In mid-December, the defense ministers and heads of delegations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for Arab States concluded their 34th session. Besides usual GCC business, the Kuwait Summit was noteworthy for “discussion by The Supreme Council agreeing on the establishment of the joint military command to the GCC member states and assigned the Joint Defense Council to take necessary measures to put this agreement into effect according to the relevant studies.”
There was also discussion by the GCC Defense Ministers establishing the foundation of a maritime security coordination center for maritime security including a new Gulf Academy for Strategic and Security Studies in Abu Dhabi. On top of these developments, The Supreme Council ratified the draft resolutions to establish a joint Gulf police force, stressing that the new body will boost security and help expand security and anti-terror cooperation and coordination among member states.” This language shows further development towards enhancing the concept of a GCC Union as promulgated by Saudi King Abdullah in 2011 since defense and security is the core uniting factor between the Arabian Gulf states.
Gulf commentators are calling the Kuwait Summit a success in steps towards a GCC Union. Yet there are observations and questions being raised about progress en route to a new level of unity. Oman is already opting out of the GCC Union and there are policy splits between the GCC states on key issues regarding Iran and Syria. In addition, what was said at the GCC Summit in terms of security and police already exists—there is Peninsula Shield with a command headquarters and it is widely known that the security services and police of each GCC state cooperate intensively “behind the scenes.” To drive the point home, the joint unified command idea is being sent to the GCC Military-Technical Committee that may take quite a bit of time to make a decision. Finally, what was agreed to publically at the GCC summit already exists “behind the scenes” except for the formation of the new Gulf Academy for Strategic and Security Studies Center in Abu Dhabi, UAE. According to sources, this center is to be built upon the Mezmah Center for Islamic Studies, known for their anti-Muslim Brotherhood conferences and publications.
A show of GCC unity to Iran
Another major achievement of the Kuwait Summit attempted to show GCC unity in the wake of the P5+1 interim agreement. Although the Kuwait Summit date had been announced some months before, the meeting took on new urgency after the events in Geneva regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Consequently, the GCC states needed to make a statement about “jointness” in military command and operations while at the same time acknowledging the fact that other threats exist to the GCC—namely the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda franchise groups and their brigades. One can assume that the GCC leadership, at least in the meantime, as an EU or NATO type defense organization, may become a reality in the future. The threat matrix for some of the GCC countries is changing-- Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood were at the top of the threat list to the GCC states. Now with the interim agreement, the GCC seems to be rallying around a new threat—that of non-state actors from throughout the MENA region, that threaten the bulk of the monarchies, as opposed to the Iranian threat, which seems to be, at the time of this writing, reducing its menacing actions and making peaceful overtures and engaging with Qatar and Oman to name a few.
By far the most significant event in the wake of the Kuwait Summit was when U.S. President Barack Obama issued a presidential determination to facilitate the sale of U.S. weapons to the GCC. The White House wants the GCC to receive defense articles and defense services under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the Arms Export Control Act. The move by the Obama administration shows the rapid development in events since Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced plans this month at the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain to sell weapons to the GCC as a block, as opposed to selling to individual nations within the council. Everyone recognizes that for America it is much easier to sell systems to one buyer to promote jointness and interoperability. Obama’s finding stated: “I hereby find that the furnishing of defense articles and defense services to the Gulf Cooperation Council will strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace,” the document stated. What the document is really trying to do is show Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah that the strategic relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia is robust and strong. But other GCC states may still want to seek their own bilateral agreements with the Americans and not be tied to GCC purchases because of individual requirements and procurement needs.
Clearly, the United States is trying to reassure the Kingdom and other GCC states that America is not abandoning the region, which, as we know, is a common perception from the Arabian Peninsula. But Washington D.C. must also put more voices out in the media to illustrate and promulgate the American position. The presidential determination received very little hype and to some observers, because of a lack of a meaningful and robust information campaign by the United States, is dead on arrival—or at the very least, on life support. Overall, December 2013 may be recorded by historians as a turning point where good intentions at the Kuwait Summit in the GCC defense and security sphere, combined with the American overture, shows that more work is necessary across the board.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.
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