The strategic dimensions of Gulf security

Second Annual Symposium on Security in the Arabian Gulf.

Ditchley Park, Oxford 

October 31, 2014

Sharing the podium with one of the most brilliant military strategist, I dare not speak on military issues, and will concentrate on the strategic dimensions of Gulf security.

When professor Nizami called me to participate in this conference, he said : you have been the foreign minister of Kuwait for 10 years, so we want you to explain to us these complicated developments that are taking place in your part of the world.

I was immediately reminded of a lecture that I attended as a student at Harvard by the late professor Sabra. It was about the great 12 century Jewish philosopher born in Andalusia and died in Egypt Mosa Ben Maimon or better known in the west as Maimonides. The lecture was about Maimonides book  " A guide for the perplexed". I'll tell you why I was reminded of this book:

- In January of this year, ISIS was compared to junior varsity basketball team. 8 months later the security council of the United Nations considered ISIS as a major threat to international peace and security.

- Every 15 seconds a Syrian becomes a refugee, totalling 9.2 millions out of population of 22.4 millions, yet the world just watch and do nothing. 

- Gulf Arabs are sending their boys and a girl to harm’s way to fight ISIS, yet they have been accused of aiding and abiding the enemy. 

- While the United States is in dire need for Arab participation in the war against ISIS, the Iraqi prime minister strenuously oppose any Arab role in this fight. 

- The principal nemeses to United States, Iran, is allowed to reinforce its regional hegemony through overt military support to its allies in Iraq and Syria, yet some those allies are considered terrorists by the international coalition!

- Turkey while it’s a member of NATO, was criticized for allowing foreign fighters to cross its borders into Syria. 

- Other NATO allies, Britain Denmark and Belgium, refused to participate in the war against ISIS outside of Iraq.

- Wasn't Syria the one who provide material support to Al-zarqawi, alQaeda in Iraq, and to the Iraqi insurgency from 2003- up to now? Didn't the president of France today confirm the relationship between the Syrian regime and ISIS?

- Most ironically, The real beneficiary of the air strikes against ISIS is Bashar Al Assad's regime. A regime that rivals ISIS in its brutality against the innocent civilians. A regime that has been officially declared by the coalition as illegitimate and must be replaced.

- If you triangulate the interest of Bashar with his supporters the Russians and the Iranians, then any unintended actions by the coalition that help Bashar will have negative impact on the Ukraine crisis and the P 5+1 nuclear negotiations. 

- Nietzsche said "to forget ones purpose is the commonest form of stupidity". 

So What's the international coalition's objective? Is it  Destroy, degrade or contain ISIS? 

- To be sure, The most pressing set of questions that has repeatedly been asked in the Arab social media and intellectual circles are: what is the strategic objective of this war? How about the day after? By attacking the Syrian regime’s enemies, aren’t we in-effect paving the way for Bashar's army to decimate the Free Syrian Army? the very army that suppose to be our boots on the ground? By allowing Iran to support its allies in Iraq and Syria, aren’t we exacerbating the sectarian polarisation of this conflict, and deepening the suspicions of the Arab Sunnis in the region? By helping the Kurds militarily, aren’t we reinforcing the Kurdish propensity for independence, and risk alienating the Turks? 

- To be fair to President Obama, he recently said “I recognize the contradictions in a contradictory land and a contradictory circumstance.

- In short, deploying a churchillian metaphor, the Boston Globe commented “Seldom in the course of human events, have so many gone to war, with so few certainties, and so many unanswered questions”. 

- Hence Maimonides A guide for the perplexed.

The strategic challenges to Gulf Security

Looking 5 to 10 years down the road, what is the nature of the global strategic environment  that confront the GCC countries? What are the policy options, instruments, and trade offs associated with each strategic scenario? What are the strategic threats to global stability?? 

 1- The challenges to the Versailles architecture and international legitimacy.

World war one, or the Great War, was the most consequential in recent human history.

 The League of Nations is the genesis of the United Nations. 

And the breakup of old empires created the world as we know it today: 

a- The diminishing influence of the United Nations. 

The longest international conflict in recent memory is the Arab Israel conflict. 66 years of bloodshed, agony, wars, and despair. Not a single day in 66 years Israel enjoyed security, and not a single day in 66 years a Palestinian received justice. Yet the UN is no where to be seen. 

During the bi polar world of 1945-1990, most of the super powers rivalries manifested itself through proxy regional wars. The Syrian conflict, however, is a proxy war by regional players, not by super powers.

b- The rise of ethno nationalism in Europe.

Story of Lviv is the story of modern Europe ie 1914 Austro Hungarian,1919 Poland, 1941 Germany, 1945 Soviet Union, 1991 Ukraine.

 unification of Germany, breakup of Czechoslovakia, disintegration of Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Scots, Catalan, Flemish.

 c- The tattering of Sykes picot agreement; 

Ethnic breakup of Sudan, tribal wars in Libya and Yemen, sectarian wars in Syria and Iraq. There is amble evidence, that the macro unifying principle of nationhood is being severely challenged by the micro organism of the ethnic/sectarian based state. The artificial creation of countries in the Versailles treaty of 1919, could not endure the test of time. The brutal ethnic cleansing and civil wars in Europe ensured that “for the most part, each nation in Europe had its own state, and each state was made up almost exclusively of a single ethnic nationality” (J. Muller FA2008). Muller argued that the forces that gave rise to ethno nationalism and ethnic disaggregation in Europe are apt to derive events in other parts of the world. To be sure, there have been numerous articles by respected authors envisaging a remapping of the Middle East borders along ethnic, sectarian, and tribal lines.

Lt.col.(ret) R. Peters AFJ2006, J. Goldberg The Atlantic2008, and Robin Wright NYT2013. Referring to the Middle East, Col. Peters said “the greatest taboo in striving to understand the region’s comprehensive failure isn’t Islam, but the awful sacrosanct international boundaries worshipped by our own diplomats.”

Can you imagine the shape of the Arab world if we redraw the existing  boundaries based on sectarian/ethnic/tribal lines?

Arabs, Persians, Kurds, Turks, Armenians, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Coptic, Sunni, Shia, Druze, Alolawite, Zaidis, Izidis, Circassians to name just few. 

 2- The Global Economic Malady. 

6 years after the financial meltdown of 2008, the world economic outlook is still extremely vulnerable. More troubling signs on the horizon. 

- For the next 4 years, 70% of the emerging economies's growth, are expected to be significantly lower than, the pre crisis levels.

- China is slowing down from a historic double digit numbers to around 5% for next year.

- India which has been growing at 8 9 10% a year for the past 10-12 years is  expected to register growth rate below 4% this year.

- Japan is frozen in a liquidity trap, and Germany is virtually in state of stagnation with growth expected to be less than 1% for next year. 

- The EU is really in an existential crisis. In addition to the negative force multiplier of Putin, the EU economy is stuck in an unemployment-stagnation equilibrium for the short and medium term horizon. 

- Real demand in the euro zone this year, is expected to be lower than it was back in 2008 by 5%. Even with an almost zero interest rate, and a 40% jump in the debt GDP ratios, the OECD economies are almost in a free fall. A fact that the financial times called it " An extraordinary state of managed depression". Or as Christine Lagarde of the IMF described it more diplomatically as the " New Mediocre". 

- So the future looks quite bleak. Sluggish or stagnant economic growth, combined with a big increase in the unemployment rates and significant worsening in equality of income distribution, had proud impact on confidence and trust in institutions. 

- Every country faces the unsolved problems of jobs for its young people, and many poor countries have populations growing too fast to meet the needs of education and jobs. Protests in cities around the world testify to the rising tensions of high levels of income inequality and joblessness.

3-The Resurgence of Transnational Threats.

 It’s the kind of threat that affects the 195 countries and 7.5 billion people; proliferation of WMD and terrorism, drug and human trafficking, epidemics and pandemics, and climate change.

The threats of climate change have already become crises of national and global security. Every country faces increasingly complex challenges of energy, food, and water security. Every country faces the crisis of rising frequency and intensity natural disasters, with a soaring number of floods, droughts, heat waves, extreme storms, and forest fires. 

Many of the world’s conflict zones—in the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and Western Asia—are dryland regions already suffering from rising hunger caused by falling rainfall intersecting with rising populations. 

Conflicts are typically interpreted as crises of politics and religion. Yet we should have no doubt: these conflicts are also being stoked by droughts, famines, mass migration, and other symptoms of economic, social, and environmental  un-sustainability. 


How can we organise, motivate, mobilise, and inspire a world characterised by diverse intellectual, geopolitical, economic, and even moral values to coalesce around a common agenda of action against these strategic threats to global stability? Who leads? How do we allocate resources? How do we share Burdens? And who would make the largest sacrifice?

These are the questions that I don't have satisfactory answers to. And I leave these questions to be answered by much wiser man. I leave them to general Petraeus. 

Thank you.

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