The GCC’s future military command a ‘political signal,’ say experts

Analysts say the move to create a unified military command is a step towards the Gulf's unity

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Leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States on Wednesday approved the founding of a unified military command structure that could combat threats to the region.

Additionally, the UAE was chosen by GCC leaders to be the host of a think tank for the study of shared security threats in the region, according to UAE-based newspaper The National.

The military initiative by GCC member states was largely a “political signal,” Matteo Legrenzi, an associate professor and chair in international relations and Gulf studies at Ca' Foscari University of Venice, told Al Arabiya News.

The move was “radically different from a NATO-style integrated command,” he added, noting that such announcements would likely not lead to an integration of GCC member states' armed forces.

However, such moves should not be underestimated, said Legranzi, being “signals of dissatisfaction to the current trends in the politics of the Middle East,” he said.

Established in 1981, the GCC council was created to foster political, economic and security ties among its six-member states – Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Yemen and Bahrain.

David Weinberg, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Al Arabiya News the announcement is a step towards the GCC’s unity.

“The Gulf states share a common cultural, political, and strategic heritage, and therefore the latest GCC summit represents another notable step toward the widely shared aspiration of unity in the Gulf,” Weinberg said.

During Wednesday’s summit, the Gulf states hailed Iran’s “new orientation” towards the region.

The monarchies said they “welcome the new orientation by the Iranian leadership towards the Gulf Cooperation Council and hope it will be followed by concrete measures that would positively impact regional peace.”

The region has been historically weary over Iran’s nuclear program, which is widely believed to be aimed at obtaining atomic weapons, and has not eliminated the possibility of military actions in response to Iranian threats.

Some analysts say that the move to create a unified military command could act as a counter to possible military threats by Iran and holds a strong symbolic political meaning toward the United States as well.

The GCC was initially founded to counter the influence of Iran in the Gulf and the Middle East.

“This announcement should be read in symbolic text. It is a sign to both Iran and the United States,” said Legrenzi.

“GCC countries are trying to say we are standing together and are ready to confront Iran, if necessary,” he added.

“The message sends a political signal to the United States by saying GCC countries are displeased by the American policy in the region, regarding Syria and recent agreements with Iran,” he also said.

Some Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia, believe the United States is not taking into account Gulf interests after Washington’s tone towards Tehran changed.

Other states however, like Qatar and Oman, have sought ties with the Shi’ite nation.

“The threat is differentiated between GCC countries. Iran is not the only threat to GCC, Oman and South Yemen have their own threats,” said Fahed al-Shelaimi, chairman of the Gulf Forum for Peace and Security.

Shelaimi said if GCC countries are struggling to adopt a unification similar to the European Union, collaboration on “military and political factors are the most reasonable and approachable.”

The command, in his opinion, is a step towards a stronger defense system in the Gulf.

“A unified command could synchronize the meaning of threat. A command can plan and forecast the kinds and sizes of threats that could be facing the region,” Shelaimi told Al Arabiya News.

“One main principle of war is coordination. [The command would help] coordinate military activity between GCC countries, such as air, ground and maritime activities. It could close the gap between the GCC military body,” he said.

Shelaimi believes the command can benefit from the variety of weapons systems in the Gulf, given the fact GCC countries seek different sources to buy their weapons, including France, Britain and the United States.

It would also allow the integration of GCC forces on a battle ground if necessary, he added.

“We can create a new generation of Gulf officers who are able to have a joint battle management. The unified command can increase the number of personnel,” he said.

Khaled al-Maeena, editor-in-chief of the Saudi Gazette, said many questions regarding the role of the newly-announced command still need answering.

Since its creation, the council has never come close to cooperating on military matters on this scale.

“In the case of NATO there are clear structures of command. [But] will the [unified command] go active at the behest of a single country?” Maeena asked.

“I think [it would be a] NATO type force with a similar chain of command and it should be headed on an alternative basis. Given the petty wrangling of the GCC states it would not be any easy process,” he told Al Arabiya News.

Weinberg echoed similar sentiments, saying “divergent state interests” will continue to pose a challenge for GCC institutions to take further steps toward unity.

“Oman and Qatar will likely resist making military consolidation binding in the future for fear of putting their marine natural gas fields (which are shared with Tehran) at risk in the event that they want to sit out a conflict between Iran and the rest of in the Gulf,” he added.

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