As challenges rise, GCC members edge closer

Friday 01/01/2016
Gulf foreign ministers attending a meeting in Riyadh

LONDON - 2015 was a defining year for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with politi­cal, economic and military challenges pushing the six-nation alliance towards a more in­terdependent codified union.

As regional security threats mount via groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS), coupled with the antagonistic behaviour to­wards Gulf countries courtesy of Iran and its proxies, the GCC has had to rethink its regional outlook and military capabilities.

Adding a sense of urgency to the union was the nuclear deal reached between Iran and six world powers in July, which is already being put to the test with the Islamic republic testing a missile capable of deliver­ing a nuclear warhead in October, a breach of previous UN resolutions.

Saudi Arabia and its GCC neigh­bours fear that sanctions relief will give Tehran additional resources to pursue hostile regional policies, in­cluding support for groups such as Hezbollah and the Houthi militia, the latter of which Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been embroiled in a war against since March in Yemen.

Furthermore, with reports that the countries negotiating the nu­clear deal with Iran caved on a long-standing central demand for com­plete transparency about possible military dimensions (PMDs) of its nuclear agenda led some analysts to say that Saudi Arabia would seek its own programme to counter the threat from is traditional rival.

In an editorial in London’s Daily Telegraph, Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi analyst and former adviser to the Saudi ambassador in the United Kingdom, wrote that Saudi Arabia has “for past several years been laying the groundwork for a civil nuclear programme with no PMDs. However, there is a strong possibil­ity that the kingdom might begin to engage in contingency planning for a defensive nuclear programme with PMDs. This planning repre­sents an emerging Saudi nuclear defence doctrine.”

The conflict in Yemen could con­tinue to be a major issue for the GCC. With peace talks and cease­fires regularly falling apart and with civilian casualties mounting, the desire to find a comprehensive po­litical resolution is high on Saudi-led coalition agenda.

Furthermore, if a peace deal is reached, the tasks of rebuilding the country and, more importantly, ad­dressing the militant threat in Yem­en could prove to be difficult tasks, with both al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS making their presence known in the war-torn country.

In December, ISIS claimed re­sponsibility for the killing of Aden’s governor, General Jaafar Moham­med Saad, underscoring the securi­ty vacuum courtesy of the war and decades of government corruption during the Ali Abdullah Saleh era. Additionally, AQAP, which has long had a presence in Yemen took over a couple of cities in the southern re­gions of the country in December.

2015 also saw ISIS make its pres­ence known in the GCC region with a series of terror attacks and killings in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bah­rain, with the goal of stirring sec­tarian strife between the Sunni and Shia communities.

And with the ISIS attacks in France and the United States renewing the blame game, particularly towards Saudi Arabia, Saudi Foreign Minis­ter Adel al-Jubeir, in defence, said that the kingdom “has been subject to criticism in Europe, and France in particular, with regard to extrem­ism and Daesh (an Arabic acronym for ISIS), and I think it is based on not knowing the facts.”

According to a Reuters report, Western media often fail to note the war of words and accusations of apostasy between Saudi clergy and jihadist preachers.

As a result of the continuing ISIS threat, the GCC and its Muslim al­lies announced a 34-member Islam­ic military alliance, which Jubeir revealed would involve members asking for assistance from the coa­lition, which would then be ad­dressed on a case-by-case basis. Jubeir did not rule out the deploy­ment of ground troops, saying: “There is no limit in terms of where the assistance would be provided or to whom it would be provided.”

As a consequence of these chal­lenges, Gulf leaders are working on realising their dream of a Gulf Union, styled after the European Union and designed to unify Gulf states’ regional and military influ­ence and economic power.

Bahraini Information Minister Isa al-Hammadi, stressed recently that a GCC union is just “a matter of time”.

He pointed out that the GCC has become, since its inception in 1981, one of the most powerful econom­ic, political and regional blocs and that the union would boost the GCC citizenship, common market, mon­etary union as well as security and military partnerships.