- Essential ingredients of a framework for stability and security
- The Gulf Cooperation Council and the U.S.
- Current Scenario in GCC
- An evolving transformation
- India’s Relations
Cooperative security in Persian Gulf littoral
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- Countries around the Persian Gulf are major producers of crude oil and natural gas, and thereby contributing critically to the global economy and to their own prosperity. This has added to their geopolitical significance. At the same time, turbulence has often characterized their inter se political relations.
- The lands around Persian Gulf are shared by eight countries (Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates), all members of the UN.
- For eight decades prior to 1970, this body of water was a closely guarded British lake, administered in good measure by imperial civil servants from India.
- The Nixon and the Carter Doctrines were the logical outcome to ensure American hegemony.
- An early effort for collective security, attempted in a conference in Muscat in 1975, was thwarted by Iraq. The Iranian Revolution put an end to the Twin Pillar approach and disturbed the strategic balance.
- The Iraq-Iran War enhanced U.S. interests and role and after that it was left to the Security Council to explore ‘measures to enhance the security and stability in the region’.
Essential ingredients of a framework for stability and security
- Conditions of peace and stability in individual littoral states.
- Freedom to all states of the Gulf littoral to exploit their hydrocarbon and other natural resources and export them.
- Freedom of commercial shipping in international waters of the Persian Gulf.
- Freedom of access to, and outlet from, Gulf waters through the Strait of Hormuz
- Prevention of conflict that may impinge on the freedom of trade and shipping
- Prevention of emergence of conditions that may impinge on any of these considerations.
The Gulf Cooperation Council and the U.S.
- The U.S. effort to ‘contain’ the Iranian revolutionary forces, supplemented by the effort of the Arab states of the littoral (except Iraq) through the instrumentality of the Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC (May 1981), to coordinate, cooperate and integrate to ‘serve the sublime objectives of the Arab Nation’ initially met with success in some functional fields and a lack of it in its wider objectives.
- In the meantime, geopolitical factors and conflicts elsewhere in the West Asian region — Yemen, Syria, Libya — aggravated global and regional relationships.
- It hampered an arrangement allowing U.S.-Iran to coexist peacefully that was to be premised on the multilateral agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme agreed to by western powers.
- But the strident policies of current U.S. President have taken the region to the brink of an armed conflict.
- Perceptions of declining U.S. commitment to sub-regional security have been articulated in recent months amid hints of changing priorities.
- This is reported to have caused disquiet in perhaps all, members of the GCC, the hub of whose security concern remains pivoted on an Iranian threat and an American insurance to deter it based on a convergence of interests in which oil, trade, arms purchases, etc. have a role along with wider U.S. regional and global determinants.
Current Scenario in GCC
- A common GCC threat perception has not evolved over time and has been hampered by the emergence of conflicting tactical and strategic interests and subjective considerations. The current divisions within the organization are therefore here to stay.
- These have been aggravated by the global economic crisis, such as the immediate and longer term impact of COVID-19 on regional economies, the problems in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and the decline in oil prices.
An evolving transformation
- Saudi Arabia is a fading power. UAE, Qatar and Iran are emerging as the new regional leaders and Oman and Iraq will have to struggle to retain their sovereign identities.
- The GCC is effectively ended, and OPEC is becoming irrelevant as oil policy moves to a tripartite global condominium.
- These shows that the Persian Gulf known for at least three generations is in the midst of a fundamental transformation.
- In the current situation, the Arab states of this sub-region are left to individual devices to explore working arrangements with Iraq and Iran.
- With Iran in particular and notwithstanding the animosities of the past, pragmatic approaches of recent months seem to bear fruit.
- Oman has always kept its lines of communication with Iran open.
- Kuwait and Qatar had done likewise but in a quieter vein, and now the UAE has initiated pragmatic arrangements.
- Both Iran and the GCC states would benefit from a formal commitment to an arrangement; so would every outside nation that has trading and economic interests in the Gulf. This could be sanctified by a global convention.
- The Persian Gulf littoral with reference to India is an exercise in geography and history. The bilateral relationship, economic and political, with the GCC has blossomed in recent years.
- The governments of Gulf countries are India-friendly and Indian-friendly and appreciate the benefits of a wide-ranging relationship.
- The bilateral trade of around $121 billion and remittances of $49 billion from a workforce of over nine million.
- GCC suppliers account for around 34% of Indian crude imports.
- National oil companies in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi are partners in a $44 billion investment in the giant Ratnagiri oil refinery.
- Also, Saudi Aramco is reported to take a 20% stake in Reliance oil-to-chemicals business.
- The current adverse impact of the pandemic on India’s economic relations with the GCC countries has now become a matter of concern.
- The relationship with Iran is complex at all times and has economic potential and geopolitical relevance on account of its actual or alleged role in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
- India has eschewed involvement in local or regional disputes.
- Indian interests necessitate their totality, peace and regional stability, freedom of navigation and access to the region’s markets in terms of trade, technology and manpower resources rather than power projection.
- Indian interests would be best served if this stability is ensured through cooperative security since the alternative cannot ensure durable peace of competitive security options.
- Record shows that the alternative of exclusive security arrangements promotes armament drives, enhances insecurity and aggravates regional tensions. It unavoidably opens the door for Great Power interference.