GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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The Gulf countries’ foreign policy changes and standpoint in Yemen
Paper Proposal Text :
The paper draws upon the fact that the Arab world has changed dramatically in the light of the so-called “Arab Spring”. The 2011 Protests unraveled and transferred attention to the Gulf, a wealthy bloc, with emergent policies, comprising small States and one dominant: Saudi Arabia. The paper sheds light on the dynamics in the foreign policy arena in the Gulf, by the means of both internal and external challenges and the manner in which the Yemeni case was addressed by the Gulf States.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which brings together the countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates was initiated in the early 1980s, as a response to the turmoil produced by the Iranian Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War. It was created for security reasons, bringing together these countries to counterbalance the emergence of a regime in Tehran keen on exporting the revolutionary vibe to the neighborhood, and the subsequent onset of the Iran-Iraq War in September 1980, jeopardizing the character of the Arab Gulf monarchies.
Coming back to the last five years, the security threats are largely speaking, external. One can observe the increasing enmity with the arch foe neighbor Iran, which has been rising from the status of outcast of the international community, once it signed the nuclear deal with the Western powers in July 2015. Right at the border of Saudi Arabia and Oman, Yemen is falling apart and Saudi Arabia rallied a coalition in order to defeat the Houthi rebels. The Saudi-led coalition “Decisive Storm” in Yemen is unique in the history of Gulf relations. Among the GCC countries and the allies of the kingdom, only Oman is sitting out of the war.
Yemen serves as a unique example of the Arab Spring. At the onset of the uprisings in 2011, the autocratic state institutions and the Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh failed in defending themselves. The singularity embodied by Yemen is that it became the only country affected by the protests that agreed upon reform of the security sectors, maintaining institutions in effect. This was the corner stone of the agreement mediated by the GCC, under which Ali Abdullah Saleh abdicated the presidency in November 2011.
One can observe here a collective pragmatic attitude of the Gulf States, driven by their national concerns and security needs (a sharp example is the threat exerted by Iran and its regional ambitions), together with the need to diversify their foreign relations, including those relative to Russia, Turkey and the European countries. The United States used to be the main international player in the Gulf region, after the independence from the United Kingdom. The GCC countries generally operated as loyal allies to the US. One could argue that the transformations caused by the Arab uprisings spark the relations between the US and the GCC, reflecting the recognition of the changing paradigms of the GCC countries themselves.
The Arab Spring opened the doors for an interventionist role coming from the GCC. The Arab uprisings conferred the GCC this opportunity, resulting in the predilection towards an interventionist foreign policy. However, these policies were not fully approved, facing backfire both regionally and internationally. In the region, Iran is constantly back-lashing the position adopted regarding Yemen and likewise some international organizations criticized an air-force intervention in Yemen.
The premises for a more interventionist approach were laid down by enabling a facilitator position in the years prior to the Arab Spring. I.e., the Arab spring empowered Qatar to stretch the facilitator position up to a greater role. Using its considerable economic wealth, national vision, strategy for growth and the savoir-faire with various groups across the Middle East, Qatar crafted its soft power strategy in important negotiations, from acquiring a peace agreement in the Darfur conflict, to helping political consensus in Lebanon following the 2008 crisis and mediating in Yemen. As Mehran Kamrava argued in 2011, “Uniquely for a country its size, Qatar has emerged as one of the world’s most proactive mediators in recent years.”
As a whole, the GCC States are pursuing interventionist policies as a result of various combinations, standing between affirming and defending their role. For both Qatar and the UAE, active foreign policy is a recent construction. It is a sort of identity in the making that influences their reactions to perceived threats. Firstly, the Libyan civil war has shaped identify for Qatar and the Emirates, (according to Sir Graham Boyce, UK diplomat), endowing them with a sense of action. As for the continuation of this predilection in the foreign policy, the Emirates are involved in the Yemeni crisis, whereas Saudi Arabia has tried to make Yemen a cause for the greater Middle East and establish a leadership of the Sunni world. Only Oman was reluctant to be part of the bustle playing on sectarian tensions, which are simmering in the region.
The GCC countries are acting boldly and somehow distancing themselves from the prior attachment when basically everyone was following the Saudi leadership. But the bottom line is that security cannot be determined by external factors alone, internal dissonance should be moderate, otherwise the GCC umbrella would not stand up to the challenges. In whatever way, the paper draws on the point that there can be no Gulf security system without the exhaustive involvement of all parties, comprising here the GCC States, along with the neighbors, Yemen and Iran. Thus, Yemen represents a key element in the Gulf foreign policy that has to be cautiously addressed for envisaging a more secure Gulf.