In Persian Gulf littoral, cooperative security is key
The United Nations defines this body of water as the Persian Gulf. The lands around it are shared by eight countries (Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates), all members of the UN.
There is a commonality of interest among them in being major producers of crude oil and natural gas, and thereby contributing critically to the global economy and to their own prosperity. This has added to their geopolitical significance. At the same time, turbulence has often characterised their inter se political relations.
- For eight decades prior to 1970, this body of water was a closely guarded British lake, administered in good measure by imperial civil servants from India. When that era ended, regional players sought to assert themselves.
- Imperatives of rivalry and cooperation became evident and, as a United States State Department report put it in 1973, ‘The upshot of all these cross currents is that the logic of Saudi-Iranian cooperation is being undercut by psychological, nationalistic, and prestige factors, which are likely to persist for a long time.’
- The Nixon and the Carter Doctrines were the logical outcome to ensure American hegemony. An early effort for collective security, attempted in a conference in Muscat in 1975, was thwarted by Baathist Iraq. The Iranian Revolution put an end to the Twin Pillar approach and disturbed the strategic balance.
- The Iraq-Iran War enhanced U.S. interests and role. Many moons and much bloodshed later, it was left to the Security Council through Resolution 598 (1987) to explore ‘measures to enhance the security and stability in the region’.
A desirable framework
- The essential ingredients of such a framework would thus be to ensure:
- Conditions of peace and stability in individual littoral states;
- Freedom to all states of the Gulf littoral to exploit their hydrocarbon and other natural resources and export them;
- Freedom of commercial shipping in international waters of the Persian Gulf;
- Freedom of access to, and outlet from, Gulf waters through the Strait of Hormuz;
- Prevention of conflict that may impinge on the freedom of trade and shipping and:
- Prevention of emergence of conditions that may impinge on any of these considerations.
GCC – A US-led effort to West Asian affairs
- The U.S. effort to ‘contain’ the Iranian revolutionary forces, supplemented by the effort of the Arab states of the littoral (except Iraq) through the instrumentality of the Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC (May 1981), to coordinate, cooperate and integrate to ‘serve the sublime objectives of the Arab Nation’ initially met with success in some functional fields and a lack of it in its wider objectives.
- Perceptions of declining U.S. commitment to sub-regional security have been articulated in recent months amid hints of changing priorities. This is reported to have caused disquiet in some, perhaps all, members of the GCC, the hub of whose security concern remains pivoted on an Iranian threat.
- It is evident that a common GCC threat perception has not evolved over time and has been hampered by the emergence of conflicting tactical and strategic interests and subjective considerations.
Fundamental shifts in the Persian Gulf
- One credible assessment done recently suggests that in the emerging shape of the region, ‘Saudi Arabia is a fading power, UAE, Qatar and Iran are emerging as the new regional leaders and Oman and Iraq will have to struggle to retain their sovereign identities’ (Former Vice President of India – Hamid Ansari).
- With the Arab League entombed and the GCC on life-support system, the Arab states of this sub-region are left to individual devices to explore working arrangements with Iraq and Iran. Both Iran and the GCC states would benefit from a formal commitment to an arrangement incorporating the six points listed above; so would every outside nation that has trading and economic interests in the Gulf. This could be sanctified by a global convention.
India’s relationship with the Persian Gulf
- The bilateral relationship, economic and political, with the GCC has blossomed in recent years. The governments are India-friendly and Indian-friendly and appreciate the benefits of a wide-ranging relationship. This is well reflected in the bilateral trade of around $121 billion and remittances of $49 billion from a workforce of over nine million.
- The relationship with Iran, complex at all times and more so recently on account of overt American pressure, has economic potential and geopolitical relevance on account of its actual or alleged role in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Its size, politico-technological potential and economic resources, cannot be wished away, regionally and globally, but can be harnessed for wider good.
- India has eschewed involvement in local or regional disputes. Indian interests do not entail power projection; they necessitate in their totality, peace and regional stability, freedom of navigation and access to the region’s markets in terms of trade, technology and manpower resources.
- Indian interests would be best served if this stability is ensured through cooperative security since the alternative — of competitive security options — cannot ensure durable peace.