GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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The Changing US Posture in the Gulf as an Opportunity for Regional Cooperation. The role of the EU.
Paper Proposal Text :
Key political and economic considerations have led many to believe that the United States’ current administration is willing to re-evaluate its commitments in the MENA region, as part of its “pivot to Asia” policy, the alleged intention to shift the US’ strategic focus - and its military assets - to the Western Pacific area. The idea has spread fear of abandonment among the Gulf states, which depend on the US for their own external security, that the US will move its resources – and troops – away from the Gulf to implement this policy. This paper aims at exposing how, at a closer analysis, there are as many political, security and economic factors suggesting that the “pivot to Asia” does not imply the abandonment of the Gulf region, which remains, first and foremost, a geostrategic hub that the Americans wouldn’t like to push into India’s or China’s sphere of influence. The undeniable relevance of the Gulf as a global hub of commerce and finance is likely going to increase as emerging economies in Asia continue to grow. Gulf oil massively fuels this growth, on which the US administration seems so willing to invest, and to which its globalized economy is tied. The resurgence of the Al Qa’ida network, sparked by the Syrian conflict as well as instability in Iraq is a threat from which the US simply cannot turn away: to confront the threat, the US has to stay closely engaged with countries that have the necessary means, particularly - and increasingly - the Gulf states. Finally, should the US reach an agreement with Iran on its nuclear programme, even in case that this would become definitive, it wouldn’t justify disengagement from the Gulf: as confidence building is a much slower process than diplomacy, lowering the guard vis-à-vis a country that has been America’s archenemy for decades wouldn’t be accepted among several decision-making circles in the US, and would be considered a major sign of weakness, in Washington and - even more so - in Tel Aviv.
Taking into account all these facts, it is reasonable to expect that, while the Gulf may no longer benefit from additional big investments for its security, it will not either see a reduction in the guarantees currently provided by the US any time soon. On the long run, the US will likely adopt more often the “leading from behind” approach as happened in Libya in 2011, easing down the level of commitment in the multi-layered regional conflicts. This new approach is arguably going to set the political conditions for dealing with the security of the Gulf in a more cooperative way, also creating a new political space for other actors, such as the EU. This paper will indeed argue that times may be right for the EU to mediate for a Gulf-wide framework on cooperative security that puts together, under US auspices, states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Iraq and Iran, to discuss pressing common security concerns, and maybe even to address, in a perspective of 10 to 15 years, the fierce sectarian violence that risks tearing the whole region apart. All the concerns related to the resurgence of jihadism, the dangers of a sectarian war that would definitely make Iraq a failed state, and the fear that, as soon as the US will take the finger off the trigger, Iran would work to fuel instability within the Gulf and the wider region, would be better tackled cooperatively, and through critical engagement rather than through old-school military deterrence. Setting off such a multilateral dialogue would require a huge effort of diplomatic and political mediation, one that the US, whose policies have provoked a certain discontent and mistrust in the region, is not able to conduct by itself. The EU on the other hand, with all of its limitations, is a trusted diplomatic interlocutor: it has committed to a constructive role in post-war Iraq, it has successfully engaged Iran for several years, it has a long history of dialogue, with ups and downs, with the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The intentions manifested lately by some EU Member States to re-boost relations with the Gulf, adds to the feasibility of the idea. For the EU, this grand project would be the big chance to become a strategic partner for all actors involved, while tackling the main challenges for political development and stability in the Gulf.
This paper indeed aims at contributing to the decades-long scholarly debate on the chances and hurdles of forging a EU-Gulf strategic partnership exclusively related to the Gulf rather than subsequent to other EU’s policies. The analysis, drawing from the rich scholarly dialogue about the feasibility of a Gulf-wide framework on regional security, will detail the proposal by describing the conceptuality behind it, breaking it down into phases, addressing likely obstacles, highlighting advantages and gains. The work will be sustained through interviews with key actors and experts in the context of the regional diplomacy and multilateral security architectures.