate that the patterns of the recent past cannot be sustained any longer. The revenue is no longer sufficient; the financial reserves accumulated from the 1970s onward do not exist anymore. A veritable sea change is at hand in terms of realistic opportunities for sustaining the kind of development the region has experienced for the past two decades. Some GCC leaders seem to be in a mood of denial. Those at the very top, however, are all too aware that their options for addressing the implications of such phenomena are relatively few and none painless.
The analytical construct for the new situation is as follows: the past 20 years were fueled by a vision that rested on revenues from fossil fuels and a commitment to building an infrastructural system without rival in the developing world. As the GCC countries' economies currently stand, such development-more specifically, the broad range of governmental support sectors that such development made possible-can no longer be maintained.
Neither can the role of the GCC governments as the central business leaders of their countries' economies continue. The challenge for all GCC countries' governments, therefore, is not so much whether they can make the jump, but rather, how they will go about switching from one engine to another – i.e., from the government to the private sector. In facing up to this challenge, the positive news is that most GCC leaders are aware of its nature and the potentially ominous implications for domestic stability-and possibly regional security-if they should fail to meet it successfully.
Of the GCC countries, Saudi Arabia has been among those most actively seeking to address this challenge for much of the past decade. Its tactic has been to engage its private-sector leaders man ongoing dialogue aimed at confronting head-on the almost certain dire consequences if the public and private sectors fall to deal with the challenge realistically and forthrightly.
Bahrain, Oman and Dubai (one of the member emirates of the UAE) have in common the fact that their oil reserves are minimal and dwindling. All three have been tackling the same challenge, albeit, as in the case of Saudi Arabia, with mixed results. Kuwait and UAE member Abu Dhabi are also seized with how best to contend with an expansion of citizen demands on a significantly diminished resource base for the foreseeable future.
The keys to what the GCC countries are attempting to achieve in this regard are contained in their respective five-year plans. In Oman, for example, the development plan for 1996-2000 allocates the country's Ministry of Development a budget of only one-third that of the previous plan s budget. How to make up the difference? The answer-part hope, part prayer, part patience, part persuasion, and part persistence in informing the Omani people of the facts-is through the private sector.
This is an example of the multiplicity of challenges that these economic trends indicate for practically every GCC country. At the beginning of 1995, the Sultanate was taken aback by a World Bank report that was highly critical of Oman's economic health. Rather than refute the report's numerous negative conclusions regarding the direction in which the economy was headed, Oman held a conference entitled "2020," which gathered economists and development planners to consider ways of addressing the challenges. The conference resulted in numerous recommendations that Sultan Qaboos incorporated into his annual National Day address. He emphasized the need to create a framework for new directions in the areas of management, diversification, privatization, capital formation, foreign ownership, taxation and laws regarding agencies and distributorships.
Some examples of measures already underway to come to grips with such challenges are the establishment of stock exchanges, the launching of power-generation plants through the private sector rather than the government, serious consideration of the privatization of such areas as health services, sewage and water treatment facilities, ground transportation and even toll roads. Such discourse, however, has not included such security-related areas as the oil and gas industries, telecommunications and, to varying degrees, civil aviation. There are also widespread reservations among government planners about allowing state-run enterprises to become wholly privatized in light of the likely attendant consequences of increased unemployment and lessened government revenues after the initial buyouts.
How and to what extent these developments are likely to affect U.S. interests remains an open question. A perspective shared by many in the GCC is that strengthened GCC-U.S. relations come with increasingly high economic and political costs. The American approach to building a credible defense is seen as very costly, if not prohibitively expensive, by a growing number of GCC planners. Four of the GCC member countries-Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the UAE-have thus far avoided any substantial acquisition of U.S.-manufactured defense equipment and systems.
The first three named of these countries, in contrast to Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent Kuwait, have also forgone the billions of dollars in outlays necessary to expand their gas and other energy-production capabilities. The pursuit of such ventures in Qatar and Oman is deliberately tied to foreign underwriting so as not to burden further their far lower base of financial revenues and reserves.
Because the employment and youth issues are implicitly linked to future prospects for domestic stability, the political baggage that any intimate relationship between the GCC countries and the United States portends cannot be ignored or dismissed. Underlying the manifestations of such concerns are some of the perceived insensitivities alluded to earlier in conjunction with the necessity to factor adequately into U.S. foreign-policy formulations and actions the needs, concerns and interests of its GCC partners.
Beyond its economic, defense and other foreign-policy ramifications, the GCC, despite its weaknesses, stands as proof that regional accord among an important group of Arab countries on a host of issues of concern to its members is possible. Moreover, the experiment thus far demonstrates determination among six Arab governments to assume a steadily increasing measure of responsibility for dealing with a broad range of regional challenges, with: the concomitant diminution of the need or pretext for intervention by outside powers.
Fundamental to the GCC's successes to date has been the capacity of its leaders to benefit from all the failed past attempts at Arab regional integration. The numerous previous unsuccessful attempts to establish durable instrumentalities encompassing two or more Arab countries provided, and continue to provide, the GCC's founders and its present leaders. to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, with "no end of a lesson," and one which, collectively, has done them "no end of good." These lessons imply that incremental increases m the GCC countries' integration can be achieved only through a slow, steady and frequently painstaking process of forging consensus on a series of issue-specific agendas.
As a first step, the collective need for sensitivity to the particular dynamics, sovereignty and separate national interests of the individual states was agreed to by the members as a sine qua non. Accordingly, at no point has there been any effort to merge massively or quickly as in Arab integrationist schemes attempted elsewhere. The approach of the GCC's architects, acknowledging the extent of intra-GCC diversity in terms of differing local traditions, resources and circumstances, essentially has been one of seeking to coordinate the members' policies and positions on issues of importance to the GCC as a whole. Without such flexibility at the outset, it is doubtful whether the GCC would ever have come into being.
Various disparities between and among the members not only exist, but, in several cases regarding economic differences and commercial competition, they are especially pronounced. Some of these disparities, such as forms of economic dependence or complementarity, undoubtedly have facilitated the integrative process. Others, rooted m different historical traditions or contemporary circumstances, have slowed the momentum. In this light, it is not surprising to note periodic divergences of viewpoint among the members as, for example, over how best to deal with Iraq and Iran. Finally, different population bases, education levels, and other factors related to development potential have naturally resulted in different domestic concerns and national priorities.
The competing and at times divergent interests, however, at no point have been so great as to reverse the forward momentum of GCC cohesion. A common language, religion and culture and many attributes of a shared history have been subtle but strongly influential factors in undergirding a sense of togetherness necessary for a common approach to a range of contemporary challenges and future uncertainties.
The GCC has taken root and registered its achievements at a time and in a place where two far more populous neighbors, Iraq and Iran-each with nearly twice as many men under arms as the combined GCC defense forces-have warred with one another or against the GCC states throughout much of the GCC's existence. The Gulf coasts are only 19 minutes apart by plane at the widest point (between Iran and Saudi Arabia) and less than ten minutes at the narrowest point (between Iran and the UAE and Oman).
Viewed in this light, the GCC stands out as the most prominent example of Arab regional collaboration in an era which has seen numerous other attempts fail. GCC achievements are all the more remarkable when one considers that at the time it was founded in 1981, many, if not most, observers predicted its speedy demise. Now into its sixteenth year of cooperation, it is evident that the GCC countries have not only contributed significantly to the stability of the region and to the welfare of their citizens, but, together with the GCC Secretariat, have been a force of reason and responsibility for the Arab world as a whole.
When Gulf events of recent years, problematic on many fronts, are considered in light of this reality, the result is a cautiously optimistic outlook for the organization and its member states. Such a guardedly upbeat prognosis applies not only to GCC hopes for further economic and defense coordination, but also to the prospects for maintaining local security in the absence of a determined threat by Iran or Iraq. It is certain that the will to do so exists on both fronts and that, for most of the GCC leaders, the will to follow the necessary course to achieve these goals is strong.
At the end of the day, a successful GCC poses no credible threat to anyone. As this report indicates, it has already done, and continues to do, much to enhance the cause of both Gulf and global security. Regardless of its weaknesses and shortcomings to date, the GCC in the mid-1990s can still be reckoned as the most boldly cooperative multinational unit that the eastern Arab world has ever attempted.