GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Since the Istanbul Summit in 2004 between the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) and Nato, which resulted in the Istanbul Co-operation Initiative, there have been expectations of closer involvement and engagement between the two alliances. In particular, the Istanbul agreement set out Nato’s explicit ambition to contribute to the strategic and defensive capabilities of the GCC through the improvement of regional collective defence mechanisms, strengthening the GCC’s crisis response capabilities and establishing a framework for future defence co-operation.
The outcome of this closer relationship was clear to witness in the conduct of Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR, the joint Nato-GCC intervention in Libya in 2011. At the time and subsequently, the military operation to prevent pro-Ghaddafi forces from attacking rebel forces in and around the city of Benghazi, while immediately successful, has become a by-word for Nato’s lack of strategic resolve in the region, reinforced by a perceived lack of US commitment – routinely characterised by President Obama’s description of “leading from behind”.
This paper will explore the extent to which the Arab Gulf today perceives Nato to be a reliable partner, particularly in its commitment to the defence of the region which in the past has been underpinned by US and other bilateral security guarantees. While Nato leaders continue to emphasise the importance of developing stronger relations with the GCC and the alliance’s commitment to the region, it is noteworthy that GCC leaders appear more convinced by bilateral agreements with individual member nations than with Nato collectively.
The GCC’s increasing engagement with other potential defence partners, notably India and China, also needs to be understood in the context of the GCC’s apparent waning confidence in Nato and suggestions that the North Atlantic alliance will return to being more Euro-centric in the face of the renewed threat from Russia, particularly to the Baltic states. The paper will explore the extent to which alternative defence relationships are proving attractive to Gulf leaders and how these intertwine with recent diplomatic initiatives aimed at increasing Gulf influence in Asia – and vice versa.
With the recent change of President in the US, the paper will seek to understand how perceptions of the US approach to the GCC changed during the Obama years and whether the underlying view of partial strategic US withdrawal from the region is likely to continue or even accelerate under the Administration of President Donald Trump. During his campaign for the White House, the new President regularly asserted his determination that US security guarantees should be paid for, at least in part, by beneficiary nations. He has focused extensively on the alleged failure of many Nato members to fulfil their commitments to allocate at least 2 percent of national GDP to defence and security. This has led to anxiety within Nato itself over a “hollowing out” of military capability to the extent that many member nations are neither able or willing to fulfil their obligations to the defence of Europe let alone respond to a new international crisis beyond the Nato area, as was the case in Afghanistan from 2001 onwards.
The paper will examine how Western arms sales to the region are seen to influence Nato collectively, and member states individually in their security undertakings to the GCC. Moreover, what leverage this is perceived to give Gulf leaderships and how are they seen to be using this to secure commitments in other areas.
While the GCC states have sizeable inventories of Western-supplied military equipment and engage in regular training with Nato allied states, some defence analysts continue to express doubts over the true levels of interoperability between Nato and GCC forces. This has led to calls for increased co-operation, particularly in terms of standardisation of equipment inventories, joint doctrine and improved opportunities for collective training.
Since the uncertain outcome of the collaborative intervention in Libya, it is further perceived that the GCC may have become disillusioned with the promises of Nato support. Some analysts have suggested that this led directly to the GCC’s decision to lead intervention in Yemen in March 2015, again with a still uncertain outcome. The lessons that have already been drawn from the Yemen involvement have fuelled some suggestions in Western public discourse that the GCC has over-reached and remains unable to conduct strategic military engagement without Western support in terms of: strategic capability, intra-Gulf military co-operation and leadership. In turn, this has led some commentators to suggest that the GCC’s growing economic engagement with Asia may be followed by a similar military- strategic pivot. With Nato seemingly pre-occupied by newly emerging challenges from Russia directly against member-states and fresh questions being asked about America’s underlying nuclear guarantee to the North Atlantic alliance, this paper will explore whether oft-raised suggestions of a military strategic fracture between the GCC and Nato has become a genuine possibility – or remains merely a facet of media speculation about wider Gulf-West relations.
The author will use his background as a former military officer with direct experience in the region and his focused research over the past ten years into strategic communication to elicit solid evidence and reality from the many false-truths and misperceptions that are routinely debated in Western public discourse and in the media.