Since 2011, member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have expressed interest full political and economic integration in a much-touted Gulf Union. As regional organisations are strengthening amidst an increasingly multipolar international order, the move is not illogical. But in the Middle East and North Africa, regional organisations – be they the GCC, the League of Arab States or the Organisation of the Islamic Conference – have suffered from a lack of vision and coherence. As the GCC itself has witnessed mixed fortunes at best, observers are reminded that regional integration here has been a schizophrenic affair, which begs the question: whether on economics, trade or security, what is a union good for?
Given bureaucratic and operational constraints and still-limited cooperation between GCC states on defence arrangements, a collective security architecture cannot simply be wished into existenceFatima Ayub
Enhancing trade, boosting common security and projecting power through a stronger foreign policy – the hallmarks and benefits of integration – are not especial priorities or concerns for the Gulf states. At the economic level, gains from integration are marginal. In contrast to other economic blocs such as the European Union, the Gulf countries trade vastly more with other countries and regions than they do with each other and certainly contribute relatively little to developing the infrastructure and institutions of its most important regional body. Though there are benefits to developing a common market with a customs union, unified taxation and regulatory regimes and free movement of labour, these countries are so rich that seeking financial benefits that might accrue from integration is not a priority.