GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Soft Balancing Iran in the post-American Iraq: The Root and the Route of the GCC-Turkey Alliance
Paper Proposal Text :
Shiite Iran is coming forth as the most powerful state in the critical Persian Gulf region. The clerical regime’s primary focus is on exploiting emergent power vacuums, just like the one now available in the neighboring Iraq, through taking advantage of age-old sectarian and factional feuds that is now shaping the geopolitical make-up of the entirety of the Middle East.
The US’ invasion of Iraq, creating the said power void, has ultimately transposed customary order of power hierarchy to the favor of Iran, and at the expense of Gulf States and Turkey in the post-Saddam Iraq. The removal of Baath regime, in this new constellation of power, has unburdened Iranians of dealing with a hostile Sunni military power on their southern tiers. Furthermore, Iraq’s swift metamorphosis to a Shiite-Arab state has not only freed Iran from shouldering a formidable weight but also has turned table on Turkey and the members of the GCC. Saudis and other traditional monarchies are frustrated with the debasement of Sunnis in the management of country, and losing Iraq to the Shiite camp orchestrated by Tehran. As for Ankara, it is growing increasingly anxious about its constrained access to the Northern Iraq, which is imperative for feeding the Country’s escalating energy needs and retarding the surging capabilities of the PKK. As a direct consequence, a coalition of the willing, between Turkey and the members of the GCC has already materialized to meet a jointly perceived threat from Iran’s mounting clout in Iraq, and within the wider Middle East.
This paper argues that the concept of “Soft Balancing” successfully recaps the maturity and the primary determinants of the Turkish-GCC alignment, which has come into view to roll back, if not, restrain Iran’s march towards regional hegemony. As yet, the paper also believes that there are latent dynamics of decisive importance (i.e. perceptual, ideational, etc.) in the foundations of this security cooperation, which cannot be spotted by staying within the confines of Realist theory. A synthesis of Constructivist and Realist theories of alliance formation will thereby constitute the analytical framework within which to discuss not only root, but also the route of this unprecedented inter-state partnership. The constructivist works of Emanuel Adler and Michael Barnett are particularly relevant in this regard. As Adler and Barnett notes, individual states threatened by the same adversary for a relatively extended term would be willing, and even the more so compelled, to develop a collective security identity. Thus, their seemingly short-term association, short of a full-blown alliance, has an actually genuine potential to develop into a communal solidarity, which attains distinction from the aforesaid Realist conceptualization of alliance formation with fused beliefs, values and identity.
As such, Turkey and the GCC states, having been withered into parallel concerns, inveigled toward one another’s path with the common purpose of exerting a countervailing force against Iran in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East. The said states’ coalition behaviors, to this day, approximate generic features of S. Waltz’s soft balancing model. Drawing from his approach, the alliances of this sort have little to no formal and permanent structure, thus, often falls prone to disappear once the enabling stimulus (i.e. common threat) ceases to exist. Indeed, the parties in concern (i.e. Turkey and GCC) have not tied themselves to any specific form of policy as how to balance Iran, and left the conditions under which their shared action will take place vague. If anything, they merely count on each other’s attentiveness to cooperate on particular security issues with an unspecified degree of policy coordination. Therefore, soft balancing theory can unaided give a satisfactory picture of the present terms of the Turkish-GCC coalition.
However limited the GCC-Turkey convergence may be in scale and scope, it is also not as feeble as Realist interpretation of alliance formation might tend to demonstrate. There are actually multiple bonds that tie these parties together. First, this presently loose coalition might soon gain a more concrete form and substance when one considers that the US has already settled into a less direct role in maintaining the established regional status quo. As second, for Saudis and other states of the Gulf, an alignment with another Sunni state (i.e. Turkey) is easier to justify in their domestic politics compared to an always-problematic Israeli alternative. In return, Gulf States could provide lucrative export outlets with Turkey and, even more critically, help Ankara reduce/diversify its growing dependence on Iraqi and Iranian energy resources. Of the most important, is, neither Turkey nor GCC can resume their previously detached postures to one another. For it has already become a distant possibility to restore Iraq back in place as a countervailing Sunni power against Iran’s magnifying regional influence.
For all these reasons, both the GCC and Turkey will be in need of furthering and deepening their partnership to build an extended deterrence against their Shiite rival, which inches closer to becoming a nuclear power. Inferring from Adler’s and Barnett’s Constructivist vantage point, the threat from Iran as the political epicenter of regional Shia may eventually drive regional Sunni powers (i.e. Turkey and Gulf States) to thread a more tightly woven security union, subsequently eliminating mutual fear and competitive dynamics as built-in characteristics of an anarchic inter-state order.
The outline of this paper, against this backdrop, is as follows. The first part of the paper provides a brief theoretical framework on alliance formation. The second part illuminates Iran's ever-expanding influence in the post-American Iraq and Maliki's omni-balancing strategy. The third part examines the root and the route of the emergent the GCC-Turkey coalition that seeks security in a changing Middle East in which there is much less impediment to circumventing Iran’ surging hegemonic position. It reaches the conclusion that the GCC-Turkey alliance, if supplemented by intensified economic relations—particularly in the energy sector, will likely play a decisive role in enhancing regional peace and stability.