For the last 60 years or so, the relationship between the US and the Gulf states can be likened to a Catholic marriage. Both were in need of each other and kept supporting each other in times of difficulty. During the oil crisis, the Gulf states came to the help of the world economy by pumping more oil into the market. As a result, the world economy stabilised, including the US market.
Similarly, at the time of security threats in or around the Gulf, the US was ready to support softly through diplomacy on the world arena, or if needed even by force. The US needs a steady flow of relatively cheap oil to its allied markets and the Gulf states need security. That is what made diplomats and politicians describe this relationship as a — hard to end — Catholic marriage. However, things have changed recently and taken a new turn.
Last week, President Barack Obama announced that the US will be self-sufficient in energy and could export some of it abroad in the near future. The Gulf states’ confidence of the strong support of the US government has been weakened, especially after witnessing what happened to the ruling elites of some close allies of the US in the region, who were soon abandoned politically — with no hesitation — by Washington, like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen. As a result they have turned doubtful.
So it looks like nowadays both parties, the Gulf States and the US, are looking for new settlement arrangements — so to speak, a Muslim marriage where divorce is possible and can happen anytime.
Moreover, circles in Gulf states’ administrations, privately, suspected some sort of American involvement behind the Arab Spring!
The US government can be criticised domestically as it is supporting non-democratic states and regimes, as some quarters in Washington look at the Gulf as such.
Furthermore, the US cannot intervene positively in any domestic unrest, and if that happens, it can prove to be very costly politically, if not economically and strategically. It may also face international resistance.
Therefore, some Gulf states are eager to put their houses in order, to enable them to face any drastic changes in the future that may occur in the US security policies in the future, by seeking some sort of unification between the six Gulf states that constitute the Gulf Cooperation Council.
At the Manama meeting last week, although some of the ruling figures were absent, the Saudi Crown Prince spoke on behalf of King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz and stated clearly the importance of moving from cooperation towards unification. He mentioned both security and economics, to start with, and some sort of Gulf common market for mutual benefit. He stated that what had been achieved in the past few decades was not satisfactory compared to the ambitions of the Gulf’s people. Therefore, the Gulf communities and the leaders should go further to meet future threats facing the regimes.
The majority of the people in the region support greater cooperation (the common goods are clear to them) under the prevailing circumstances. It looks like it is a win-win situation. Econ-omically, the region can benefit by merging its economy into a larger market. This can ease the unemployment rates that are growing in some of the Gulf states and starting to play havoc with domestic security.
Furthermore, it can be much more economical to start large projects in the fields of energy, electricity and water supplies and land communications, for all six states. And of course, the strategic goals are much more obvious to be ignored or overlooked, in the face of radical threats emanating from a number of places in the unsettled region — Iran and Syria, as was mentioned in the final communique in Manama.
It looks like the Manama meeting decided to have some sort of declaration on the future in Riyadh, on further and greater unification steps, as the meeting decided to unify the military command at this stage. There is no lack of convincing arguments here to go ahead towards the achievement of the goals much sought-after by people. In fact, the way I see it, the more time is wasted, the higher the price the region may have to pay!
Mohammed Alrumaihi is a professor of political sociology at Kuwait University.