The Gulf Cooperation Council
May 2000

Commentary by Rick Francona

Gulf Cooperation CouncilOn February 4, 1981, the foreign ministers of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the State of Kuwait, the State of Bahrain, the State of Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and the Sultanate of Oman met in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to finalize the charter of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The respective heads of states met three months later in Abu Dhabi, where they signed the charter and the establishment of the GCC became official. 

The six member states formed the council is reaction to events in neighboring Iran and Iraq. 

Two years earlier, the Shah of Iran had been overthrown and the Islamic Republic under the Ayatollah Khomeini was established. The Ayatollah espoused the expansion of the Islamic revolution throughout the Muslim world. This was regarded as a threat by the oil-rich Gulf Arab states. Although several of the Gulf Arab states had instituted the Shari’a (Islamic law), most were not in favor of the draconian measures used by the Shi’a clerics in Tehran. 

Less than four months prior to the 1981 meeting of the future GCC foreign ministers in Riyadh, the situation in the region took on new tensions as Iraq invaded Iran and began what was to become one of the bloodiest wars in the region’s history. Fearful of being dragged into the conflict, the member states banded together since none of the countries alone could stand up to Iran or Iraq militarily. As is turned out, the GCC provided billions of dollars of loans to the Iraqis. The increase in oil production required to provide this support to Baghdad caused prices to fall. The fall in prices hurt Tehran’s efforts to fund its war effort and led to military action against Kuwait and GCC shipping, events that in turn dragged the United States into the conflict on the side of the Iraqis. 

The charter lists the strategic objectives of the GCC: 
· Promote regional security and stability. 
· Keep the Gulf region free from international conflicts. 
· Participate in efforts to resolve international disputes. 
· Support the UN in resolving disputes seeking peace. 
· Respect member states’ national sovereignty. 

To execute these goals, the GCC set up a variety of committees and organizations. A Unified Economic Agreement promotes free trade, the Gulf Investment Corporation funds development projects in GCC states and other Arab countries, the Gulf Standards Organization, a Patent Office, and a Commercial Arbitration Center to settle disputes. 

The Supreme Council is the Gulf Cooperation Council's highest authority and is composed of the heads of Member States. The presidency of the Supreme Council is rotated annually. 

Problems in the alliance 

There are many problems within the GCC. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have had a series of border disputes, some that have led to shooting incidents in the contested area. Bahrain and Qatar have had an ongoing dispute over several offshore islands that lay between the two member states. Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE have large expanses of un-demarcated borders that often lead to disputes. 

Another problem area in the GCC has to do with the de facto leadership of the GCC by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. By mere virtue of its much larger geographic size, population (75 percent of the GCC) and vast oil reserves (55 percent of the GCC), it is the “800-pound gorilla” of the organization. This causes resentment among the smaller member states, often to the point that they refuse to act in their own best interests just to block Saudi wishes. 

Since the end of the Persian Gulf War, the GCC member states have made bilateral defense cooperation agreements with the United States, but have been reluctant to integrate their defense forces into a coherent alliance. Again, the smaller states believe that this will be another area in which the Saudis try to dominate. Therefore, when a crisis rises in the region, the member states generally react individually rather than through the GCC military arm, the Peninsula Shield Force. 

The Peninsula Shield Force 

The Peninsula Shield Force (Dara’ Al-Jazirah) is a combined brigade (about 10,000 men) based at King Khalid Military City (KKMC) in northeastern Saudi Arabia near the Kuwait-Iraq-Saudi tri-border area. The force is under the command of a Saudi officer with a Kuwaiti deputy commander. In 1991, the Damascus Alliance was signed which affiliated Egypt and Syria with the GCC, formalizing the Arab forces’ defense relationship that existed during the Gulf War. 

There has been talk about expanding the force to as many as 100,000 men, but recently the number mentioned has been from 20,000 to 25,000. The new forces will remain in their parent countries and moved in contingencies. As memories of the Gulf War fade and Iraq is seen as less of a threat, support for expansion of the force continues to wane. In fact, the force is rarely maintained at its full brigade strength. The only progress has been the continued integration of regional air and missile defenses. 

Bottom Line 

The GCC will continue to play an important economic and cultural role in the Persian Gulf, but remain ineffective as a military alliance. It has assessed, correctly, that its real power is in the economic arena and that if a military threat to its primary resource – oil – arises, the United States will provide the military force. 

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