Security issues of the gulf region: security dilemma or security complex?

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Elena Melkumyan
The Gulf region remains unstable influencing global security due to its high regional economic and political potential. The main threats of regional security are the following: the instability in Iraq, terrorism, Iranian nuclear program and territorial dispute between Iran and the UAE.

Instability in Iraq. The Iraqi crisis is not completed and it destabilizing the situation in the whole region. The neighboring states have consistently been advocating that settlement in Iraq should be effected as soon as possible. But the insurgency activity is continuing and it is very important to emphasize that citizens from Arab countries of the Gulf such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are participating in the military actions against American forces and new Iraqi army and police. This fact stresses the regional aspect of Iraqi situation and its perspectives. When citizens from neighboring countries return home, their future activity may be similar to those who have been participating in the battles against Soviet army in Afghanistan in 1980-th. and then became well-known as Ben Laden and other activists of terrorist groups.

The leaders of the Arab Gulf states stress the importance of maintaining Iraq’s unity, independence and sovereignty. They are ready to participate in the process of reconstruction financially and politically and “to help the Iraqi people to overcome the tragic conditions that continue to face them”1. In spite of some positive security developments, the continuous sectarian and ethnic conflicts constitute a serious challenge to Iraq’s unity and are a threat to internal and regional stability and security. The Gulf countries support comprehensive national reconciliation, which will create the possibility for Iraq to participate in promotion of regional security.

With regard to Iran, this country also declares the readiness to help the Iraqi security and political institutions to protect the Iraqi people from all sources of violence. The Iranian representatives participate in traditional meetings of Iraq’s neighbors. At the same time Iran is accused by Iraqi authority and the leaders of the Arab Gulf countries in interfering in Iraqi internal affairs2. Iran’s support of shi’a political groups encourages new sectarian conflicts and transformation of Iraq into various spheres of influence by competing regional powers.

Threat of terrorism. Iraq became an arena of terrorism activity and a center of their destructive criminal operations that threaten the security and stability of Iraq and its neighbors. The Gulf states consider increasing terrorist activity as strategic challenges to Gulf security.

The Arab Gulf countries have confirmed their rejection of all forms of terrorism and supported international antiterrorist campaign. They have expressed their readiness to fight extremism and terrorism and to control financial operations in view of allegations some funds were being channeled to extremist groups. They proposed to intensify international efforts and to organize an international summit, which will set up norms and rules for all countries of the world to oppose terrorism and extremism.3

The regional organization – The Gulf Cooperation Council (the GCC) has defined its attitude to the terrorism long before the events of September 11, because in the end of the 70-th and the beginning of the 80-th the GCC countries became a target of terrorist attacks, caused by increased activity of Islamic opposition groups influenced by Islamic Revolution in Iran. The Council during its sessions and conferences has stressed that this international phenomenon was not confined to one people or one region.

The GCC consider that being an organization which unified the Muslim countries it should emphasize its rejection and denunciation of the practice of terrorism and extremism, which are associated in Western mass media with Islam. That is why this organization called for the confrontation of this destructive phenomenon, being considered remote from the spirit of the true Islamic religion.4

In the closing statement of the Fifteenth Session of the Gulf Cooperation Supreme Council, held in the State of Bahrain, in December 1994, the leaders of the GCC have called on the Muslim ulemas to explain the values and principles of true Islam based on tolerance and the discarding of violence. They consider that Islamic leaders have to continue their endeavors to finding and advancing the correct and appropriate solutions for the problems of this age, and in accordance with the requirements of the principles of true religion.5

After September 11 the GCC members were forced to implement practical measures to confront terrorist activities. The fact that many of participants in terrorist attacks in the USA were of the GCC citizenship, first of all, from Saudi Arabia, put the question about the roots of this phenomena The idea of Islamic clerics responsibility became very popular among the GCC representatives of mass media, intellectual elite and even official structures. They said that there is no state control on the Islamic clerics, who are propagating “the culture of terrorism”.6

After the bombing committed in Saudi Arabia on May 12, 2003, Saudi officials increased control under financial activity of charity funds, which have to receive licensees for their activity and the goals of them should be transparent.

In the GCC countries many persons suspected to be members of Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations were arrested.

Iranian nuclear program. The Arab Gulf countries support to the international and regional efforts to distance the Gulf region from the threat of proliferation of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass distraction as a whole. Iranian president Ahmadinejad recently has declared that “Iran became a nuclear state and jointed the nuclear countries”. He added: ‘Enemies are not capable of prevailing Iranians from making nuclear progress”7. Iran’s leaders insist that the Islamic Republic of Iran has fully complied with the provisions of the NPT, and that all nuclear activities of Iran are under inspection of the Agency on a voluntary basis. At the same time, Iranian confrontations with the world community are based on the ideological principles. In the statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran in response to the statement from the five nuclear states it undermines that “a close club of few members from the powerful countries manage the affairs of our world against the desire and the will of nations, governments and the international community”8. Iranian nuclear ambitions caused concerns of neighboring countries. They are sure that Iran has the technology base to build nuclear weapons and long-range delivery systems. The report of the International Atomic Energy Agency undermined that Iran did not stop its activity in enrichment of uranium and refused to give full information about its nuclear activity9. Members of the GCC proposed to create common complex of enrichment of uranium for use of all countries of the Gulf region, but Iran did not accept it.

The states-members of the GCC consider that the Iranian nuclear file crisis constitutes a challenge facing a region. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia expressed the attitude of its partners of the GCC towards Iranian nuclear dossier. He said: “Our hope and wish is to see this file settled peacefully and away from tension and escalation, as part of the aspiration to make the Middle East and the Gulf region free of nuclear weapons while ensuring the right in the peaceful use of nuclear energy in accordance with the standards and procedures of the International Atomic Energy Agency and under its supervision and the application of these standards to all countries of the region without exception…”10. The Arab Gulf countries welcome of the statement of the principles on the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism.

Territorial dispute between Iran and the UAE. In the late 1960s Iran renewed its territorial claims to three of the UAE’s islands, Greater and Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa. While these claims had been effectively abandoned for several decades, the announcement by Britain in 1968 that it was to leave the Gulf prompted Iran’s Shah to revive the claim and to make it clear that he would secure his objectives by force, if necessary.

At the end of November 1971, Iran invaded the Tunbs, killing a number of policemen and expelling the population, which fled to Ras al-Khaimah. In the case of Abu Musa, the Ruler of Shardjah was coerced into singing a Memorandum of Understanding under which Shardjah and Iran instituted an administrative division of the island. Neither side relinquished their claim to sovereignty. The Iranian move was protested by newly-formed UAE, which took the issue to the United Nations.

During the 1970s, the UAE continued to assert its claim to the three islands, although without progress, since Iran declined to concede that any issue of sovereignty was at stake. The Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 was followed by the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. During this conflict, Iran further fortified the three occupied UAE islands and used them as military bases. During the 1990-1991 crisis caused by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Iran was critical of the participation of the GCC states, including the UAE, in the Western-led coalition first to contain Iraq and then to free Kuwait. In the post-war period Iran stepped up the process of rebuilding its military capabilities. The UAE viewed these developments with some concern, but continued to adopt a cautious approach.

In mid-1992, however, the issue of the islands came unexpectedly on the fore. Iran introduced a new rule that anyone disembarking on Abu Musa, even persons en route to the UAE side, required Iranian visas. The step was viewed as evidence of an Iranian intention to extend control over the whole island. Responding quickly, the UAE obtained diplomatic support from the GCC and the League of Arab States and, after short while, the Iranian backed down. The UAE then adopted a proactive approach to the issue, seeking support from other countries and international organizations. By the end of the 1990s, the UAE had won almost unanimous support from the international community for its desire that the issue be resolved.

The UAE has consistently emphasized that it will pursue its attempt to regain the islands only through peaceful means. The UAE has put forward two suggestions on ways to resolve the dispute.

The first suggestion was that direct bilateral negotiations with Iran on the issue of sovereignty should take place, offered with no pre-conditions except that agreement first be reached on a time limit for the discussions. This approach foundered on the Iranian refusal even to acknowledge that an issue of sovereignty existed.

The second option was that the ownership of the island be determined either by international arbitration or by reference to the International Court of Justice. The UAE declared that it will accept any ruling as binding. Iran declined to accept the suggestion. In the UAE view, a resolution of the dispute can be achieved only when there is a change of policy in Iran. In mid-2000 evidence of a change in attitude in Tehran was still lacking, with Iran continuing to develop installations on Abu Musa. However, in 2008 the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran declared that Islamic Republic is ready to begin negotiation with the UAE aiming to resolve the conflict situation in their relationship.

Consolidating security and stability in the Gulf region, a world sensitive part, requires emphasis on good-neighborliness and strengthening of trust between the Islamic Republic of Iran and its neighbors in the Gulf Cooperation Council states. Among the tools to reach this end is for Iran to meet the call of the United Arab Emirates to solve the issue of the three islands through direct negotiations or resort to International Court of Justice11.

The security situation in the Gulf region may be characterized by different ways. The members of only regional organization – the GCC, which united six Arab oil-producing states have common security concept and may consider as security community, which has collective defense, joint military forces, and coordination of policy in the field of military training and planning, as well as common security mechanism12. It is very important that they share the same values. The GCC countries consider big powers, first of all, the USA and West European countries as guarantors of regional security.

The Gulf crisis of 1990-1991 influenced the GCC approach to security issues. It did not change the main principle of “self-reliance”. Their efforts have focused on the construction of force, on the basis of self-structure by each member-state, through a concept shared by all. They would benefit by the unification of numerous operation procedures and training, the compatibility of systems, the development of the joint “Peninsula Shield Force” and the conduct of mutual exercises. However it has been clear that the GCC needed to develop the cooperation with foreign countries to guarantee its security and stability. The member-states signed military agreements with majority permanent members of the UN Security Council except China.

To achieve the maintenance of regional security, all regional states should try to cooperate. Islamic Republic of Iran opposes approaches of the GCC members concerning the cooperation with the foreign countries in maintaining regional security, and proposes to create regional security system on the principles of self-reliance. In this case, Iran with its military capabilities will be the regional leader, but the GCC members reject this idea. The situation in the relationship between Iran and the GCC states may be described as security dilemma, taking into consideration political-military competition between them, the territorial dispute with the UAE and Iranian nuclear program13.

Until now Iraq is not involved in the process of security system building in the Gulf region. However some perspectives may be proposed. The relations between Iran and Iraq remain very complicated. The conflict issues have been not resolved during the eiht years war between them. Nowadays absence of trust and misunderstanding are characterized their approaches to maintenance of regional security. Their relations are also described as security dilemma.

Iran’s isolation and pressure on it from the world community caused by its nuclear activities may change its position concerning regional security issues, and transform security environment from security dilemma to security complex as a group of states whose security concerns link them together and encourage creation of security entity14. The common Islamic identity of all Gulf state will be a factor which helps this transformation.

1 The Kingdom Speech at the Expanded Meeting on Iraq // Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, access 17.05.2008

2 See: Interview of J. Talabani to BBC 18.10.2006 – MEED. 20-26 October 2006. P.38; Speech of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Kingdom Saud Al-Feisal – Th4 Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia – access – 08.10.2007

3 Al-Seyassa, Kuwait, 01.01.2002

4 Ibid., p.175

5 Ibid.

6 Al- Sharq Al-Awsat, 22.02.2003

7 Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Islamic Republic of Iran-, May 14 2008 – access 19.05,2008

8 Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Response to the Statement from the Five Nuclear States, Feb.1 2006. – – access 19.05.2008

9 MEED 5-11 May 2006. P. 5

10 Prince Saud Al-Feisal addresses OIC conference. – – access 17.05.2003

11 Ibid.

12 Adler Emanuel, Barnett Michael Security Communities. Cambridge University press, 1998

13 Wendt Alexander Security Dilemma. World Politics, N 50 (1) 1997. P. 171-201

14 Buzan B. People, States and Fear. The National Security Problem in International Relations. Harvester Wheat sheaf , 1991. P. 190

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