GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Middle East has been a region of vital political and economic importance. Being the birthplace of Islam and also the source of most world’s oil production its geo-strategic significance is beyond doubt. Since, the events of Arab Spring in 2011 the region has seen popular agitation against ruling regimes leading to the demise of longstanding dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt and armed rebellions in Libya and Syria. Iran and Saudi Arabia emerged as two major political actors vying for political power and influence in the region which had gone through a power re-configuration among states. The conflict in Syria, the rise of ISIS and its challenge to Iraqi state, and Houthi led uprising in Yemen have heightened regional insecurity and provided both Iran and Saudi Arabia an opportunity to utilize their resources and power clout to come out as the political hegemon of the region. This has resulted in a cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia with both sides supporting rival proxy elements throughout the Middle East.
European Union (EU) has been a political actor well connected with both of these regional powers. European Union played a very critical role alongside US in brokering the nuclear deal with Iran. The diplomatic excellence of High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini was one of the contributing factors in the eventual agreement between all sides at play. Since then EU has been very keenly involved in investing and modernizing Iranian economy. Delegations from various European countries are visiting Iran to conclude trade deals and explore avenues for further cooperation. Regardless of this hyper-activity an EU structured cohesive and joint approach towards Iran is still lacking and one arena where EU diplomatic initiatives must be replicated. EU also has been an important partner of Saudi Arabia specially in the defense sector. Saudi Arabia has been the second biggest export market in defense equipment for EU states. The major countries selling arms to Saudi Arabia include United Kingdom and France while other European nations like Germany and Italy have been also involved in such arms sales as well as training of Saudi forces. Saudi Arabia still depends largely for its security on foreign allies. This puts these huge arms deals with European powers in a context of a diplomatic effort to strengthen bilateral ties. This Saudi-EU partnership replicating the EU engagement with Iran is not institutionalized but yet strong and deep. The US gradual disengagement from the region and its strategic shift towards Asia Pacific has opened up the Middle Eastern political environment for other external powers. EU can fill up this void and by building up on the individual strong relationships of its member states with both Saudi Arabia and Iraq can emerge as a source of mediation in regional conflict. This will ultimately improve the security environment and contribute to regional stability.
Despite the availability political opportunities for the EU to increase its influence within the region political developments within Europe and a lack of a coherent policy with respect to the Middle East has problematized the potential for EU to play a more constructive role in the region. The vote in favor of leaving EU in the UK has put strain on EU’s ability to build a strong partnership from its platform with the two regional powers in Middle East. Similarly, eagerness of European political elite to court Iran owing to the massive potential its economic opening up offers to European business community and in the meanwhile ignoring the gross human rights violations and corruption within Iran is bound problematic with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. Britain might actually have played as a balancer in such a situation owing to its historically close ties with Saudi Arabia. Another major concern shared by many political commentators is that fruits of increased European investment in Iranian economy must also reach to common Iranians and must not become a source of money exploited by Iranian revolutionary forces to further their aims in the region.
The proposed research endeavor will explore the strategic relationship of European countries with both Iran and Saudi Arabia and how these relations can be further institutionalized on a European Union level. Brexit and its impact on the European policy making vis-à-vis middle east will also be focused. Finally the study will inquire how EU’s increased economic stakes in Iran can potentially jeopardize its relationship with Arab Gulf states generally and Saudi Arabia specifically.