Shifting security commitments in the Gulf means India must fill in. Economic relations from migrant laborers provide ground for strengthened relations that solves war
Pradhan 9 [(Samir, economics specialist based in the UAE. Previously, he served as a senior consultant, macroeconomics research at Tanween,a leading consultancy in Doha, Qatar. Before that, he was senior researcher, GCC economics and Gulf-Asia programmes at the Gulf Research Center, Dubai/ UAE, the leading think tank of the Gulf region) “India’s Growing Role in the Gulf: Implications for the Region and the United States” Gulf Research Center, 2009] AT
By all accounts, the world is moving rapidly towards multipolarity. The post- Cold War era geopolitical, geo-economic and geo-strategic imperatives underwent substantial changes in the aftermath of 9/11 and the 2003 forced regime change in Iraq. Simultaneously, the growth of emerging economic powers also considerably influenced the process. What one sees now is a hexagonal power polarity with three nodes; Russia, China, and India on the one side and theUnited States, Japan and the European Union forming the other three points. Moreover, with increasing global interdependence, it appears that the various nodes are striving for greater accommodation of interests and better management of contradictions, despite having divergent security and strategic cultures. With such changes in the global power architecture, reverberations are strikingly evident in the power configurations at the bilateral as well as regional level. Importantly, nation states are increasingly managing their bilateral relations on the basis of a realpolitik assessment rather than ideology alone. A case in point is the contemporary strategic environment in the Gulfregion, which is increasingly becoming unpredictable, having local, regional and global implications.With windfall capital and vibrant economic growth, the region is witnessing unprecedented transformationin the social, political, economic, cultural and strategic realms. Importantly, certain favorable and adverse domestic, regional and international factors pervasively influence their security and strategic perceptions and increase their anxiety about theimminent future.Coincidentally, being a neighbor and an emerging global power, India becomes a referencepoint for the Gulf countries as a partner in their quest for managing the evolvingsecurity equations. The change of perception in the Gulf region is based on a ‘new constellation’ in which India is increasingly viewed as a credible non-partisan global player who can play a constructive role in managing conflicts andrestoring peace and tranquility in the region.Thanks to the Gulf ’s eastward shifting economic engagements, burgeoning trade and investment linkages, and the civilizational affinities between India and the Gulf region there is the promise of a new era of deepening ties. The strategic importance of the Gulf region dates to the 19th century when three great empires –British India,Tsarist Russia and Ottoman Turkey – confronted each other for power projection. Since then, the region has a tradition of overwhelming security dependence on external powers. With the discovery of oil, the Gulf region became intrinsically enmeshed with the nuances of great power politics. This process continued until the whole region came under pervasive control of the security cordon provided by the US. Given the small population size of the countries, the regional governments continued to rely upon outside powers to maintain a crude balance of power in order to maintain sovereignty, domestic identity and regime security. This balance of power was maintained with the direct and extensive contributions from the external powers, either through providing military technology and weapons (Russian sales of missile and arms to Iran) or deploying military personnel in the region (US providing armaments and maintaining military bases in some member countries of the GCC). Today the strategic environment in the region is in a state of flux. This is due to the crystallization of several conflicting factors. Iran’s increasing military posture and Israel’s policy in the East Mediterranean region constitute the twin strategic faultlines surrounding the Gulf region. The turmoil in Iraq, which used to be the countervailing power to Iran, further adds to the security risks for the Gulf regimes. Above all, the perception of an Israel-centric foreign policy by the United States only increases tensions in the region. It is noteworthy to point out the central role played by the United States as the security lynchpin of the Gulf region (Koch 2008). The role and extent of US involvement in the Gulf region has expanded tremendously since it filled the power vacuum following the British withdrawal from the region in 1968.The overarching presence of the US has considerably changed the region’s strategic dynamics. From the initial ‘dual containment policy’ of orchestrating regional countervailing powers against each other, the US has become in a sense the sole superpower in the region as reflected in the forced regime change in Iraq in 2003. At present, nearly 200,000 American troops are stationed in the Gulf region, the majority of course in Iraq but with significant numbers in the GCC, thereby firmly entrenching the US in the Gulf security scenario. Further, given the Gulf region’s real security concerns, the regimes cannot afford to suddenly change the status quo and seek an alternate security arrangement. But while the US is an indispensable security ally and would continue to play a formidable role in the Gulf region’s emerging strategic paradigm, it is increasingly apparent that such an exclusive role in its present scope is neither sustainable nor unanimously acceptable to the Gulf regimes. In a sense, the unilateral strategic dominance of the US in the Gulf region is coming to an end, albeit slowly. Thus, a clear strategic shift is in motion which is primarily due to the increasing internationalization of the Gulf with other powers from Europe and Asia on the fringe, but also due to a reorientation and self introspection by the Gulf countries about their place in the international system and the role played by the US within that system. Given the multidimensional security environment in the Gulf region – from the threat posed by Islamic radicalism and Iranian nuclear ambitions, to concerns about the stalemate in Iraq, tensions surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian issue, securing supply lines of oil exports and the role of Gulf finance in world economics – the regimes no longer feel safe in the comfort zone of the American security umbrella. Theambiguity about the US role, either as a source of regional stability or greater instability, entices the Gulf regimes to rethink their national interests amidst volatile regional events. The region is in the throes of a transition which evolves from patterns of interaction that are characterized by power politics and geopolitical concerns to new ones that are marked by the politics of geoeconomics. Adding to the complexity is the sheer pace of post modernism and its structural spill over as reflected in domestic discontentment and the region’s search of an identity in the increasingly interdependent globalized world in which the parochial projection of the Gulf (especially in the Western world) is not only hampering their commercial pursuits, but also questioning the region’s integrity. As a result, there is a growing sense of confidence in the region that has led the GCC states to play an increasing regional political and diplomatic role. Especially in the security domain, the Gulf countries are increasingly re-shifting their strategies from bilateral dependence to multilateral interdependence, sensing that bilateralism will no longer meet the requirements of a multi-polar world in geo-economic terms. Furthermore, the GCC leaderships are anticipating the shifting circumstances surrounding the declining role of the US. Bahrain’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Abdul Ghaffar, has, for example, called for a new security order in the Gulf with the GCC states as the main pillar of defense while Qatar’s Amir Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani told the General Debate of the United National General Assembly in September 2007 that: “The major conflicts in the world have become too big for one single power to handle them on its own” (Koch 2008). Nevertheless, it is certain that complete removal of external powers from the region is not at all a possibility in the absence of a regional architecture and the existence of glaring distrust among the states in the region (consider, for example, the continuing problem of border disputes). Besides, given the global strategic importance of the region, outside powers would not simply keep themselves away from developments in the region as formidable stakes are involved. Thus, in the current circumstances, a viable security framework is simply unthinkable at this stage and it is certain that neither a regional solution nor an outside power can counter the wide variety of threats to the region. Thus, the key before the Gulf countries is to multilateralize the regional security space with the involvement of other powers, especially an emerging global power like India with whom the future stakes of the region are formidable. Therefore, India can become a natural security ally for the Gulf. Transforming Strategic Overlap into Partnership The strategic horizon comprising the Gulf region and India shows the growing interconnectedness in the security space extending from Afghanistan to the Middle East. India’s locationat the base of continental Asia and the top of the Indian Ocean gives it a strategic location in Eurasia as well as among the littoral states of the Indian Ocean from East Africa to Indonesia. India's peninsular projection in the ocean gives it a stake in the security and stability of these waters which is crucial for oil trade – the lifeblood of Gulf economies. While the overall strategic environment involving India and the Gulf region is in a state of flux evincing uncertainties and dilemmas, there is no doubt that the stakes are formidable. It may be noted that the connection between security and stability in the two regions was first propounded in 1981 by the former Indian Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi and former UAE President Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan. From a strategic point of view, the Gulf countries and India share a desire for political stability and security in the region. The emerging common security perceptions create further opportunities for Gulf-India cooperation in the future. In the recent past, several Gulf countries, especially Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the UAE have concluded a number of bilateral strategic pacts with India. The UAE and India entered into a strategic pact, signed on July 1, 2003 when a high-level delegation led by the then Chief of Staff and now Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, visited India. That agreement envisages cooperation in security, defense policy, development of defense cooperation, training for the UAE military and military medical personnel, exchange of cultural and sports activities between the friendly forces of the two countries and joint efforts to tackle environmental issues, particularly pollution in the seas. Saudi Arabia and India have entered into a similar pact. Such pacts confirm the increasing recognition of India as an emerging power by the Gulf countries and simultaneously the common strategic outlook of both. As aptly stated by the UAE Foreign Minister, Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, at the opening of the ministerial session of the Indo-UAE Joint Commission, “At a regional level, we also look forward to an increased involvement by India in issues affecting the Gulf and neighboring countries” and that “it is in both of our interests to work together more and more closely.” The process of mutual recognition got a major boost with the landmark visit of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to India and consequent ratification of the New Delhi Declaration. This inclination of a major Gulf power like Saudi Arabia to deepen and broaden ties with India points to the changing geopolitical dynamics in both regions.Moreover, Gulf countries are increasingly cooperating with India for military training. Since India’s dependence on Gulf energy and the Gulf ’s dependence on India and Asia as a future major market for oil exports will remain significant, the security of Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) has become a critical component within the ambit of strategic matters. It is not just oil, but the increasing movement of merchandise imports and exports on the sea route spanning the vast arc of Indian Ocean has also become a critical security concern for India and the Gulf countries. The sheer number of Indian expatriates in the Gulfregion’s workforce makes a strong case for deepening ties with India to managedomestic security.Countries like Saudi Arabia have the potential to support India in her efforts for the educational and social transformation of India’s vast Muslim population that constantly look towards the Gulf region for moral and religious guidance. India as a ‘Bridging Power’ India’s credibility and role as a “neutral” player in Asia may serve Gulf interests in managing their emerging security and strategic objectives. Two crucial factors that can possibly give the Gulf countries policy flexibility are India’s growing ties with the US and stable ties with Iran and Israel. India’s strategic objectives attest to the fact that the Gulf, South Asia and Central Asia are now strategically interactive and interrelated regions. The objectives of India's quest for greater influence throughout the Gulf are to prevent proliferation as well as terrorism. As a bridging power, India could possibly leverage its links with both US and Iran to the benefit of the Gulf countries. Unlike the US and other European powers that tie security cooperation withsensitive issues such as human rights, democracy and regime change, Gulf countries view India as a non-interfering partner to align with. India maintains a substantial economic presence in the Gulf and is set to create a significant political presence as well. Despite civilizational propinquities, historical commercial linkages, and geographical proximity, the Gulf and India have failed to capitalize on commonalities, which has prevented their association from truly becoming the “unbroken relation of cordiality.” Nevertheless, the growing economic presence of India in the Gulf and the Gulf ’s new geo-economic realities provide the platform to synergize complementarities into multipronged stable relations. The trend of mutual ignorance of the two regions is slowly reversing due to the growing economic importance of India in the world and the Gulf's increased interest in building its relations with its immediate neighbor, against the backdrop of faltering bonhomie with the West. The relationship between the two regions has been in focus in the evolving interdependence centering on energy-economy dynamics and changed geopolitical environment in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The ‘Look East’ strategy of the Gulf provides an impetus for closer relations. It is therefore necessary that since a sustainable relationship entails multifaceted cooperation, India and the GCC countries should broaden relations on the strategic and political levels. It is in the interests of both the GCC and India to recognize the other’s potential as a serious trading partner, and further strengthen their external relations. Both parties could nurture their relations in a constructive way by finding the right balance between regionalism and multilateralism to excel in today’s fast paced economic arena. To sum up, geopolitical and geoeconomic complementarities drive security and strategic aspects of the Gulf region’s Look East Policy towards India. While India's ambitions, capabilities, experience and interests all suggest that it is capable of playing a major role in the Gulf, the Gulf countries see India as a bridging power to shift their status quo security and strategic imperatives to better align with the changed dynamics. The stakes are formidable, challenges are mutual, potentials are huge and, hence, cooperation becomes imperative. This calls for greater political will.