Saudi King Abdullah’s legacy and the GCC

The passing of Saudi King Abdullah brings into perspective his efforts to unify the GCC primarily in the defense realm

Dr. Theodore Karasik

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The passing of Saudi King Abdullah brings into perspective his efforts to unify the GCC primarily in the defense realm. This foresight by King Abdullah should be remembered as a major contribution to the safety and security of the GCC states.

In 2011, when King Abdullah announced the intention to create the Gulf Union, one facet of the initiative stood out immediately – that of defense.

At the time, the idea of the Gulf Union was to unify many aspects of the GCC under a new mantle, across a number of fields from economics to social issues to defense.

Defense of the GCC was a paramount concern in the current regional environment, especially considering Iran’s assertive behavior in the Arab states.

With the rising of the ISIS, the idea of GCC Union, and defense requirements, became a stronger requirement.

In December 2014, the 35th Ministerial and Heads of State Summit was held in Doha, Qatar. This meeting held one of its most important gatherings ever: the results were impressive in terms of unity in the face of unprecedented threats and security issues facing the GCC based on the concept of defense and GCC Union.

Regional police force

At the Summit, not only were 4000 land-based forces added to Peninsula Shield as joint forces but also the further integration of police and naval forces announced.

Specifically, the GCC leaders also announced a regional police force in addition to a joint naval force. The idea of a regional police force, known now as GCC-POL, and a separate joint naval force has been in the works for the past three years.

GCC-POL is based out of Abu Dhabi and the joint naval force is located in Bahrain. The realizing of the King’s notion of Union is seen in the defense “web” developing in its brother states who welcome greater security integration.

Robust joint security

The reason behind the development of GCC-POL was, and will be, to focus on two key threats: The current and future internal extremist threat in the GCC states, particularly from ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as state meddling in the GCC by neighboring powers, notably Iran.

GCC-POL will also focus on drug trafficking, money laundering and cyber-crime within the GCC as well as external illicit crime networks. Although GCC interior ministries maintain information sharing, maritime security in the Arabian Gulf needs to be joint and it is critical to coordinate not only to protect sea-lanes and fisheries but also energy platforms and shipping.

Here, unity of the GCC’s maritime littoral is an important requirement that requires immediate attention. Most GCC states are upping their shallow water operations and coordination through procurement.

Joint exercises to protect air, land, and sea from foreign threats are increasing. These include multiple bi-lateral and multi-lateral exercises that include Arab states outside of the GCC are also a major contribution based on King Abdullah’s drive for Union.

These exercises are critical and play a role in current operations led by the United States, such as the ongoing Operation Inherent Resolve, against ISIS.

The king’s vision

King Abdullah’s call for a GCC Union also has a sub-component to the defense philosophy: that of bringing other Arab countries together with the GCC states. Jordan, Morocco and Egypt were also part of the King’s vision as GCC security interests span across North Africa as Libya tears itself apart.

King Abdullah’s visit to Cairo to meet Egyptian President Al-Sisi will be remembered as a key moment in rebuilding ties between the GCC and Egypt for greater regional security.

King Abdullah’s visit to Cairo to meet Egyptian President Al-Sisi will be remembered as a key moment in rebuilding ties between the GCC and Egypt for greater regional security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Joint operations, arms purchases, and coordination of defense planning are now a norm thanks to the late Saudi monarch’s prudence. This cooperation, practiced as a matter of policy by all GCC states, is taking the form of increased intelligence and information sharing, the use of air power, and special operation forces operating under joint commands with Arab partners.

In effect, these “purple forces” will be wearing a new regional hat and launching pin-point attacks. Yemen will be the next order of business according to the concept of protecting the concept of Union.

Without King Abdullah’s forward thinking, none of these developments would have been possible.

His legacy will last

Clearly, the idea of GCC union in terms of alliance is an absolute security requirement. Luckily, King Abdullah planted the notion early and the technical plans for such a security arrangement are already taking shape.

A robust interoperable GCC will help to coordinate what is looking like a three-front war from observers on the Arabian Peninsula: to the north, the violence in the Levant, to the west, the terrorist networks across North Africa and the Sinai, and to the south, the ever-continuing downward spiral and mutations of the Yemeni religio-political landscape.

The timing by the Arab states on a military alliance on these urgent and perilous matters were and are spot on. King Abdullah’s legacy will last for years.


Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Senior Advisor to Risk Insurance Management in Dubai, UAE. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans. He tweets: @tkarasik

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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