GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
A conceptual and empirical investigation on the new meanings of "Gulf security".
Paper Proposal Text :
Since 2011, a series of events – including the Arab uprisings, the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, the rise of jihadist groups, the tentative distension between the United States and Iran, the conflicts in Yemen and Syria, the end of NATO’s operations in Afghanistan - have transformed the strategic outlook of the broader Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Due to their many implications, these events have had unprecedented impacts on the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) affecting the interpretation of the notion of threat in the region and, subsequently, the much-debated definition of “Gulf security”.
Focusing on the post-2011 environment, while providing the necessary references to the historical context, this research aims at exploring such impacts, analysing the contemporary interpretation of threat in the GCC region. In particular, this research will argue that threats have become multidimensional in nature and that the priority attached to the different dimensions today are much more diverging among the individual GCC countries, due to their specific political and economic structural conditions. An adaptation of Barry Buzan’s idea of a security complex may thus have become more suitable to describe the reality on the ground than the traditional notion of Gulf security that interpreted the GCC more as a security community.

The background part of the paper will consist in a conceptual endeavour, resting on Barry Buzan’s idea of security as a comprehensive concept and building on the findings of the contemporary area literature, both regarding the impacts of the internationalization on the Gulf and the conflation of “regime security” with “national security”. This paper will rely on - and update - the studies on the notion of threat in the Gulf pointing out how “soft security”, internal challenges represent as much of a threat as “hard security” or external challenges. The author is going to put forward a new theoretical framework, a “nested boxes” scheme, an image which helps conceptualising how these different types of threat are separated and yet interlinked.
In its empirical part, the paper will address the role of country-specific political or economic structural features in the formulation of threat perception among the GCC ruling class. This is an element that has not yet been systematised by the academic community in a larger discourse on Gulf security, despite the potential impact on the future of the GCC, formed on the basis of a shared perception of threats. Indeed, a central hypothesis of this paper will be that country-specific differences related to socio-economic indicators - here defined as rents-to-citizens and foreigners-to-citizens ratio, GDP per capita and employment levels - and socio-political indicators - the level of popular political participation, defined as institutionalised activities through which citizens express a form of influence on polities and the State - greatly impact the sensitivity with which individual countries perceive types of threats. Given that the differences in the chosen indicators are significant within the Gulf region, the aim is to assess whether these differences risk to generate conflicting opinions on which type of threat constitutes a priority to Gulf security, turning the GCC more in a security complex than a security community. In order to have a fairly representative picture of the regional context, the research will make references to three cases - Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates - as these are countries in which the factors object of this study interact in all possible ways. Oman has challenging socio-economic indicators, a fairly low foreigners-to-citizens ratio and a scarce level of political participation, Kuwait has mostly positive socio-economic indicators, a high foreigners-to-citizens ratio and the highest level of popular political participation in the region; the UAE has mostly positive socio-economic indicators, a very disproportionate foreigners-to-citizens ratio and a very low level of popular political participation.

In terms of its methodology, this research will employ an eclectic combination of the qualitative and quantitative methods and rely both on theoretical knowledge and empirical data. An extensive literature review based on secondary sources will be conducted. Furthermore, the researcher will engage in a qualitative analysis of socio-economic and socio-political data gathered from statistics of international and national institutions. In order to better ground the hypotheses, the researcher intends to interview a number of key informants, as a way to get a grasp on the interpretation and prioritization of threats at the regimes’ level. Tasting the pulse of the broader society, through an analysis of relevant articles from the local press, would be paramount in order to shed light on the lively debate on security taking place across the GCC societies. In the whole process, the researcher will build upon her first-hand experience in the area studied.