Few recent studies of the Persian Gulf have concentrated on the underlying trends that influence the behavior of the Gulf states, whether individually or collectively, and the challenges they are likely to face in the future. This book, which brings together some of the foremost Western and local Gulf specialists, aims to address precisely these issues. The collection of twelve essays (originally commissioned for a series of meetings held in 1994-95 under the auspices of the Columbia University-based Gulf/2000 Project) focuses on the political, economic, social and religious factors which shape the Gulf states and which are likely to determine their future stability.
The underlying premise of the book is that the Gulf region is going through transition. As Gary G. Sick makes clear in the opening chapter, this process is being forced largely by economic factors. Sick's thesis has become a common refrain among Gulf analysts: declining oil revenues, combined with demographic changes and structural distortions, are gradually making established economic and political structures unsustainable. Overcoming this "crisis in slow motion" will require not only economic reform, but also political change, including greater government accountability and popular participation in politics. Failure to overturn the present system of "paternalistic statism," Sick argues, is likely to generate increased domestic struggle for diminishing resources, which will ultimately threaten stability and regime survival in these states.
For many of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, the 1991 Gulf War exacerbated this emerging crisis by removing the economic cushion that regimes enjoyed. The legacy of the conflict has also had a considerable influence on the geopolitical situation in the region. Indeed, Richard K. Herrman and R. William Ayres assert that post-war regional dynamics are now the major geopolitical determinant. Adopting a three-level framework of analysis, they argue that regional dynamics are determined by the confrontation between the United States, Israel and the GCC on one side, and Iraq and Iran on the other. The authors explicitly recognize the complexity of existing interrelationships both within and between these two groups. Nevertheless, they make a strong case for this alignment. Placing particular emphasis on the confrontation between Washington and Tehran, the authors argue that domestic stability within the GCC is not an end in itself, but is related to U.S. fear that replacing existing regimes could change the present balance in favor of the Islamic republic (and to a lesser extent Iraq).
The issue of GCC-state security is considered in more detail by F. Gregory Gause III. He argues cogently that regime security, rather than protection from external military threats, is the paramount influence on decision-making within these states. Under these circumstances, ensuring domestic political stability is vital. However, the diminished capacity of GCC regimes to dispense economic largesse is threatening the status quo. According to Gause, the key to resolving these challenges lies in a more equitable distribution of the limited economic pie and more widespread popular political participation.
Many GCC governments in the past few years have introduced economic reforms. However, increased oil revenues due to a rise in prices in 1996 and 1997 limited the scope of these reforms and illustrated how reluctant many regimes are to countenance fundamental change. Nevertheless, if Paul J. Stevens's assessment of the oil market is correct, they may have little choice in the medium term. The author makes it clear that he believes the market will remain relatively weak over this period. Moreover, he suggests that it could experience the same squeeze on economic rent seen in other commodity markets- a point which, unfortunately, he does not expand upon. The outcome will be lower oil prices. By undermining prospects for increased revenues to GCC states, this is likely to threaten political as well as economic stability.
One path of economic reform that has received increasing emphasis over the past few years is privatization, a subject considered by Karim Pakravan. Using the case studies of Iran and Saudi Arabia, he illustrates some of the existing political and structural obstacles that must be overcome if privatization is to be a successful economic growth strategy. In spite of these barriers and the nascence of the process, Pakravan nevertheless asserts that privatization in the Gulf is irreversible and will accelerate. However, the author largely fails to substantiate these assertions.
Although economic developments may hold the key to future domestic stability in the Gulf, it is clear that the region also faces a number of potentially explosive political issues. Foremost are the various border disputes between Gulf states, the subject of an insightful study by Richard N. Schofield. As he notes, the acceleration of oil exploration to increase production and attempts to forge state-wide territorial consciousness have over the past few years encouraged GCC states to agree on finalizing their territorial boundaries. However, this conciliatory mood has not extended to Arab-Iranian disputes, nor has the issue of Iraq's access to the Gulf been satisfactorily resolved. In Schofield's view, the best hope for stability is regional economic integration or coordination in the northern Gulf in order to overcome potential sources of interstate problems.
Only two states are the focus of individual study in this book. In her study of the uprising in Bahrain, Munira A. Fakhro argues that underlying the unrest are economic problems, including unemployment, and the government's refusal to yield to popular demands for wider political participation - issues that also threaten stability in other GCC states. Tehran may have an indirect influence on the island's majority Shii population, but Fakhro argues that there is no evidence of Iranian material or organizational backing for protests. Iran, or more specifically its military capabilities, is the subject of study for Anthony H. Cordesman. This well-referenced chapter provides a detailed catalogue of Iranian forces and munitions and lists potential strategies that Iran might adopt. However, it lacks any meaningful analysis of Tehran's present and future policy motivations. Cordesman simply asserts in his opening sentence that Iran poses serious potential challenges to Gulf security and the flow of oil. There are no hypotheses about what Iranian military capabilities mean for Tehran's objectives.
The limitations of Cordesman's chapter stand in contrast to Lawrence G. Potter's imaginative study of the prospects for reducing the regional cycle of violence and instability via the introduction of confidence-building measures (CBMs). Potter argues that the Gulf states must learn from the experiences of other regions, notably Europe, where such measures have helped defuse interstate tension. Clearly, there are political obstacles to the successful introduction of such techniques. Nevertheless regional states have a legacy of shared interests that provides a basis for introducing CBMs to enhance political trust. However, the inclusion of all regional states, including Iran and Iraq, will be necessary to ensure the success of this process. As Potter notes, this may be difficult to achieve, particularly given the present U.S. role in the Gulf.
The final issue, religion, is the subject of two very different chapters. Frank E. Vogel establishes a framework for legal analysis of Islamic governance in the Gulf states. Vogel argues that the failure of Muslim regimes to ground their political institutions on credible Islamic foundations has led to popular frustration and political opposition. Using his framework, he suggests possible reforms of Islamic law to allow it to meet the challenges posed by the spread of Western political ideals. Moreover, by contrasting the legal systems of Iran and Saudi Arabia, Vogel suggests ways in which Gulf governments may enhance their legitimacy through Islamic means.
Roy P. Mottahedeh and Maoun Fandy take a somewhat different approach in their chapter on Islamic movements. They note that, contrary to the common Western perception, the Islamic revival over the past two decades has brought to the fore a number of very different groups. While they may espouse a common general ideal, Islamic groups are influenced by the cultural, historical and political legacies of the countries in which they operate. Taking Iran as an example, the authors illustrate how these influences may have imposed a degree of pragmatism on Islamic administration. Moreover, applying a broader regional survey, they suggest that the inclusion of Islamist groups within the political system has proved to be a successful way of containing the challenge they pose and moderating their agendas.
The themes addressed in this book and their future implications are brought together in Anwar M. Gargash's concluding chapter. Gargash explicitly recognizes the development that Gulf states have undergone. Nevertheless, his prognosis is bleak. Current challenges, such as security concerns, territorial disputes and demands for popular participation will persist, creating instability. His conclusion mirrors that of many of the preceding authors: only through meaningful and all-inclusive regional cooperation can this future be altered.