The Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] was established in May 1981 to serve as an organization for the six Arab Gulf states, in their capacity as states that share political, economic, and social characteristics. More importantly, the GCC was established to meet the need for cooperation and coordination in the face of large countries with expansionist ambitions, like Iran, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and even [to combat] the old dreams of dividing and conquering Kuwait.
Since the establishment of this organization for the Arabs of the Gulf, the objectives that were the original motivation behind the creation of this joint organization have failed to be achieved. The GCC charter states that the purpose of establishing this council is to “effect coordination, integration and inter-connection between member states in all fields in order to achieve unity between them.”
Therefore the GCC charter talks about “coordination, integration and inter-connection” in “all fields in order to achieve unity.” This sentence has not been made up, but is part of Article 4 of the GCC charter.
If we truly try to compare these words to the reality on the ground we will see that these words do not accurately or sincerely reflect the true state of affairs. Despite some wonderful examples of cooperation, there have also been many incidents that represent a lack of coordination, and there are inconsistencies in some important fields.
Someone could say, “These were the objectives and ambitions of the GCC three decades ago when it was first established; it is natural for reality to be different than the [original] hopes and dreams. This is something that does not only apply to regional organizations; this is a law of nature. For good words and intentions are not enough to establish political ties and a political reality. Rather it is a union of interests or at least a convergence [of interests] that forge such bonds and these are further solidified by social interests and deep “inter-relation” which makes going back on these developments later on – for one reason or another – elusive and impossible to achieve.”
To start with, it is largely true that there is more that unites the Gulf states than divides them. We must talk rationally, and away from sentimentalism; most of the Gulf states are small countries with low populations density and abundant oil wealth. Therefore they are coveted, whether by the regional giants or by overseas giants such as the US, Russia, and China. This reason is enough to unite these countries, for as the saying goes there is strength in unity. This unity means coordinating positions as stated in Article 4 of the GCC charter.
I do not believe that cultural and social similarities are a sufficient reason for unity, as previously the similarities between North and South Yemen were so close that these two countries could be considered twins, but conflict of interests and a lack of developing common interests resulted in the emergence of two Yemens; namely North and South Yemen. A fragile union was attempted, which resulted in bloody division, and which was followed by an even more violent and bloody re-unification war, and now the unrest in the south has flared up once more. The same goes for the countries of the Levant and Latin America. However, this has not been enough to compel “all” states to establish political coordination and integration.
The GCC, in spite of this criticism, is considered to be the most successful Arab cooperative organization, and it has long been said that it is enough that the GCC has endured for three decades during which other Arab organizations have collapsed, like the Arab Cooperation Council [ACC], the Central Treaty Organization [also known as the Baghdad Pact], and the Hashemite Union [of Jordan and Iraq]. The GCC is the only [Arab] organization to hold its annual summit every year without interruption. Gulf citizens interacted strongly and creatively in solidarity with the GCC, pouring into each other’s countries via bridges, land routes and airports. Many of the GCC states have also now facilitated the process of traveling to GCC countries with the issuance of national identity cards, and with GCC citizens enjoying extra facilities and services in other GCC countries. Today Gulf citizens are aware of their pan-Gulf identity, even with regards to the simplest things, like the existence of special queues for Gulf citizens at airports in GCC states. In short, features of a common Gulf identity have gradually been shaped, and this in itself represents a huge accomplishment and major breakthrough.
A lot of Gulf intellectuals discussed the importance of a joint interest between Gulf states and the creation of durable economic and service cooperation in order to consolidate this unity or union, whatever you want to call it. Perhaps the electricity grip project initiated in the Kuwait summit is an example of this practical cooperation.
Back to the primary purpose of the formation of the GCC and let us be frank here; the GCC’s main aim is to protect its member states from the threats and ambitions of envious countries and to create cooperation and unity between Gulf states. The feeling that such a close union is necessary means that there was an explicit or implicit threat that prompted these states to try and close ranks.
This pressing necessity came to light in the 1990 Doha summit, which the Gulf states called for immediately after the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s army and its full occupation of that Gulf state. This put the GCC to the test and in its most awkward situation in its history. The summit was a success and the Gulf states joined forces and supported Kuwait. Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad mentioned that in his most recent statement to the Kuwaiti News Agency [KUNA] just before the 30th summit began. This test took place around two decades ago, but what are the threats facing the Gulf states today?
Here assessments and analyses differ, but I don’t think anyone could argue against the fact that there are dangers at present that threaten the Gulf security system; most prominently the incessant clashes in southern Saudi Arabia fought by proxy on part of Houthi militias in favour of Iran. This war that this militia has used to exhaust an already impoverished country like Yemen is a present danger and not just a theoretical analysis or a prediction of the future. That is why the Foreign Minister of Yemen attended the Kuwait summit and explained to everyone the gravity of the situation in Yemen.
Back in 1990, the Gulf states justifiably closed ranks in order to put an end to the injustice inflicted upon Kuwait and even sent troops to the front. Now Saudi Arabia is facing a war by proxy with Iran. The objective of this war is to undermine the Sanaa government and derail Saudi Arabia from its regional role regarding the Iranian project. This war is far more dangerous than what it seems as some people – whether accidentally or purposefully – claim that Iran has nothing to do with the confrontation that is taking place in southern Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia does not need any military support, even though a country like Kuwait took the initiative and offered reinforcement troops. What Saudi Arabia needs is awareness on part of fellow Gulf states and all Arab countries as to the reality and danger of what is going on there. How can we talk about “coordination”, “integration and “inter-connection” as mentioned in Article 4 of the GCC’s charter when we can see stark differences when it comes to the approaches of the Gulf states towards the nature of the Iranian role in the region?
We are not demanding that the Gulf states adopt identical positions towards Khomeinist Iran. Of course there are individual cases pertaining to each Gulf state that determine the nature of its approach and understanding of Iran. However, the fear is that some policies are not bringing about any kind of enriching and beneficial differences, but rather harmful contention.
The GCC is a cooperation council not a union; that is true. But the minimum level of cooperation includes the basic concepts of security in every sense of the word.
In any case, and despite all this, Gulf citizens have every right – after this long journey that required the efforts of an entire generation – to be proud of the survival of the GCC and its survival amidst a state of Arab chaos. They have a right to be proud of the strengthening of ties between the citizens of Gulf states and of the cooperation and union of the Gulf states in the face of those who lie in wait for them from the east, north and far west, especially as nearly three decades have passed since the creation of the GCC as its 30th summit comes to a close.