Yemen crisis: a full-time joint GCC force is a priority

Last night, the Royal Saudi Armed Forces put Operation Decisive Storm into action

Zaid M. Belbagi

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Houthi rebels stormed Sanaa in September and have since sought to expand their control over other areas of Yemen. They are part of a complex power play, being supported by President Hadi's predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh and Iran. Hadi on the other hand, backed by military loyalists and militia known as Popular Resistance Committees, is trying to thwart their advance. This is complicated by the presence of Al Qaeda and forces sympathetic to ISIS. Such is the chaos that is Yemen, a continued thorn in the side of Arabian Peninsula.

Last night, the Royal Saudi Armed Forces put Operation Decisive Storm into action. The Saudis are part of a coalition including Emirati, Bahraini, Qatari, Kuwaiti, Moroccan, Jordanian, Egyptian and Pakistani armed forces. The unified action, coming soon after similar action in Iraq against ISIS serves to renew debates about having a solid and integrated full-time apparatus for GCC military coordination.

The GCC occupies a constantly shifting and volatile region

Given the historical and political context of the formation of the GCC, it was originally intended to act as a bulwark to revolutionary Iran. However, interestingly the “basic objectives” of Article (4.3) of its charter did not mention military or security cooperation. Since 1981, though analyses and studies were commissioned, there was a lack coherent military strategy and political support for coordination.

Deliberate destabilization of Yemen

The GCC occupies a constantly shifting and volatile region; bringing the military aspect of its integration to the fore. The Iranian nuclear agenda, though not explicitly targeted toward the GCC, has succeeded in exacerbating to longstanding fault lines. Taking into account its ambition to exercise hegemony in the Gulf, its nuclear program has raised the stakes of the regional strategic game. This has drawn attention to the need for a long-term and inclusive GCC security framework. The increased Iranian threat must be viewed in respect to the fallout from state collapse in Iraq and Syria, subversive action in Bahrain and its deliberate destabilization of Yemen.

Within this context the pooling of forces as seen with the Yemen situation is not just a requirement but an inevitability. When Abdullatif Al-Zayani became Secretary General of the GCC he announced expanding the Peninsula Shield and stationing the troops in each of the member countries. He stated that, “the GCC flag will fly together with the national flags of the GCC countries at all land, air and sea ports of the member countries, troops from The Jazeera Shield will be stationed in each of the six member countries.” Military realization of this symbolic act is exactly what the Arabian Peninsula needs and last night’s action is a step in the right direction. It highlights the recognition of the need for adequate defenses in the fact of new threats.

As with other GCC projects, political will and support is needed to drive further integration of the armed forces. The major GCC countries’ procurement projects need to be fully interoperable with common doctrine and organization. To give one example, at present, there are no common logistics so that Bahraini F-16s can operate from bases in the UAE[iii]. This necessity cannot be superseded or indeed entirely replaced by keeping separate security agreements and guarantees with outside powers. At the 2004 Manama Dialogue, Saudi Foreign Minster Saud Al Faisal was prophetic in warning how reliance on separate military ties with foreign powers undermine GCC efforts, “in the military sphere any agreement with a third party cannot substitute for the necessity of developing the indigenous resources of the GCC”.

With an Iran bent on destabilizing the peninsula, those indigenous GCC resources are a priority.
Zaid M. Belbagi is a government communications expert with experience in providing strategic advice in the Gulf. Belbagi is a graduate of the Oxford University Foreign Service Programme (OUFSP), having earned a Masters degree in diplomatic studies from St. Antony's College, Oxford. A commentator on Gulf affairs, he is a fellow at the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) and formerly a visiting scholar at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCRIS). He regularly appears on TV.

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