Why Arab countries are called the Gulf

The Gulf States and NATO: the time has come to rethink the relationship

The way the current financial crisis has gripped the world clearly shows that no region in the world can remain isolated.

For example the Gulf region. A recent report by the Gulf Research Center on the impact of the US financial crisis on the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (Impact of the US Financial Crisis on GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) Countries) shows that the GCC states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) not only have extensive assets in the United States that have depreciated in a very short period of time, but also with financing and have to contend with liquidity problems, which have recently intensified and which in turn have adversely affected their own economic development.

On the stock markets of the GCC countries, some stock exchanges have lost over forty percent of their value since the beginning of 2008. This underscored not only the extensive mutual relationships that existed, but also the role expected of the GCC countries in creating a new sense of stability in global financial markets.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made this clear during a visit to the Gulf States in early November 2008 when he called on countries such as Saudi Arabia and other leading oil-producing countries in the Persian Gulf to contribute to a new financing facility being created within the International Monetary Fund.

What the recent crisis also makes clear is that the Gulf region, which is already the strategically most important part of the world, has an economic and security interest that is closely interwoven with developments at regional and international level.

However, it is often not understood that these effects work both ways.

It is important to realize that the role of the GCC Gulf States is an integral part of the development towards a regional security solution.

Events in the Gulf region have consequences that affect far beyond the borders of the region. Examples include the price of a barrel of oil, the increasing role of these countries' investments in Western countries, the instability in Iraq, the threat of terrorism or the possibility of military use of the Iranian nuclear program.

The Gulf cannot isolate itself from the turmoil in the rest of the world; nor can the main actors in the field of international security and stability afford to ignore the Gulf region or to pretend that developments there can be contained.

It is from this perspective that recent security and economic events must be viewed.

In terms of direct security policy, it is important to realize that the role of the GCC Gulf States is an integral part of the development towards a regional security solution.

So far, the main strategy for maintaining security in the Gulf has been to build on the fact that a major external power - the United States - would maintain the status quo, relations between the states of the region, and a minimum of at least perceived security. Given the often hostile attitudes of their neighbors, the Persian Gulf states saw the security of their own state and regime increasingly tied to military power and protection from the United States.

This was not necessarily because the US would resolve all existing and latent security dilemmas, but because it prevented at least the region’s main adversaries, Iran and Iraq, from putting their plans into action and realizing their intentions. As a result, the US has become a regional power that is deeply involved in the strategy debate in this region.

However, the increased reliance on the United States has proven unsuitable for ensuring long-term security in the Gulf region.

The US has taken different approaches to maintain security in this region. As part of the two-pillar policy of the 1970s, they built on Saudi Arabia and Iran. The balance of power politics of the 1980s made Iraq stronger than revolutionary Iran. In the 1990s, the double containment aimed to isolate Iran and Iraq at the same time. Finally, in 2003, the US approach led to direct intervention and the invasion of Iraq.

Not one of these approaches has even managed to give the region the appearance of a better security environment. Each of these approaches, however, has harbored the seeds for the next crisis.

From an American perspective, the situation has become equally untenable as the US military has an increasingly heavy burden to bear - at a time when the US military and political role is becoming a target for frustration and extremism in the region has become. After eight years of unilateral policy by the Bush administration in conjunction with the latest financial crisis, which also began in the United States, I have no question that the United States is as much a problem as it is a solution to regional problems.

All of this should suggest that the Persian Gulf countries should consider reorienting their security. The relationship between the USA and the GCC countries will undoubtedly remain close: In view of their own security problems, which are quite real, the governments of the GCC countries cannot allow themselves to suddenly destroy the bridges behind them and look for alternative security solutions.

Nonetheless, a shift is taking place that is already leading to greater internationalization in the Gulf, closer integration of states from Europe and Asia, as well as a reorientation of the views of the states on the Persian Gulf towards their position in the international system and the role played by the USA play in this context.

The idea and concept of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI) and its orientation towards the Gulf region must be located within this global debate. When NATO launched its initiative with a view to this region at the Istanbul Summit in 2004, the idea and the concept behind it were often described as too vague or too ambitious.

On the other hand, the ICI was seen as a large-scale plan that would solve all problems associated with the US presence while providing the GCC states with the security they need to ensure their long-term stability.

Still others argued that the ICI was nothing more than a US presence in new clothes and that what the ICI offered was not necessarily what the region needed.

What was missing most was the concept of multilateralism in the sense that the ICI was essentially a bilateral program applied to the individual GCC states, while NATO approached the region as a multilateral organization.

It is time for the GCC countries to signal to NATO that they want cooperation to be deepened and broadened.

In the light of the fact that the Persian Gulf security dilemma remains unresolved, that the GCC countries continue to face the twofold problem of a threatening Iran and an unstable Iraq, and that the recent unrest has increased the interdependence between the GCC countries and the rest of the world, it is necessary to reconsider the ICI initiative to better understand what its real value lies.

This presupposes the assessment that the ICI is no longer seen as a suspicious plan full of ulterior motives, but as the first step towards a relationship based on better and deeper cooperation.

The ICI is not an automatic solution to the security dilemmas in the Gulf region - however, the initiative was not designed as such.

Rather, it is part of a step-by-step process that highlights potential areas for cooperation and defines specific areas of mutual interest and common goals. Ultimately, the ICI provides what the recipient countries expect from it - and it is up to the GCC countries to decide what they want to receive from the NATO alliance.

More important is the growing recognition that the ICI is a mechanism through which the GCC states see their security interests best represented and that there is therefore a need to intensify the GCC states' relations with NATO.

As far as security in the Persian Gulf is concerned, China, Russia, India and other Asian countries are not alternatives and cannot be viewed as replacements for the US in the region. While the US military role in the region has its own problems and complications, it is an integral part of securing the independence and sovereignty of the GCC states in a dangerous and unpredictable environment.

At the same time, Washington could move under the new US administration to a position in which, due to public pressure or for financial reasons, it decides to reduce its military presence throughout the Gulf region and to internationalize its presence in Iraq. Under such conditions, closer relations between NATO and the GCC states would be a viable alternative, which could contribute to the necessary stabilization of the region and at the same time maintain the links to the necessary US presence.

In addition, the ICI is the right platform to improve cooperation and coordination in the region.

It is time, therefore, for the GCC Gulf States to send a strong signal to NATO that they want cooperation within the ICI to be deepened and expanded.

And although Saudi Arabia and Oman have not yet joined the ICI, such a new direction could accelerate developments and advance the process in such a way that these states also consider joining.