The Future of Security in the Gulf

By: Sean Falvey

There are complimenting themes that resonate throughout the articles “New Alliances Dynamics in the Gulf and Impact on Small GCC States” and “After Hub-and-Spoke: US Hegemony in A New Gulf Security Order”. The language iterated by Jean-Marc Rickli and Bilal Saab is synonymous in providing insight towards the Gulf region, which is experiencing a change in security alliances with international actors. Rickli and Saab portray the various changes in the Gulf States’ security alliances with Western nations and adversaries of the United States, as well as the implications for the United States. The United States has been the principal guarantor of security in the region; however, the shift towards national sovereignty and a lack of reliance on the United States is at the forefront of policy issues for many Gulf States.

The successful intervention by the United States in Kuwait during the first Gulf War established a strong security presence in the region, which led to special political relationships and the United States emerging as the hegemonic power in the region. With NATO involvement in Libya in 2011 and the lack of assistance from the United States in the Arab uprisings, various GCC states felt abandoned, which led to a loss of confidence in the United States. This has caused the GCC states to transition from dependence on international actors in the region to active shapers of regional dynamics. This transition is evident in Saudi and Emirati forces being deployed in the 2011 uprisings in Bahrain, as well as the coalition between the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia against the Islamic State since 2014[1]. The GCC states, which are predominantly Sunni Muslim, also view the relationship between the United States and Iran as a threat towards regional regime interest and a lack of credibility held by the United States. Given that the United States has been the guarantor of security in the region, it is clear why Gulf States are transitioning into new security alliances after a lack of involvement from a strong GCC ally.

As a result of their diminishing confidence in the U.S., the Gulf States have changed their policies in several ways. The first change in policy has been a transition to alternate western powers for military technology, as well as initiatives for economic stability. France has formed a strategic alliance with members of the GCC by forming a sizeable arms trade with countries such as the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia[2]. Over the last 10 years, military equipment trade between France and Gulf countries has reached more than $30 billion in sales[3]. France and the United Kingdom have also successfully established a presence in the region through the creation of military bases throughout the peninsula[4]. Not only has the United Kingdom gradually engaged in a military partnership, there are massive economic agreements being formulated such as a plan to invest over $2 trillion in infrastructure. Both authors have articulated that these alliances have a promising future and I could not agree more. Especially regarding the current Trump administration and the onset of “America First” policies, I believe that the United States will urge NATO allies to increase engagement in the Gulf so that the U.S can slowly retract its presence in the region.

Moving away from alliances in Western Europe, Gulf States have started to pivot towards the east, specifically towards Russia and China. In regards to Russia, there has been a revival of relations between Russia and the Middle East in terms of economic sustainability, energy, and counterterrorism. Falling oil prices in Saudi Arabia have caused the kingdom to formulate documents with Russia that includes a nuclear energy accord. The UAE and Russia have also signed an agreement that established a $2 billion co-investment fund for atomic energy purposes[5]. Saab and Rickli are suggesting that GCC states will form alliances to ensure security and economic stability; however, I find it highly unlikely that Gulf States would be dependent on Russia for security, especially because Russia has formed relations with Iran in the Syrian War. I believe that GCC states are going to rely on Western security and use Russia solely for economic purposes.

Relations between the GCC and China are analogous to interactions between the GCC and Russia. China is currently the worlds largest net importer of petroleum and nearly half of this oil comes from the Gulf. With this relationship, China has also offered technical expertise in civilian nuclear power to the Arab Gulf States. In Saudi Arabia alone, the kingdom recently formulated a deal with the Chinese nuclear engineering company CNECC to potentially build sixteen nuclear reactors by 2032[6]. It is increasingly evident that China is a committed trade partner. Militarily, Gulf States have also relied on Chinese Armed UAVs. However, this is the only security initiative between the Gulf and China. Similar to Russia, GCC states are not going to rely on China as a security guarantor. Jean-Marc Rickli has suggested that, due to the reliance on oil and gas from the Gulf, Asian powers would be more inclined to assist the GCC if they were ever faced with conflict[7]. Asian powers may be more inclined to do so, however, the GCC would feel more secure if the United States and other western European powers provided assistance. The United States would also look favorably on doing so, as they may have more influence on the region through multilateral security relations, in my opinion.

What are the implications for the United States of the emerging new Gulf security alliances? Although the United States has been slowly relinquishing its presence in the region, there is potential for a revival of its security relations with its Gulf partners. There are two reasons for this: “burden-sharing” between the United States with other NATO powers, as well as the United States seeking to combat the influence that its adversaries (China and Russia) would have in the region. The reason that the ICI never manifested into its true potential is because multilateral relations between the Gulf and all 28 NATO members are far too complex of an alliance. However, multilateral relations between the United States, the United Kingdom, and France would be a way for the United States to still have a dominant presence in the region but without having to be the sole guarantor of security. As previously stated, this would also be a way to curb any potential of Russian or Chinese influence over the region.

[1] Jean-Marc Rickli “New Alliances Dynamics in the Gulf and Their Impact on the Small GCC States” Third World Thematics. June 2016

[2] Bilal Saab “After Hub-and-Spoke: US Hegemony in a New Gulf Security Order” Atlantic Council. April 2016

[3] Jean-Marc Rickli

[4] Jean-Marc Rickli

[5] Bilal Saab

[6] Bilal Saab

[7] Jean-Marc Rickli

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