Fa­tigue in GCC-US ties?

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - Dr N. Ja­nard­han

Acom­bi­na­tion of eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity fac­tors have di­min­ished Amer­i­can in­flu­ence in the Gulf re­gion dur­ing the last decade. As a re­sult, the Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil (GCC) coun­tries are not on the same page with their tra­di­tional se­cu­rity guar­an­tor, the United States, and its poli­cies. Nat­u­rally, the GCC coun­tries are con­sid­er­ing alternative sce­nar­ios, which some con­sider as a real strate­gic shift oc­cur­ring in the re­gion. The fol­low­ing state­ments and de­vel­op­ments re­in­force this as­ser­tion. Frus­trated by the im­passe in the Arab-Is­raeli con­flict even be­fore 9/11, then Crown Prince Ab­dul­lah in­structed the Saudi am­bas­sador to the United States to de­liver the fol­low­ing mes­sage to Washington: "From now on, we will pro­tect our na­tional in­ter­ests, re­gard­less of where Amer­ica's in­ter­ests lie in the re­gion."

In a more diplo­matic sug­ges­tion, Saudi For­eign Min­is­ter Saud Al Faisal said in 2004 that guar­an­tees for Gulf se­cu­rity can­not be pro­vided uni­lat­er­ally "even by the only su­per­power in the world". The re­gion re­quires guar­an­tees "pro­vided by the col­lec­tive will of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity."

Sim­i­larly, Qatar's Emir Sheikh Ha­mad bin Khal­ifa AlThani said in 2007 that "the ma­jor con­flicts in the world have be­come too big for one sin­gle power to han­dle them on its own." More re­cently, while most knew the de­ter­mi­na­tion of the GCC coun­tries to rein in Iran, what was un­cer­tain was how many were will­ing to ' openly' back mil­i­tary ac­tion against it. Wik­iLeaks rev­e­la­tions sug­gested that ma­jor­ity of the GCC coun­tries ag­gres­sively pushed for US ac­tion against Iran. Washington's in­ac­tion re­flected its con­fi­dence, or lack of it, to use force in the wake of the Afghanistan and Iraq fi­as­cos. This, in turn, strength­ened Tehran's cal­cu­la­tions that Washington would not risk any mis­ad­ven­ture, thereby weak­en­ing the GCC coun­tries' case. If Iran and Iraq ex­posed Washington's ca­pac­ity or lack of it to deal with the re­gion's prob­lems, the tu­mul­tuous 'Arab Rev­o­lu­tions' ex­posed its cred­i­bil­ity or lack of it, es­pe­cially af­ter the US role in Egyp­tian leader Hosni Mubarak's ouster, which was con­trary to Saudi ad­vice. The con­fu­sion, there­after, has contributed to the Syr­ian im­passe, which un­der­scores Washington's ca­pac­ity and cred­i­bil­ity fac­tors.

Since 2011, the GCC re­gion has made more pointed at­tempts to look be­yond the United States. For ex­am­ple, Saudi Arabia ral­lied Mus­lim na­tions across the Mid­dle East and Asia to join an in­for­mal Arab al­liance against Iran. Re­it­er­at­ing that the United States should not be counted on to re­store sta­bil­ity across the Mid­dle East, Saudi Arabia also ap­proached Pak­istan, Malaysia, In­done­sia and Cen­tral Asian states (and In­dia too) to lend diplo­matic sup­port, and even mil­i­tary as­sis­tance, to stem the Bahrain cri­sis.

Add to this, former Saudi in­tel­li­gence chief Prince Turki Al Faisal's call for a "joint Gulf army" ac­quir­ing nu­clear might to counter Iran; and his state­ment that "there will be dis­as­trous con­se­quences for US-Saudi re­la­tions if Washington ve­toes UN recog­ni­tion of a Pales­tinian state...and op­por­tu­ni­ties for friend­ship be­tween the Mus­lim world and West could van­ish."

The sharpest nail was ham­mered by Saudi strate­gic an­a­lyst Nawaf Obaid: "Saudi Arabia has the will and the means to meet its ex­panded global re­spon­si­bil­i­ties...In some is­sues...the Saudis will con­tinue to be a strong US part­ner. In ar­eas in which Saudi strate­gic in­ter­ests are at stake, the king­dom will pur­sue its own agenda...(given the re­gional changes), there is sim­ply too much at stake for the king­dom to rely on a se­cu­rity pol­icy writ­ten in Washington, which has back­fired...The spe­cial re­la­tion­ship may never be the same, but from this trans­for­ma­tion a more sta­ble Mid­dle East can be born."

If th­ese were indi­ca­tions of the re­gion's fa­tigue with the United States, Washington's fa­tigue with the re­gion was ev­i­dent in its ' Asia pivot' an­nounce­ment. This shift could be linked to, at least, two re­cent ob­ser­va­tions by Amer­i­can au­thors.

First, Michael Man­del­baum's "The Fru­gal Su­per­power" ar­gues that the propen­sity to in­duce bud­get cuts, in­clud­ing in the for­eign pol­icy arena, is bound to re­strict Washington's power and in­flu­ence ex­ter­nally. Sec­ond, Robert Ka­plan notes that the fu­ture in "Mon­soon Asia" will be one of "greater in­te­gra­tion" in which the United States will have lit­tle or no role. In this mi­lieu, the GCC coun­tries are seek­ing al­ter­na­tives and ex­plor­ing the idea of in­cor­po­rat­ing sev­eral in­ter­na­tional ac­tors who could act as guar­an­tors in a col­lec­tive se­cu­rity ar­range­ment. Among them are Asian coun­tries, which are "re­gional plus" pow­ers, whose po­lit­i­cal weight ex­tends be­yond their ge­o­graph­i­cal bor­ders, but with­out nur­tur­ing global am­bi­tions.

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