Security Structures in the Post-War Middle East: Europe's Role in the Persian Gulf

Antonia Dimou, Athens, Greece, May 26, 2008

A common security policy among the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—was not considered at the initial stage. In fact, it came in the form of ad hoc responses to regional challenges. (Photo: Karim Jaafar / AFP-Getty Images)

With the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the recent war on Iraq, international politics have undergone a fundamental transformation. The structure of power and influence in world affairs are altered. Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (W.M.D.) in the Middle East and the security dilemma in the Persian Gulf reflect major issues nowadays.

Due to the complex situations and competing political, strategic, and ideological interests that penetrate the Middle East, the W.M.D. issue presents not only a dangerous escalation but also a major impediment to a comprehensive regional security settlement.

The Middle East is a key area and any external intervention direct or covert may entail the danger of conflict. That said, despite the need to forge new security structures for the region, appropriate measures in this regard have yet to be precisely defined and developed.

In fact, there are certain elements that nurture tension and precipitate instability. Among these, one can highlight the lack of confidence, substantial foreign military presence, and excessive imports of conventional weapons by major arms exporting states. In this regional context, smaller states are induced to relying on outside powers or underwriting military expenditures of others with the aim to acquire a security shield against potential enemies.

The aftermath of the war on Iraq has demonstrated that many different and even contradictory interests are in play. The objective of this article-analysis is to present some key issues that will have to be addressed if a serious attempt is to be made in order to develop a Persian Gulf security regime.

The conceptual focus of the article-analysis is transition of regional orders from conflict-prone regions into cooperative ones. Regional cooperation is actually a school of thought that tackles cooperative interaction among states in a specific region. For example, a free trade area in the Middle East can potentially promote cooperation among regional states and thus make conflict undesirable.

The main concept here is that the Middle East and its subregions such as the Persian Gulf go currently through a transition as consequence of the 2003 war on Iraq. The transition 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.

Additionally, the article-analysis attempts to address the efforts of the European Union to construct a security framework for the Persian Gulf by giving special emphasis on the European strategic objectives. These include efforts to contribute to stability and good governance, the tackling of threats, new and old, as well as the establishment of an international order based on effective multilateralism.

A. Security Models and Partnerships

The three primary, competing schools of thought in security practice today are the traditional model of competitive realpolitik and the evolving, conflicting models of hegemony and cooperative security. Specifically, the traditional realpolitik model of international security can be considered as a set of interests based upon a rough balance of power.

On the contrary, the more recent American strategic evolution can be viewed as an imbalance of power and interests (hegemony) based upon both offensive and defensive threats used in conjunction with one another. Finally, the relatively recent cooperative security model can be thought of as a balance of interests based upon mutual reassurance.

To start with, the core of the traditional realpolitik school is that diplomacy is based upon a foundation of implicit and explicit military threats. These threats however, are not meant to deny another sovereign actor its core national interests and security concerns. All states have varying levels of common and competing interests. On this basis, commonalities may allow almost any state in the region to ally with another one.

This type of foreign policy practice was dominant during the period of nation-state development in Europe. The methodology of "conflict management" was basically one of competing military threats between shifting alliances, which were used to contain and influence one's neighbors. According to the dictates of the security dilemma, instability and conflict is often inevitable when one side's defensive actions begin to look offensive to its main competitor(s).

According to the realpolitik model, traditional balance-of-power methods of conflict management only seem to work when every state shares some degree of common values and interests, and thus has similar definitions of national security and stability. Also, every state respects the sovereignty and independence of all other actors and the existence of transnational or intranational movements or ideologies do not undermine the central role of the sovereign state as the primary actor.

Another school of thought is the hegemonic approach to regional security. It is based on the victory of a group of states' interests over others and on the operational use of military and economic means for compel as much as deterrence. Additionally, the United States seems to place renewed emphasis on the perfection of a threat-based national security methodology to maintain and expand its sovereign interests in the post-cold war world. This sort of practice is known in some circles as a "counter-proliferation" strategy.

The relation between the hegemonic and counter-proliferation approach is of special interest. The counter-proliferation or competitive approach views diplomatic relations largely in terms of bilateral and selectively multilateral relationships as well as in terms of formal alliances or informal security understandings between allies.

For the United States, this network for example, encompasses the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), non-allied Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Singapore, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (G.C.C.) states in the Middle East. Security is viewed as a fungible good that can be divided between opposing camps.

The hegemonic approach assumes that the deleterious effects of competition are best addressed through the elimination of competition itself—that is, through the persistent weakening of those actors who harbor opposed goals, views, and values.

In reference to the cooperative security school of thought, the central idea is that all nation-states that seek for certainty, predictability, and stability to their security can establish a relative more secure environment through mutual obligations. These obligations include the limitation of their military capabilities. Within this approach, only allies participate in security regimes.

However, the cooperative security outlook assumes that enemies or potential enemies will accept the same legal and technical constraints on behavior as allies, despite the existence of substantial mutual suspicions and mistrust. Security is guaranteed not through dominance, but through the outlaw of policy options that have the goal of achieving dominance over the opponent.

In other words, the central problem for a cooperative security regime is not deterrence, as in the cold war, but reassurance. Under the cooperative security approach, "security" is increasingly defined as a collective good that cannot be divided.

In fact, the cooperative security viewpoint believes that security is best pursued with other states rather than against them, including states that have different value systems and ideological goals.

Despite some limited cooperation between smaller coalitions such as bilateral arrangements between Israel and Jordan, or between the G.C.C. states, traditional notions of realpolitik inform the dominant thinking and practice among Middle East states today.

Regional governments have relied on outside powers to ensure a rough balance of power, in order to guarantee a set of interests, as defined by concerns over sovereignty, domestic identity, and regime security. Extensive contributions from external powers (United States, China, and Russia) have been utilized to construct and maintain this balance of power. This happened either in terms of maintaining a proxy balance through importation of weapons technology such as Russian-made missiles to Iran or American advanced conventional weapons to G.C.C. states or in deployments of military forces by the United States.

B. Regional Initiatives for Arms Control

Regional security initiatives started with the Baghdad Pact of 1955, and ended more recently, in the aftermath of the Madrid Peace Conference. The Baghdad Pact was an American-sponsored alliance mainly directed against former Soviet Union. The aim was to prevent the possibility of Soviet supported regimes taking over any country in West Asia. The Baghdad Pact was renamed Central Treaty Organization (CENTO).

Additionally, post-1991 security approaches were anchored by the UNSCOM (the United Nations Special Commission) efforts in Iraq and the multilateral working group on Arms Control and Regional Security (A.C.R.S.) established at Madrid. Specifically, a special task for A.C.R.S. was established as result of the Madrid peace conference.

Co-chaired by the United States and Russia, this track discussed ways and explored means to realize regional security needs and establish a framework based on overall comprehensive security. Within the context of A.C.R.S., states interacted in order to remove divergence for the sake of promoting arms control and security in the region.

The main objective of the peace process in the Middle East that provides for regional arms control efforts is to create security arrangements that would set the base for solid peaceful relations and coexistence among all states.

Nevertheless, instead of defining common regional security interests and creating a greater degree of understanding and cooperation, the A.C.R.S. framework became a source of rancor, and had a negative impact on the bilateral efforts to reach a negotiated settlement on the Palestinian-Israeli track, based on the 1993 "Oslo agreements."

Additionally, the A.C.R.S. framework never got off the ground, due in part to the absence of key players, such as Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Libya. Instead of areas for cooperative efforts to increase security, as it was anticipated in 1991, threat perceptions were often heightened. The hostility in the A.C.R.S. talks not only reflected the continuing ideological and political conflicts in the Middle East, but also spilled over to disrupt the other multilateral working groups and had a negative impact on the bilateral talks.

Previous attempts and initiatives to regulate arms transfer to the Middle East was the Tripartite Declaration of 1950 by the United States, Russia, and France that were committed to freeze arms transfers to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Equally important was President Jimmy Carter's initiative in the late 1970's that focused on the reduction of conventional arms sales to Third World countries.

Also significant were the two initiatives of President George H. W. Bush in 1991 and 1992, which dealt with W.M.D., chemical and biological weapons, and ballistic missiles. The Egyptian Initiative of 1990 supported by the majority of Arab states for the establishment of a peaceful and stable Middle East was significant. As well, the Paris Declaration of 1991 adopted by the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to outline regulations to reduce the flow of arms in the Middle East was a valuable effort.

The prospect of nonproliferation may apply in the Middle East once constructive steps are taken through the placement of facilities and installations in the region under the safeguard mechanisms of the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.). Additionally, the accession of regional states to international disarmament structures particularly the Non-Proliferation Treaty (N.P.T.), Chemical Weapons Convention (C.W.C.), and Biological Weapons Convention (B.W.C.) represents a practical measure toward nonproliferation.

The first steps toward major changes were embodied in the framework of the Additional Protocol of the I.A.E.A. (also known as the 93+2 safeguards review). The changes were based on the lessons learned after Iraq was discovered to have developed undeclared nuclear facilities in proximity to declared facilities. Under the Additional Protocol, N.P.T. signatories accept much wider access for inspectors, as well as environmental sampling outside specified facilities.

C. Regional Security and the Gulf Cooperation Council

The G.C.C. Charter enumerates a set of issues upon which security cooperation is envisaged. A common security policy among the Gulf States was not considered at the initial stage. In fact, it came in the form of ad hoc responses to regional challenges. Internal security and external defense constituted commonalities in the G.C.C. security cooperation.

At the outset, the G.C.C. states sought to dispel the notion that the council was created in response to the threats of security. Three sets of actions were agreed in pursuit of common goals—that is, a coordinated arms procurement policy, the development of a G.C.C. military industry, and improved facilities for military training. Additionally, it was clarified that the G.C.C. is not concerned with the Persian Gulf alone but also with Arab and Muslim causes.

The G.C.C. defines the concept of security in terms of social and economic affairs as well as cultural matters in addition to military security. Certain measures are advocated to the creation of a highly efficient transport and communications network among Gulf States, the establishment of a Persian Gulf information bank and enunciating a unified media strategy in the Persian Gulf with the aim to increase national awareness.

As well equally important is the linking of Persian Gulf security to that of the Red Sea and the Middle East as a single entity, the establishment of a special fund for Persian Gulf security, and the introduction of military service in all states of the region. Additionally, joint military exercises are organized on a frequent basis.

During the 1990's, the notion of "deterring forward" came into a reality in the Persian Gulf region and provided the model that was subsequently integrated into the Bush administration's Quadrennial Defense Review. The Defense Review called for the United States to develop capabilities in the operational theaters so that an immediate response to local military contingencies takes place.

Interestingly, the G.C.C. Summit of January 2000 produced an agreement characterized as a "joint defense pact." The agreement reportedly calls for increase in the existing G.C.C. Peninsula Shield force (P.S.F.) and for the G.C.C. to develop a shared early warning system. The agreement also reportedly includes language stating that an attack on one member is an attack on all G.C.C. states.

The agreement represents the culmination of efforts since the end of the Persian Gulf war of 1991 to give the G.C.C. secretariat a substantial role for collective defense. In the post-war Iraq Middle East, the United States could contribute to the development of the P.S.F. in cooperation with the G.C.C. states that can serve as an instrument for regional security.

In fact, the Persian Gulf infrastructure currently contributes to the war on terrorism in the form of support for operations in Afghanistan and Central Asia. That said, the Persian Gulf could provide the command and control backbone for any potential military operation against regional states as it happened during the United States-led war on Iraq. Notably, during the 1990's, the American military presence was developed in the Persian Gulf arena in order to contain the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein and deter Iran so that regional stability is maintained.

The 2003 war on Iraq has created a new dynamic that poses certain challenges on G.C.C. states. These challenges may exacerbate problems that each G.C.C. state faces in foreign and social-economic affairs, as well as in domestic politics.

D. Europe-G.C.C. Dialogue on Regional Security

The European Union has focused on developing a strategic partnership with the G.C.C. states since European security is closely linked to Persian Gulf security and stability. Despite the diversity of the countries in the Persian Gulf and the challenges they face, there is a clear connection between them arisen mainly from their growing interdependence. In this context, a cooperative approach favoring dialogue seems to be a must in security matters.

That said, a 2003 pre-war Iraq session of the Joint Council and Ministerial Meeting between the European Union and the G.C.C. reviewed a series of international and regional political issues of mutual interest. They also exchanged views on developments in the wider region with the aim to support and enhance regional peace, security, and stability.

The G.C.C. and the European Union over the last few years have reiterated their determination to further develop this sort of political dialogue in order to seek common solutions to mutual problems. The European Union-G.C.C. dialogue places special emphasis upon regional issues most prominently the Iraqi issue, the Middle East peace process and Iran, as well as on global matters notably the war on terrorism and the proliferation of W.M.D.

The G.C.C. and the European Union reaffirm their commitment to the independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Kuwait as well as other countries in the region, including Iraq, within their internationally recognized boundaries.

In reference to the Middle East peace process, the G.C.C. and the European Union stress that peace in the Middle East is an imperative for the establishment of a broader security regime. The G.C.C. and the European Union recognize Israel's legitimate security concerns and Palestinian legitimate rights to a viable Palestinian state, living peacefully side by side with Israel and its neighbors, all within secure borders, and stress their support to the Palestinian efforts to take forward the reform process.

The core of both sides' logic is that violence and confrontation must give way to negotiations and compromise. The international community, including the parties, shares a common vision of two States, Israel and an independent, viable, sovereign, and democratic Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security on the basis of the 1967 borders. The G.C.C. and the European Union support that the aim of all efforts remains the establishment of a just, comprehensive, and lasting peace in the Middle East, including Syria and Lebanon.

Thus, any peace agreement is expected to be based on the relevant Security Council resolutions, the principles of the Madrid Conference, the principle of "land for peace," Oslo, and subsequent agreements and take into account the Arab Peace Initiative of Saudi Arabia, initially endorsed by the Arab League in Beirut, in 2002. The implementation of any peace plan should be based on parallel progress in the security, political, and economic fields and be closely monitored by an appropriate monitoring mechanism.

In the case of the so-called "failed" states, the G.C.C. and the European Union recognize the importance of encouraging and supporting the reform process in Iran. In this respect, they welcome the conduct of negotiations between the European Union and Iran on "political dialogue and counter-terrorism." They also underline the need for Iran to play a constructive role on the regional and international scene.

Additionally, both sides express concern at the lack of progress toward resolution of the territorial conflict between the United Arab Emirates and Iran over Abu Musa and the Tunbs Islands. They specifically reiterate their support for a peaceful solution to the conflict in accordance with international law, either through direct negotiations or by referring the issue to the International Court of Justice.

On global issues notably terrorism and W.M.D. proliferation, they underline the importance of preventing the financing of terrorism by blocking terrorist groups from obtaining funds. The European Union and the G.C.C. also underline the importance of implementing Security Council Resolution 1373 and of working with the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee (C.T.C.), at national and regional levels.

Most importantly, the G.C.C. and the European Union are determined to support all efforts to establish a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region. The G.C.C. and the European Union specifically call upon all members of the international community to cooperate to stem the proliferation of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, including in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region.

They call upon all countries not yet party to relevant treaties, including the N.P.T., the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the Conventions on biological and chemical weapons, to sign and ratify them. Furthermore, they urge all states in the region to subscribe to the Hague Code of Conduct against ballistic missile proliferation.

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