GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Geopolitics of the Nuclear Deal and prospects of Iran-GCC ties
Paper Proposal Text :
Iran’s ties with six countries belonging to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), especially Saudi Arabia, are a subtext of much larger geopolitical tussle, involving Russia and China on one end of the spectrum, and the West, led by the United States, on the other. The canvass of this escalating new “Cold War” is the entire Eurasian landmass, of which West Asia including the GCC, North Africa and Levant are vital components.
It appears that the interests of the Atlantic Alliance, and the energy rich GCC countries, have cemented further in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. The Atlantic Alliance and the GCC combine is being broadly challenged by Russia, China, Iran, the Syrian establishment in Damascus, Iraq, and Hizbollah in Lebanon. There is sufficient literature in the public domain that suggests that both China and Russia, after the fall in Libya of Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011, are determined to protect their interests in the Eurasian core. They view Syria and its neghbourhood as their first line of defence, and Iran, further inwards, as the second. In this larger geopolitical contest, Iran plays the role of a pivotal state. Because of its geographical location, on the gates of Southwest Asia, Caucasia, Central Asia, Europe and the Levant, the geopolitical posture adopted by Iran would, inevitably, become a vital component in shaping the balance of power in the larger struggle over the Eurasian landmass.
In a strategic context, the nuclear deal that Iran signed with the P5+1 countries in November 2013 can be seen as an attempt by the United States to draw Iran away from a budding alliance with Russia and China. What could then be the fallout of this post-Geneva attempt by the Atlantic Alliance to “cultivate” Tehran, on the relationship between Iran and the GCC? Three scenarios are possible, which will be examined in greater detail in this paper.
a) Iran’s pivot towards the West: If this happens, this would be reflected most prominently in Tehran’s energy policies. Iran would be well positioned to become Europe’s core energy supplier, breaking Russia’s monopoly and political leverage over the continent in this sphere. Iran’s turnaround could be reflected in its participation in the Nabucco pipeline system that is yet to take off on account of the absence of a reliable gas supplier. Iran could also show a preference to western energy companies in the domestic development of its oil and gas to confirm its pro-western shift. Iran’s energy accommodation and interdependence with Europe would likely encourage its rapprochement with the GCC. Greater western influence can discourage Iran to adopt positions that are hostile to the interests of the GCC countries. However, Iran’s zero-sum geopolitical tilt towards the West is unlikely, both on account of considerations of domestic politics, where constituencies that are viscerally opposed to the West remain extremely powerful, and because of international considerations, as Tehran could become the target of blowback from Russia and China if it goes ahead for a pro-western geopolitical alignment.
b) Iran’s iron-clad alliance with Russia and China: This would also be reflected in pipeline and energy politics. The dominance of oil companies of the BRICS countries, rather than western firms in the future development of Iran’s oil and gas; Tehran’s refusal to participate in the Nabucco project and its preference for becoming a larger supplier of oil and gas to China, India, South Korea and Japan rather than Europe would be emblematic of its strategic shift away from the Atlantic Alliance. In such a scenario, ties with the GCC are likely to worsen, embittering a contest for geopolitical assertion in the entire region, marked with political instability, conflict and a disastrous humanitarian situation.
c) Iran may acquire greater balance in the domestic and foreign policies: This is more likely as adoption of such a position could consolidate the administration of President Hassan Rouhani in the domestic sphere, especially if sanctions are lifted, and living standards of ordinary Iranians appreciate. An “Iranian owned” foreign policy driven by an appreciation of collective self-interest based on a win-win approach could also help lower tensions between Iran and its GCC neighbours. The balanced development of Iran’s energy ties, marked by a simultaneous engagement with the West, Russia, China and the BRICS, underscored by a politically accommodative outlook, and a spirit of rational compromise, is likely to encourage a “détente” between Iran and its Gulf neighbourhood.
But in the final analysis, the future of Iran’s ties with its GCC neighbours will remain hostage to more powerful trends that define a broader geopolitical contest over Eurasia. Consequently, it might be necessary to ensure that future engagement between GCC and Iran does not remain confined only to the parameters of a “regional” dialogue. Rather, it would be in the interest of Iran and the GCC to draw existing and emerging global players that have competing agendas into the conversation, in order to give sustainable peace in the region, a fighting chance to survive. (End)