GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Paper Proposal Text :
No observer would disagree that Sultan Qaboos conducts a flexible and remarkably independent foreign policy. Indeed, Oman’s foreign policy autonomy spans several decades. When compared to mainstream GCC policy positions, Oman has a noteworthy record of divergent behaviour. Some rather obvious examples include Oman refusal to break ties with Egypt when it signed the 1979 Peace Treaty with Israel when all other Gulf states did. Oman also voted against removing Egypt from the Arab League for having signed that deal when all other members supported it. Muscat also reacted very differently to the 1979 Iranian Revolution than its GCC counterparts and sought diplomatic ties. In the 1980s, Muscat initiated bilateral security arrangements with the US when the rest of the GCC collectively viewed it as an adversary. Oman resisted criticism and developed a series of US-Oman bilateral security policies, which the GCC viewed as self-evident logic a decade later. During the Iran-Iraq War, Oman acted out of unison again by not wholly supporting Iraq like the rest of the GCC, but rather maintained ties with both Iraq and Iran and even hosted secret peace talks between them. Skipping forward, Oman also had dissimilar policy reactions to the political contestation that swept the region in 2011. In 2013, Oman was again an outlier within the GCC for opposing GCC security/military integration initiatives against tides of support from the others. Oman also refused to join the GCC supported 2015 Saudi-led initiative in Yemen and issued strong public statements out of synch with GCC and Saudi policy. Each of these examples – and there are plenty of others – demonstrates that Oman does maintain independent foreign policies and often significantly diverges from the policies of the GCC.

Since 2011, small state analyses have become even more significant as the security policies of many smaller states became far more assertive and because they were economically powerful enough for their policies to have an impact on outcomes. This is considerable feat for a small state and adds another dimensions to small state scholarship in terms of the need to reconsider how and when power can be exercised. However, this is not the focal point of this article; it shall rather focus on the small state and security alliance points of view in its analysis of why Oman’s foreign policy behaviour is consistently different to other GCC states. Theoretically, Oman should demonstrate far less independence than it does and in principle its strategic foreign policies should logically be more aligned with other GCC states than they are in practice. These two foreign policy truths are precisely why it is so puzzling.

As a small state, Oman’s security policy is necessarily alliance-based, but its own interests often contravene the interests of the alliance(s) to which is a part. The empirical basis of this paper will be to first identify Oman’s foreign policy divergence from GCC security policy from 2011. It will try to answer why it deviates so often from the ‘peers’ it shares so much in common with and indeed how it manages to successfully pursue independent policies with a limited capability. Oman’s often-paradoxical foreign policy behaviour is a persistent mix of structural influences seen in its heavy defence spending and alliance formation, for example, coupled with the strong influence of identity and historic experiences.

The theoretical contribution of the paper is to accept that structural realist-based reality exists, but also account for the limitations of it being unable to account for the spectrum of Oman’s foreign policy behaviour. Thus, the explanatory role of agency as the root driver of Omani foreign policy will be considered. Neoclassical realism provides for such an assessment whereby structural realities are not denied, but when they fail to explain reality, domestic factors are privileged. This challenges small state theory, which suggests domestic explanations are at best – secondary. It is hypothesized that the role of agency matters more than structure in Omani foreign policy analysis.

The methodology of Hans Mouritzen and Anders Wivel’s ‘explanatory ladder’ will be adopted to test the explanatory power of domestic factors. Empirical evidence of Oman’s foreign policies after 2011 will be assessed separately according to three levels of analysis (domestic, inter-state and systemic) to see which one reveals the more convincing explanation of Oman’s divergent behaviour. At the domestic level, the analytical tool will be the concept of Oman’s strategic culture (history and identity) anchored in constructivist theory. At the inter-state level, GCC geopolitics will be used and at the system level, a realist lens will be applied to the assessment by analyzing its behaviours though small state theory.