GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Competition and Territorial Disputes among the GCC States
Paper Proposal Text :
Competition and Territorial Disputes among the GCC States – Abstract
Yoel Guzansky
With the exception of Oman and Iran, the Gulf States are a product of the twentieth century, with borders—particularly those of the smaller states—influenced and drawn largely by outside, colonial forces. Even the boundaries of Saudi Arabia, whose transition from tribal emirate to monarchy was not subject to colonialism, was influenced by the British, who both supported attempts at territorial expansion at the expense of the Ottoman Empire and then withdrew such support and curtailed such expansion when his campaigns threatened their interests along the Gulf coast and in Iraq and then-Transjordan. The mandatory system, its implementation in the Middle East and the corresponding Western model of the state with its clearly determined borders was foreign to many rulers in the region who were accustomed to wandering and campaigns of expansion.
The delimitation of the international border, however, became an increasingly pressing issue once oil concessions were granted and territorial value rose. Despite—or, perhaps, because of—some largely vague, bilateral border demarcation agreements between Britain and one other nation, and due to aspirations for control over oil fields in poorly marked border areas, ancient historical rivalries, and the difficulties in determining boundaries in desert and tribal areas, many borders have remained in dispute, even at the start of the second decade of the twenty-first century. Aside from the complex relations and territorial disagreements with Iran—and, to a certain extent, with Iraq and Yemen as well—some of the security challenges facing the Arab Gulf states are actually connected to the relationships among them. Although a majority of the territorial disputes among the six monarchies on the Arabian Peninsula have been settled on paper, or are in the process of settlement, the disputes have, and continue to, negatively impact the ability of the GCC to successfully function, either as a forum for conflict resolution or for the establishment of a framework for collective security, and the residual feelings they leave often adversely affects good neighborly relations.
Rather, successful attempts at to resolve these disputes have ranged from third-party mediators to the ICJ, with the GCC organization conspicuously absent from this list. It appears to lack an effective institutional mechanism for resolving such conflicts and the ad hoc committees it has established for this purpose have proven ineffective. In addition, all signed agreements which have settled border disputes have been bilateral in nature. The declaration at the GCC conference in 1994 to resolve all border conflicts by their next meeting—and its obvious failure—is a further manifestation of the organization’s limited capacity as a mechanism for peacefully resolving inter-member conflicts. The presence of these disputes as well as the member states’ sensitivity regarding their sovereignty has also made it difficult to cooperate on security-related matters, which require the passage of military forces from state to state, hot pursuit across borders, and the establishment of joint bases on the sovereign territory of one or more of the states. As a result, initiatives to establish collective security arrangements in the framework of the GCC have been, thus far, ineffective. It remains to be seen whether the security agreement signed in November 2012 will prove any different.
Domestically, these conflicts can serve as a tool by which the six states define and direct relations among themselves establish their position in relation to their neighbors and, domestically, reinforce nationalism. Undermining the legitimacy of borders is part of the process of “nation building,”, that is, “I have a border conflict therefore I am.” The border disputes, which sometimes deteriorate into violence, help to crystallize national identity, which is based on, inter alia, raising conflicts from the distant past in order to give historical depth to the country and to define the “other.” However, as Shahram Chubin and Charles Tripp note, this strategy can backfire. Although territorial disputes stress unity and assist in discouraging domestic criticism through the establishment of enemies and external threats, it also has the potential to create “expectations of greater governmental responsibility, as well as a heightened sense of common purpose and common rights among the citizenry.”
This paper will analyze the major disputes between the GCC nations, including Qatar and Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Oman and the UAE. Their historical background will be presented, along with their effects on the functionality of the GCC and their regional implications—both past and present. Although these low-intensity inter-GCC border conflicts—which, as noted, have led to several border incidents—are disagreements which the involved parties have thus far solved, and attempt to solve, through diplomatic means rather than more violent measures, the questions of territorial ownership and border demarcation do not seem to be disappearing any time soon. The 2009 incident in which UAE citizens were forbidden to enter Saudi Arabia using their identification cards because the map did not display borders according the their 1974 agreement is evidence of this. It is not clear; however, to what extent these conflicts are a reflection of the existing political rivalries among the Gulf States. In other words, whether they are attempts by Saudi Arabia to dominate and by outside players, like Iran, to drive a wedge between them or whether the border disputes are, in fact, a major reason for these political battles. Either way, the presence of such disputes and disagreements will continue to cause difficulties for the Arab Gulf states to act collectively in general and against the Iranian challenge in particular.