GCC security is a variable equation. The set of challenges to the stability of the GCC as they stand now is profoundly different than the way it was only five years ago. As any national security expert knows, national security challenges in any given case has never been static. But in the case of the GCC in recent years, it is more shifting than in any previous period.
Collapse of oil prices, the Yemen war, Iran’s nuclear deal, the rise of terrorism, a global economic slowdown coupled with rising tension between the West and Russia, Syria’s civil war, Iraq’s continuing political crisis and fight against ISIL, the Arab Spring, and the list can include other elements pertaining to internal security challenges as a reflection of a rising regional conflict.
There has been a shift in the GCC approach to the security environment in which the GCC finds itself in parallel with the change in this environment. A higher degree of self-confidence and assertiveness appeared to characterize the forum’s policies and discourse, as shown in Yemen and Syria. Involvement in security related developments in the region was noticeable.
While this should be welcomed by the global community as it creates a dynamic and proactive partner in preserving stability in the region, the new role must be framed in clearer perspective as in positioning its role within the global security relations. In other words, the emergence of a more assertive GCC regional role necessitates answering the subsequent relevant questions on issues like ties with global actors, elaborate doctrines in areas of joint military intervention, limits and requirements of collective activities and methods of enhancing the political and economic stand of the GCC nations on the global theatre.
So far, what we have seen is indeed a more assertive and dynamic role in improving the regional security environment but this new emerging role is not based yet on a clear theory of regional security or how to position the GCC’s role in the global security structure and its main centers. The new role of the GCC is still largely defined on case by case bases and subject to individual agreements between leaders. The absence of a clear security theory makes defining regional objectives institutionally, or limits and nature of global and regional alliances a matter of personal views and a reaction to contingencies rather than a systematic and organized frame shaping the new GCC regional role.
The reason for the new approach of the GCC to regional security was directly relate to one fact which became increasingly obvious in the last two decades: External allies have their own agendas and those agendas were shifting away from the traditional decades-long relations with Middle Eastern nations. What we have seen, therefore, was a paradigm shift if we use Thomas Kuhn’s 1963 cliché.
While the efficacy of GCC military forces impressed many observers around the world, using military force when needed is not yet a part of a joint strategic perspective and a detailed set of policies and methods. Approaches are still individual and as such they slow the maturity of the GCC and its evolution.
To give an example, we will get back to the late Saudi King Abdullah’s initiative of 2002 related to the Arab-Israeli conflict submitted to the Arab Summit Conference of that year held in Beirut. The initiative provided a clear framework for any subsequent approach to the thorny issue of peace with Israel and was central in organizing Arab and global attempts to resume peace talks.
It is wrong to evaluate the late King’s initiative on either it led to actual peace or not. For even as we are still far from this objective, the initiative was, and still is, an important guiding frame to channel all subsequent attempts to step forward.
Similarly, a guiding framework to relations with Iran should be laid out by the GCC in this critical moment. The “Initiative for Regional Peace” that we propose here should avoid polemics and be based on genuine aspiration to enhance regional stability and peace. It should specify the conditions under which Arab countries will normalize trade, investment, political and security cooperation with Iran.
Such an initiative will necessarily emerge from the Arab perspective of non-intervention, readiness to build cooperative relations with nations contributing a constructive role to improving regional security, and sincere good-will approaches to make this possible.
The assertive role of the GCC should not be confined to the military aspect of the question of regional security; it should be extended to the area of active diplomatic assertiveness as well.
The inter-relation between an assertive military role on the one hand and scattered, individual, and uncoordinated views in the area of objectives and strategies on the other hand is suffering from a clear imbalance.
Clearly, the need for an over-arching clear framework for GCC regional security objectives will not, by any stretch of imagination, end with merely announcing an Arab Initiative related to Iran. But the debates that will precede such a step, and those which follow it, will help illuminate many of the areas where further debate on regional security requirements.