POLE-Papers
POLE PAPER SERIES ISSN 1370-4508 Vol. 1, No. 2, March 1995

A New Security (Dis)Order for the Gulf

by Jean Pascal Zanders

Current geopolitical developments in the Gulf are the consequence of two major events: the collapse of the Soviet Union and Iraq's annexation of Kuwait. The region's northernmost countries are locked in a rivalry to gain influence in the former Soviet republics while those more south try to overcome the consequences of the Kuwait crisis.

The independence of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia has given rise to ethnic and religious rivalries which in some cases have led to open war. Although external manipulation of those conflicts is comparatively still minimal, Turkey and Iran are moving to offer the young states their societal model as a means to obtain long-term geopolitical influence. The antagonistic aims and views have already led to rising tension and incidents between both regimes. Moreover, as the Islamic component plays an important part in the internal disputes of the Central Asian republics, actors from outside the region, such as Saudi Arabia, have been moving to gain political influence or to counter one of the other protagonists. The presence of significant quantities of mineral resources including fossil fuels mean that those republics can have an important impact on the international markets and that the access to major ports will either have to go through Turkey or Iran. The geopolitical consequences of either choice, in addition to the presence of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons, means that outside regional or world powers will inevitably interfere in developments and add to the tension.

Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 highlighted deep fissures in the facade of Arab unity. Not only did it explode the myth that Arabs do not attack their brethren, it also exposed the poorer countries' deep resentment towards the opulent life-style of the oil-rich conservative monarchies and the shallowness of political and military security arrangements. The Arab League's failure to adopt a common stance against the Iraqi aggression and the split between the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and other Arab states helped President Saddam Hussein escape total defeat on the battlefield. Moreover, the GCC's lack of military muscle paved the way for foreign intervention and possibly for long-term foreign military basing in the region. Two years after the U.S.-led coalition liberated Kuwait the Gulf security environment remains remarkably unaltered. The oil monarchies have opted for bilateral security arrangements with Western states - the United States, the United Kingdom, and France in particular - rather than creating a regional defence organisation, such as the incorporation of Syrian and Egyptian troops in the GCC in return for a sharing in the oil wealth. Diplomatic positioning during the Kuwait crisis added new rifts to the already badly fractured relationships on the Arabian peninsula and fresh demands for democratic participation in politics instill the conservative monarchies with deep suspicion and cause them to review their relations with neighbouring countries where such developments are allowed to take place. Finally, Islamic militancy - always latent in Middle Eastern countries - may gather in strength particularly because the physical presence of Western troops in the emirates and kingdoms offers it a focal rallying point.

Iraq itself is still suffering from the consequences of Operation Desert Storm. The Ba'ath regime has been able to prevent a total destruction of its armed forces and to reassert its authority over large parts of the country. Only the air protection by Western coalition partners prevents it from reclaiming total control over the Kurdish and Shia areas. Although the external coalition of opposition forces has proposed some form of confederal alternative to President Saddam Hussein's regime, they suffer from lack of internal legitimacy and are divided over the degree of autonomy some ethnic of religious minorities should enjoy. The de facto independence of the Iraqi Kurds in particular, who even claim democratic legitimacy, makes neighbouring regimes nervous as it appears to legitimize the struggle for independence of their own minorities and thus leads to their direct interference in Iraq's internal political developments either through military intervention and officially sponsored terrorism or through diplomatic initiatives to stem foreign support for secessionist movements. Iraq therefore remains a highly unstable country while her Arab, Turkish and Persian neighbours alike scarcely hide their territorial designs. Nevertheless, the consequences of a dismembered Iraq still instills the greater fear and it is precisely this opportunity that allows President Saddam Hussein backed by his still formidable armed forces to reassert himself as the defender of Arab interests against Persian expansionism in the strategically important northern Gulf. His slow but certain rehabilitation in Arab ranks was evidenced by the lukewarm support for Allied air raids against Baghdad to enforce U.N. sanctions.

The internal and external fissures in the Arab world have not escaped Iran's attention. Teheran has none too subtly asserted her geopolitical dominance in the Gulf following Iraq's neutralization as a major regional power. Iran has embarked on a major armament drive shopping for weaponry that will enable her to control the flow of oil from the Gulf. The ongoing strife between the semi-secular and religious leadership in Teheran has momentarily been settled in favour of the former. As a consequence, it has met internal centrifugal ethnic forces with renewed emphasis on Persian nationalism rather than religious fervour. The secular facade and an apparent willingness to adopt principles of a market economy and to collaborate with organisations such as the International Monetary Fund have opened opportunities for importing technology in particular from West Europe. Nevertheless, Iran's direct and indirect backing for militant Islamic organisations inside and outside the Gulf region appears to be increasing and in support of her overall geopolitical aims.

Iranian resurgence, Arab internal divisions as well as their inability to face up to external threats, and rampant ethnic nationalism transform the Gulf region once more into a tinderbox waiting to ignite. Fuelling the instability are issues such as oil supply and pricing, terrorism, drugs and arms proliferation (1) which mean that outside involvement in crises will be inevitable.

The present note focuses on the GCC as a potential source for regional stability and the threat posed by militant Islamism to the internal stability of the Gulf Arab countries.


Geopolitical manoeuvring in the Gulf

The liberation of Kuwait in 1991 has left the region vulnerable to local and outside geopolitical manoeuvring. Paradoxically the 2nd Gulf War once again left Iraq and Iran as the two main protagonists mainly because the Gulf Cooperation Council uniting the other riverine Arab states failed to take the diplomatic and military initiative against the Iraqi aggression against one of its members, Kuwait. Contrary to the situation in 1980, however, non-Arab forces have gained a solid foothold in the Gulf and several countries outside the immediate Gulf region, including Israel, Syria, and Turkey, have developed a strategic interest in the area because of the threat posed by the acquisition of advanced military technology. Nevertheless, specific to the Gulf, the balance of power is determined by three important factors:

  1. population size
  2. economic strength, and
  3. territorial size and location.

The only viable security alliance in the region is the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) formed by six nations on the Arabian peninsula, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Article 4 states goals in the political, economic, social, and legal spheres, which in intent are not unlike those proposed by the E.C. One of the more remarkable objectives is the ambition "to effect coordination, integration and interconnection between member states in all fields in order to achieve unity between them". The basic aim of a single unified Arab state may be found in many treaties and accords between Arab countries, the six GCC members probably stand the best chance of achieving such a political union. The social, political and cultural fabric is to a large extent homogeneous. (2) They share a common language, culture and religion and the level of development as well as their social structure and political system are very similar. These characteristics are buttressed by geographic propinquity and commonality of interest. (3) Formally absent from the Charter, but one of the driving forces behind its conclusion, is security. The omission has political reasons rooted in differences of opinion among the GCC members and fear of reaction from the rest of the Arab world.

To counter criticism that the GCC would detract from the ultimate aim of Arab unity by walling off the wealthiest and most homogeneous group of Arab states the Charter's Preamble stressed the "higher goals of the Arab Nation" and the "conformity with the Charter of the League of Arab States".

Since the British ceded their security responsibilities "east of Suez" in the early 1970s the countries on the Arabian peninsula have adopted divergent security strategies to ensure their independence. However, the leadership realized that small populations and, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, small territories offered few opportunities for military defence against external aggression. It was therefore a natural process for the Gulf countries to explore opportunities for common security. The birth of the UAE from Trucial Oman in the mid-1970s was tangible proof of the movement towards structured cooperation, although the separate independence of Bahrain and Qatar clearly indicated the difficulties further integration would encounter. Also the help provided by some Gulf states to Oman during the 1975 Dhofar uprising which was supported by South Yemen underscored the implicit recognition of the need for a common security policy. The greatest threats to the Gulf monarchies were the Soviet ambition to control the Gulf or at least to deny oil supplies to the West and Arab nationalism which at times was directly directed against the Gulf monarchies. However, the menace of the early nationalist revolutions under Nasser or Qaddafi was gradually replaced by that of revolutionary Iraq. Moreover, the Ba'athist leadership in Baghdad also claimed historical rights to territory on the Arabian peninsula and to Kuwait in particular.

Throughout the decade the regimes assured their security both internally and externally through a system of redistribution of their oil wealth in the form of social services and lavish development aid to other Arab countries and the Palestinians. During detente the Gulf states perceived the Soviet Union as less threatening, more so as the United States had taken over many of the British security responsibilities. Although they maintained strict neutrality in the East-West conflict, they nevertheless felt assured by the strong American influence in Iran, who thus formed a major barrier against Soviet expansionism and checked imperialist designs the Shah might cherish. Moreover, a strong Iran balanced the developing military might of Iraq (cfr. the 1975 Algiers Accords) which appeared to be moving into the Soviet sphere of influence. Within such a relative tranquillity the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran constituted a watershed. In a global atmosphere of rapidly deteriorating detente careful manipulation of the uprising could have given the USSR direct access to the Gulf, a fear which was further heightened by the invasion of Afghanistan that same year. On the other side of the Arabian peninsula Ethiopia fell prey to a communist take-over, creating the impression of Soviet encirclement at a time of dwindling U.S. influence in the region. Moreover, new American security guarantees formulated in the so-called Carter doctrine and concretized in the establishment of the Rapid Deployment Force opened the possibility of the Gulf states being drawn into the East-West confrontation, an outcome which the monarchies had always actively sought to avoid at all costs. On the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen had attacked the Yemen Arab Republic in February 1979. Despite swift and successful Arab mediation, it further contributed to the general sense of insecurity. The rhetoric of the Islamic revolution instilled fear that Teheran wished to export her model of a theocracy to the rest of the Muslim world and would therefore seek to undermine existing regimes. The Arab view of Iranian provocations against Iraq which were to lead to the first Gulf war confirmed such fears.

In a separate development at the end of the 1970s, Iraq in an attempt to take over an Arab leadership role was manoeuvring to ostracize Egypt for her plans to sign the Camp David peace accord with Israel. Saudi intelligence officials reportedly informed Egyptian President Anwar Saddat that the Gulf Arab states secretly supported the peace agreement. However, when the treaty was signed in 1979, those countries joined the Arab boycott of Cairo agreed in the Baghdad summit resolution in September 1978. Soon afterwards, it transpired that Syria had threatened to attack Saudi Arabia and Iraq to occupy Kuwait if the Gulf Arab countries did not follow suit. (4) The power vacuum after the Shah's overthrow left the Gulf monarchies also exposed to an acute threat of revolutionary Arab nationalism.

This drastically changed balance of power in the Gulf compelled the monarchies to consider formalizing their cooperation. However, throughout the seventies any alliance with addressed security issues risked to antagonize either the nationalist Arab regimes or Iran if they were not included. Even a purely economic common structure was feared to be unacceptable, because concerted positions of the six had the certain potential to influence the decision-making process in other international organs such as the League of Arab States or the Organisation of Oil Producing and Exporting Countries. The onset of the first Gulf war enabled the monarchies to overcome their dilemma how to exclude the two Gulf countries that were either not Arab or did not share the same political and religious values. The envisaged international organisation would only encompass the non-belligerent Gulf countries. Ultimately, the Iran-Iraq war "became the catalyst that permitted GCC states to streamline differences, adopt joint policies, coordinate military efforts, cooperate with outside powers, and forge a sense of political union.(5)"

Fundamental differences amongst the six Arab Gulf states nevertheless remained, with Kuwait on the one extreme advocating strict neutrality in international relations and economic union only and Oman on the other urging military integration. Kuwait's vision eventually prevailed and constituted the foundation for the Charter of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, signed in Abu Dhabi on 25 May 1982. Progress towards a common market along the lines of the European Economic Community was concretised in The Unified Economic Agreement of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, signed on 11 November 1982, and subsequent memoranda and regulations. Oil prices less stable than in the 1970s resulting in unpredictable revenues, small internal markets and labour shortages were economic parameters shared by all six countries. To reduce the overdependence on oil exports a major goal of the Gulf Arab states was diversification of their foreign sales. (6) They thus had important stakes in furthering regional economic growth and as the governments themselves had personal interests in industrial development public and private motivation tended to blend. Moreover, as the GCC was created by the heads of state without explicit popular consent the prospect of furthering individual pros-perity rather than military integration certainly enhanced the GCC's legitimacy. (7) The GCC's economic and monetary aims are still a long way from being realized, not in the least because some member states tend to act individualistically and thus hinder movement towards a common market.

Oman, on the other hand, is much more populous than her neighbours and the youngest country to share in the oil wealth. (8) Her greatest possible contribution to a regional organisation was its military force, which was only second to Saudi Arabia's but as a consequence of the Dhofar insurrection the only one with modern battle experience. Moreover, the small non-contiguous part of her territory controls the strategically vital Straits of Hormuz through which the oil wealth of the other countries had to pass. An alliance with a security component would enable Oman to request its partners to contribute generously toward the cost of keeping the Straits open. The Omani proposal recognized - quite rightly - that even after full military integration, the combined military strength would not be capable of repelling a substantial attack. It therefore argued that the Gulf Arab statesshould align themselves with a major external power who shared their security concerns, namely the United states. As such, the regional organisation could build immediately on the bilateral security arrangement the Sultanate already enjoyed with Washington. (9)

Although any reference to security and foreign policy was omitted in the GCC Charter, they nevertheless were a major motive for the initiative. The final communique of the Abu Dhabi conference which set up the GCC laid out the basic principles of the GCC's security and foreign policy. Apart from calls to end the Iran-Iraq war and pledges to support all initiatives towards terminating that war, as well as a declaration to recognize the Palestinian People's legitimate rights and their entitlement to an independent state, the monarchies underscored their neutrality in all international conflicts. The military presence of foreign powers must be avoided. They explicitly feared that the Iran-Iraq war might provoke external intervention and thus further undermine regional security. They also expressed their adherence to the principles of non-alignment. The GCC members considered themselves bound by the charter of the Arab League, the resolutions of Arab summits and the United Nations charter. (10)

The ambiguity regarding the GCC's hidden security agenda meant that few efforts were undertaken to coordinate measures against direct threats to the Gulf Arab countries' economic interests or territorial integrity. The unstated dependence on outside assistance became clear when Iran began attacking oil shipping in the Gulf and searching all vessels bound for Gulf arab ports in 1984. In its first major diplomatic success, the GCC had a resolution it sponsored approved by the United Nations Security Council calling "on all states to respect the right of free navigation in the Gulf and refrain from any act which may lead to further escalation and widening of the conflict". Kuwait's insistence on strict neutrality in international relations had evidently paid off, as the GCC's main spokesperson, the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheik Sabah al Ahmad together with his Bahraini and Qatari counterparts managed to obtain the endorsement of both cold-war rivals, the United States and the Soviet Union. The resolution also pointed to the way the GCC wished to reconcile its contradictory policy objectives in the international arena:

"The Gulf War epitomizes the difficulties the GCC faces in reconciling its stated aims and objectives with the practical dictates of inescapable political and military developments. The GCC emphasizes the importance of its nonaligned position 'to all countries' and its exclusive collective responsibility for stability in the GCC region. Much is made of the doctrine of self-reliance and an insistence that no other power - especially superpowers - has any right of intervention in the area. At the same time, there is an ample awareness among the GCC leadership that their collective military capabilities may not be quite sufficient for their strategic needs. It is for this reason the GCC makes such fine technical distinctions about their regional sovereignty and other nation's responsibilities where the Gulf waters are concerned. Freedom of navigation in the Gulf and the region's neutrality are cardinal tenets of the GCC's position. Yet, the GCC emphasizes that this does not absolve the international community from its obligation to ensure the safety and freedom of navigation in Gulf waters. The GCC's distinction is legally correct and politically justified and blends both international responsibility for peace and security in this vital region with the GCC's role as guarantor and motivator of regional stability in the Gulf." (11)

The GCC's reluctance to fully embrace security matters has had two important consequences that directly influenced developments immediately after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and the aftermath of the 2nd Gulf War. First, the GCC does in no way infringe upon the independence and sovereignty of its member states and thus allows them to make their own defence arrangements. Oman enjoys the closest security ties with the United States permitting them to use fixed military installations that have been jointly built. Saudi Arabia allies itself with Washington in a more discrete way and fears that permanent basing of foreign troops will undermine the House of Saud's political legitimacy. It took special persuasion of King Fahd early in August 1990 to convince him that Iraq was poised to invade his country and that he could only hope to repel such an attack with the assistance of foreign troops. During the Desert Shield build-up the coalition forces were billeted away from the Saudi population and were under instructions to avoid contact as much as possible. Even so, many incidents resulting from the clash between cultures occurred while some militant Islamists saw in the huge foreign presence further evidence of the ruling elite's moral and religious corruption. (12) Kuwait, on the other hand, maintained the strictest possible neutrality between the two superpowers even after Iran had started targeting Kuwaiti oil installations and shipping in retaliation for the emirate's financial and logistical support for Iraq. Iran's 1987 winter offensive from the nearby al-Faw peninsula was expected to bring its troops on Kuwait's doorstep. In order to protect its oil-tanker fleet - and by extension its territorial integrity - Kuwait approached all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council informing them that it was interested in reflagging its ships. Moscow accepted to reflag and protect five tankers. It appears, however, that Kuwait was primarily seeking U.S. Navy protection using the Soviet offer as bait to overcome opposition to U.S. involvement in the war within both the Reagan-administration and Congress. (13) The end result was, of course, that despite official protestations of neutrality the GCC states had implicitly recognized their dependence on the United States and the West in general to assure their external security.

The second important consequence of the GCC members' individualistic approach to security matters is the lack of coordination of arms acquisition policies. The Gulf Arab countries have large but thinly populated expanses of land to defend. Saudi Arabia in particular shares long borders in remote areas with potentially hostile regimes. The table below demonstrates that today even the combined forces of the GCC member states are far less numerous than those of either Iran or Iraq.

The Gulf Region : Comparative Statistics
(Source: Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year 1993)


Area Population ('92) Military ('92)
GCC 2.653.640 km 21.137.000 217.550
Iran 1.638.057 km 59.570.000 528.000
Iraq 435.052 km 18.838.000 382.500

The numerical balance has nevertheless improved markedly since the 1st Gulf war. In 1985 the GCC counted 137,800 men under arms, compared with Iraq's 600,000 (exclusive 425,000 personnel of the Popular Army) and Iran's 600,000 regular troops and Pasdaran (exclusive several million paramilitary forces). (14) By the end of the war, Iraq and Iran's armed forces had a total of 1 million and 650,500 military respectively. The GCC had increased its armed forces to a total of 160,950. (15)

The Gulf Arab countries have tried to compensate their numerical inferiority with high-technology weaponry. Saudi Arabia in particular has given top priority to improving its air force as this is the only arm capable of patrolling and repelling an attack in the remote areas. In the absence of an indigenous defence industry the Kingdom as well as the other GCC states are dependent on foreign suppliers. The historical roles played by the United Kingdom and the United States meant that they were the main suppliers of military technology and expertise. However, for a number of reasons the Gulf Arab countries have also turned to other countries. Kuwait, for instance, expressed its absolute neutrality by turning to the Soviet Union too for certain purchases. In 1977 and 1978 it improved its air-defence capabilities with Soviet SA-7 missiles and in 1984 it concluded another missile deal worth $300 million. For the first time, it also allowed Soviet military advisers on its territory. These, however, remained relatively minor - maybe even symbolic - deals and the emirate still relied heavily on the West. (16) A far more important and consequential reason for the diversification is the success of the pro-Israeli lobby in blocking or hindering sales of high-technology weaponry to Arab countries in the U.S. Congress. The lengthy battles over the sale of AWACS early-warning aircraft and F-15 air-superiority fighters(17) during the first half of the eighties illustrated the complications that arose from the close security ties with Israel. Frustration with the unreliability of Capitol Hill forced the Gulf states to turn to Europe and also to major Third-World suppliers to obtain the weapon systems they believed most appropriate for their defence requirements. As a consequence of their efforts to diversify their sources the GCC members are operating weapons systems from the United States, United Kingdom, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the former U.S.S.R. (18)

This great variety as well as the large quantities of weaponry ordered within a relatively small span of time has caused many problems regarding their assimilation within the national armed forces. As many of the troops were illiterate - for instance, some Bedouins serving in the Saudi forces - special educational programmes had to be set up prior to the formal instruction. The greatest problem was nevertheless the inability of integrating all those weapon systems in a single overall military doctrine. This means that the different branches of the armed forces, or even sections within these branches, are unable to coordinate operations thus leaving much of the potential of a high-technology weapon system unused. This affects the coordination of command, control, and communications (C_) in particular. The problem is further compounded by the Gulf countries' dependence on foreign military assistance. The military and technical advisors of the respective supplier countries instruct and train the Arabs in their national methods of warfare, which in some cases are totally incompatible.

The great reliance on different foreign suppliers and the absence of any coordination of procurement policy within the GCC means that problems such as those described above handicap the joint GCC strike force even more. Added to these are issues of political import: a substantial integrated armed force(19) would formally confirm Saudi Arabia's de facto dominance over the region. This is unacceptable to the other Gulf states, principally because in Arab custom all monarchs are equal and therefore one cannot dominate the others. The border conflict between Qatar and Saudi Arabia which flared up again in 1992 is laden with symbolic value because to Qatar it underscores her independence while Saudi Arabia wishes to assert her authority. Meanwhile, however, Qatar boycotts GCC meetings and rumours circulate that she might suspend her membership. (20)

The 2nd Gulf War thus exposed the weaknesses of the GCC as a security alliance. The internal divisions amongst its member states and - perhaps more importantly in the long run - a deep fissure between the GCC and the rest of the Arab world opens possibilities for external powers to manipulate individual rulers for their own geopolitical gains. The most dramatic failure is the Gulf Arab states unwillingness to implement the Damascus agreement whereby both Syria and Egypt, two coalition partners during the 2nd Gulf war, would allocate troops for the defence of the Arabian peninsula in return for substantial financial assistance. Instead, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman have signed bilateral defence agreements with the United States and European powers to ensure their security requirements. The UAE is expected into a similar pact with the United States in 1993 and might involve the expansion of Abu Dhabi port presumably for military purposes. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, preferred to retain existing arrangements based on the U.S. intervention guarantees extended by President Carter, allowing foreign forces to make discreet use of port facilities and land bases. (21) Joint training and military exercises concretise the bilateral accords.

The lack of political unity and military integration leaves Iraq as a major regional power despite its crushing defeat in 1991. Once U.N. sanctions are lifted, Baghdad will be in a position to pressure its neighbours again. The question is whether in view of the high short and long-term costs of the war over Kuwait the Gulf monarchies will be willing to resist Iraqi blackmail again. The most important coalition partners have drastically reduced their capability of power projection following to the demise of the Soviet Union, so the next time round Iraq may well calculate that the West will be unable to mount a second Desert Storm. Such a scenario depends of course on President Saddam Hussein's and the Ba'ath Party's ability to survive any political or ethnic turmoil. If Arab nationalists retain the reigns of power whatever may happen to the present leadership the U.N. Security Council's settlement of the 2nd Gulf war will almost certainly give rise to new friction and armed conflict. In particular the settling of the border dispute with Kuwait in the latter's favour has sown the seeds of nationalist revanchism. In August 1992 the Security Council accepted the U.N. Iraq-Kuwait Border Demarcation Commission's recommendation made on 16 April to award six wells in the Rumaylah oil field and part of the Umm Qasr port to Kuwait. Both issues are of deep concern to Baghdad. The former crosses out part of Iraq's options to restore its economy, the bad state of which was one of the main causes of the Kuwait invasion. The latter is part of a long-standing dispute with Kuwait over access to the Gulf. Kuwait controls Iraqi shipping, including military, from the two islands Warba and Bubiyan which lie just in front of the port and has even refused leasing the islands to Iraq during the war with Iran. Physical Kuwaiti control over Umm Qasr effectively means that Iraq, who agreed once more to the 1975 Algiers Accords during the Kuwait crisis thus accepting the partitioning of the Shatt-al-Arab on which Basra, its only other port, lies, has lost all free access to the Gulf. Given that at the time of writing Iraq is already restructuring its military into a more efficient fighting force and restoring its defence industrial base, only the presence of U.N. observers and inspectors stands in the way of renewed hostilities in the region. Moreover, few experts doubt that Iraq will be able to restore its chemical- and biological-weapon potential within a short span of time, so that it is only a question of time before the country will constitute a real threat once more.

Another potential source of conflict is the demographic pressure emanating from countries around the Arabian peninsula. Egypt undergoes an explosive population growth. Its poor economic performance stands in strong contrast with the glowing richess of the underpopulated Gulf monarchies. It is therefore probable that a migratory movement may start pushing at the peninsula's frontiers, creating tension between the allies during the Gulf war. Saudi Arabia renewed the border dispute with the recently unified Yemen in 1992(22) and underscored its status as the major regional power by holding military maneuvers along the border. Along with displeasure over Yemen's stand in the U.N. Security Council during the Kuwait crisis, a contention over Yemen's right to make oil concessions in the area and mistrust over Yemen's experiment with democratic elections,Saudi Arabia faces a direct geostrategic challenge by its neighbour's high population, which is only second to its own on the peninsula. As a reprisal for Yemen's voting behaviour in the Security Council, Riyadh expelled Yemeni guest workers who could only join the ranks of the jobless and displaced persons in their own country. The loss of revenue for the country's economy can only increase the stark contrast between wealth and poverty on the same subcontinent and amplify the resentment. (23)

In the short term, however, Iran appears to pose the greater threat to the GCC members. It not only tries to impose its regional dominance through direct action such as its action over the strategically located islands Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tumbs, it also seeks to exploit the differences of opinion between the Gulf arab countries which it hopes will make each of them individually more susceptible to pressure. Iraq's defeat at the hand of the U.S.-led coalition allowed Iran to reemerge on the geopolitical front. During the 2nd Gulf War Teheran stayed on the sidelines. Baghdad, fearing a war on two fronts, offered the Iranian leadership a peace treaty with similar terms to the one the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, had torn up in 1980 just before his attack on Iran. Not only did this act declare Iran the de facto winner of the first Gulf War, she only had to watch the allied onslaught reducing her main enemy's military potential and abide her time to reassert her geopolitical dominance in the Gulf and to secure her position in Central Asia.

The Iranian leadership has since then proceeded along two tracks. In the north it is seeking economic and political alliances with the young Central Asian republics based on a common cultural or religious heritage. Although Islamicism plays an important political role in the ethnic conflicts in the former Soviet republics, only a small minority envisage a theocratic state. The main strategic purposes are stabilizing the northern frontier to avoid spillover and checking Turkish expansionist aims amongst ethnic Turks in Central Asia. In spite of state-sponsored terrorist attacks, the confrontation between both countries has essentially been diplomatic. On the other hand, both countries together with Syria have discussed internal security issues and adopted common positions regarding Kurdish self-determination.

Iran's second geopolitical thrust is political and military dominance in the Gulf. To this end she follows a three-pronged strategy. First, resumed oil-exports after the 1st Gulf war and higher oil prices allow her to embark on a armaments drive to replace Iraq as the strongest regional military power. Second, Teheran has made diplomatic overtures to the riverine Arab Gulf states, offering a regional security arrangement. Finally, she aims at neutralizing the West's growing influence in the Gulf.

On all three accounts, Iran's policy is faltering if not failing. In 1992 the C.I.A. estimated that Teheran was spending $2 billion annually on arms expenditure, a figure contested by Iranian officials but put in perspective by the admitted cost of $600 million for two submarines from the former Soviet Union alone. (24) Russia's keen interest in hard foreign currency enables Iran to buy sophisticated weaponry at relatively low prices. Her arsenals, however, are still mainly filled with American systems which the 2nd Gulf war had proved to be of superior quality. The international arms embargo forces Iran to purchase spare parts, ammunition and other equipment on the black market at highly inflated prices. The still increasing armament drive is one the Iranian leadership believes it cannot relent. Western powers are keeping sizeable military assets in the Gulf region and as a consequence of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait have gained long-term access to on-land military bases for the first time. On the other hand, the riverine Arab Gulf countries are procuring some of the most sophisticated Western weaponry in sizeable quantities. However, the cost of this armament drive competes with other societal policy priorities. The bulk of the populace is suffering growing impoverishment as a consequence of rising unemployment and an inflation currently running at over 30%. At a time of falling oil prices on the world market, the government was running high budget deficits and had to devalue the Iranian rial. To avoid a recurrence of the riots in four cities in 1992 the authorities have allowed virtually unrestricted imports of goods. This further depleted meagre foreign reserves and added to the foreign debt, currently standing at over $13 billion. (25) Early in 1993 an international warning followed that Iran was having trouble paying for its imports. Unless the government accepts incurring an even higher foreign debt(26) at a time when the Islamic revolution is losing much of its political legitimacy, Iran's quest for regional military dominance will take much longer to achieve.

Iran's offer to form a regional security alliance under her leadership after Iraq's defeat in Kuwait was met with suspicion by the Arab states wary of the theocracy's hidden agenda. Any hope of success was torpedoed when Iran reopened a dispute with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over a small island in the Gulf, Abu Musa in April 1992. In September the conflict intensified when Iranian officials refused a UAE passenger ship access to the island. Although Teheran tried to play down the incident after the immediate Arab outcry, the UAE took the issue to the United Nations and at the same time widened the agenda by reopening the question of sovereignty over the islands. Meanwhile, the Gulf Cooperation Council had issued a strong condemnation of Iran's moves and - most surprisingly - was joined by Syria, Iran's sole Arab ally. Although it is not believed that the Iranian leadership wilfully provoked the crisis, President Rafsandjani has since then used the issue to assert Iran's dominance in the Gulf. One likely explanation for his behaviour is his growing rivalry with the clerics who oppose his overtures to the West. He might calculate that by introducing elements of Persian nationalism - which are quite distinct from the anti-imperialist nationalism that carried the Islamic revolution - he will gain street-level support against the clerics and at the same time counter the ethnic centrifugal forces in the Iranian society. His political position has not benefitted from his poor showing in the presidential election on 11 June 1993 (63.2% of a 57.6% turn-out) and might lead to an open power struggle. However, the results also illustrate that the Islamic regime has used up much of its political capital and that it will have to improve its economic performance quickly if it wishes to avoid serious internal turmoil. These domestic developments may at present be one of the most important checks on Iran's geopolitical ambitions. However, both further deterioration or improvement may lead to serious security challenges for the Gulf Arab countries.

The 2nd Gulf war has guaranteed Western involvement in the Gulf's geopolitics, a fact that the Arab countries appear to welcome in view of their preference for bilateral security arrangements rather than maturing a regional multilateral defence organisation. The massive allocation of resources by the United States and the major European powers to liberate Kuwait has indicated to them that to ensure an uninterrupted flow of oil the Western democracies will guarantee their sovereignty and territorial integrity. However, the Bush administration's policy towards the Middle East was confused at best, but certainly misguided. President Clinton, who has campaigned mainly on domestic issues, on the other hand was not really prepared to tackle the intricacies of Middle Eastern Security. So far, U.S. policy in the Gulf has alsways been to maintain the balance of power, first regarding the Soviet Union and later Iran. In what seems to be a radical shift, the Clinton Administration appears to espouse a policy of "dual containment" regarding Iran and Iraq. The plan was unveiled by the Special Assistant to the President for Near East and South Asian Affairs Martin Indyk in a speech to the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy given on 18 May 1993. Indyk, who before his appointment was known for his pro-Israeli agenda, unsurprisingly takes the Jewesh state's security as the starting point for the new American policy in the Gulf. (27) The two pillars are:

  1. Israel must be kept strong, while promotion of Arab-Israeli peace continues;
  2. Both Iraq and Iran are dangerous threats to Israel and others, and should be kept weak through a policy of 'dual containment'.

The latter policy was described as follows:

    "Dual containment" derives from an assessment that the current Iraqi and Iranian regimes are both hostile to American interests in the region. Accordingly, we do not accept the argument that we should continue the old balance of power game, building up one to balance the other. [...] The coalition that fought Saddam remains together. As long as we are able to maintain our military presence in the region; as long as we succeed in restricting the military ambitions of both Iraq and Iran; and as long as we can rely on our regional allies - Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the GCC, and Turkey - to preserve the balance of power in our favour in the wider Middle East region, we will have the means to counter both the Iraqi and Iranian regimes.

Regarding Iraq, the Clinton Administration will seek full compliance with all U.N. resolutions, including those on the country's internal repression. Moreover, it will back the Iraqi opposition united in the Iraqi National Congress. The basic tenet of this part of U.S. policy appears to based on keeping Iraq demilitarized as much as possible using Security Council resolutions and on an implicit call to remove the current Ba'ath leadership as a major precondition for regional stability. There is no hint, however, that the present U.S. administration has a better understanding of the internal political dynamics than the previous one in Iraq and in the region as a whole. The focus of U.S. policy is Israel and Iraq remains in the periphery. The chance of a repeat of unanticipated events similar in essence to those in Iran more than a decade earlier are therefore real. Iran poses a double threat to Western intersts. First, the U.S. considers Teheran to be the new epicentre of terrorism, and second, it is developing "threatening intentions [which] for the moment outstrip its capabilities". This situation, however, will not last, and if the world community fails to contain Iran, "five years from now Iran will be much more capable of posing a real threat to Israel, to the Arab world and to Western interests in the Middle East [...]". Containing Iraq would ultimately tilt the balance of power in favour of Iran.

Indyk's presentation is but an outline of what American policy may be, but it is short on specifics. Two fundamental questions remain outstanding. Containment is under all circumstances a very costly policy, so light will have to be shed on the resources that the United States and its allies are prepared to allocate to the security of the Middle East in a time of serious budgettary constraints and economic contraction if the policy wants to be credible in the eyes of both Iraq and Iran. Second, what contingency planning is being prepared in case containment fails?


Militant Islamism after the 2nd Gulf war

During the 2nd Gulf war the West was seriously concerned with the possibility of a militant Islamist backlash against the intervention. The risk of terrorist attacks against Western targets or against local political leaders was raised by President Saddam Hussein's call for a holy war against the international coalition days after he had invaded Kuwait. His appeal rested on a three-pronged strategy. Firstly, he projected himself as the Arab leader who stood up against the West and against the United States in particular. Secondly, he elevated his struggle to a holy war against Western, and therefore heathen imperialism and against its puppets in the Middle East. Finally, he brought Israel and as a consequence the Palestinian issue into the conflict thus handing Arab nationalism and Islamism a common cause. In doing so, he attempted to use an instrument previously successful in the hands of charismatic Arab leaders: the appeal to the peoples of other Arab states over the heads of their leaders referring on the one hand to Islam, Islamic unity and orthodoxy, and on the other to pan-Arabism, Arab nationalism and Arab brotherhood. (28) In the process, he bared several fault lines between and within Middle Eastern societies. In particular, he exposed the horizontal societal cleavage between the small elite holding virtually all economic and political power and the broad politically ignorant masses in the Gulf Arab states.

Surprisingly enough no such uprisings or attacks occurred in the Gulf states or in Jordan during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. One explanation is that the Iraqi leader lacked the necessary credentials. The cornerstone of the Ba'ath ideology is Arab nationalism and socialism, two secular ingredients anathema to any Islamic policy. During the 1st Gulf war he increasingly stressed the pan-Arab ideology as he presented himself as the dam that would protect the Arab cultural heritage against revolutionary Islam. A second view holds that the the crisis in the Gulf required Islamist movements in different countries to agree upon a common Islamic critique and formulate joint alternative yet constructive proposals on domestic or international issues that the invasion of Kuwait had raised. Their failure to do so was symptomatic for the profound socioeconomic, political and ideological ruptures hidden by the Islamist dogma and which gave rise to competing stances. Moreover, to many leading Islamist it was also unclear whether President Saddam Hussein's initial act of invading Kuwait was not in contravention of Islamic principles. (29) Yet, since the allied forces withdrew an upsurge of militant islamist activism has been recorded in countries as far away as Egypt and the United States or in secular Turkey. The central question therefore is whether President Saddam Hussein's call for a jihad lies at the origin of this increased political militancy or whether he was just the catalyst in a process which had begun much earlier. The issue worries Arab leaders so much that they have condemned allied retaliatory strikes against Iraq early in 1993 and accused them of hypocrisy for neglecting the Muslims in Bosnia or refusing to enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions against Israel.

The Iranian revolution in 1979 sent shockwaves through the entire Middle East. The West, too, was in turmoil not only because it lost an all-important ally in the East-West conflict, but also because it upturned Western modernisation theory which stated that traditional societal forces, including religion, hinder the further development of a state. According to this determinist vision less developed countries must copy the West's capitalist order and accordingly adopt a democratic political system. Iran under the Shah was modernizing society under American influence, and thus moving along the mapped route. His ouster by religious leaders therefore sent shockwaves through the Middle East and the entire world. Little did the West appreciate that the Shah's successful elimination of secular political opposition forces caused the separation of secularization from democratization. This resulted in the Pahlavi regime's failure to create a unified political culture by failing to expand "its social base of support among the new middle strata, the intelligentsia, and the working class, the very social groups whose participation and support would be vital to any serious attempt toward modernization. By excluding these social groups from political participation, the regime undermined the formation of the institutions of civil society [...]".(30)

From a security point of view, the Islamic revolution had five important effects. (31) First, it discontinued the prevailing trend of socialist revolutions during the 20th century. The models of the Soviet Union, China and Cuba influenced many political leaders in Third-World countries. Moreover, the religious uprising occurred in a country that for centuries had only played a rather marginal role in the Islamic world. Second, the Islamic revolution constituted an important political event, which could not have occurred without the political mobilisation of the intelligentsia and broad sections of the population. This implied a latent receptivity to an Islamist message in all social strata, which, in turn, raised questions about the political culture in Muslim countries. Third, the revolution took place is the periphery of the Islamic world, rather than in its centre, Saudi Arabia. This raised the spectre that the revolutionary zeal would spread to the country where the religion had originated. In 1979, Iran and Saudi Arabia formed the twin pillars of the American security policy in the region. The events in Teheran, aggravated by the hostage-taking of the U.S. embassy employees, gave Riyadh the impression that Washington was no longer capable of guaranteeing its security. The central place of Islam and a socioeconomic fabric distorted by oil wealth, in which a small political and economic elite had succeeded in consolidating its hold on power, while - apart from free tuition and health care and a tax-free income - little of that wealth trickled down to the broad masses, had turned Saudi Arabia into a tinderbox. Fourth, the Iranian uprising proved that the position of secularized political elites(32) could be undermined if they did not enjoy Islamic legitimacy. The propagated separation of church and state had ostensibly failed to convince the masses. Finally, the upheaval had repercussions not only for the internal power structures in the Middle East but also entailed important international geopolitical consequences. If rulers in Muslim states required Islamic legitimacy, then conflicts and revolutions would become the rule in the Middle East. This would constitute an important challenge to the Western sphere of influence which, in turn, would lead to serious economic losses and even threaten the fundaments of Western society, which are based on oil. This guaranteed greater Western involvement in the region.

Middle Eastern leaders and their Western sponsors reacted to those events by taking three series of measures to curb the Islamic revival. The secularized Muslim leaders acted repressively. Most politicized Islamist movements were forbidden and their members arrested, tortured and sometimes executed. The West silently tolerated such state repression and even state terrorism. The political leaders of Muslim states also put forward a distorted version of Islam under the banner of Islamisation. On the one hand, they still stressed the separation between state and church, on the other they began emphasizing the ritual character of religious practice, whereby Islam was reduced to the practice of the Five Pillars. (33) Behind this facade, the ruling elites could still present themselves as Islamic. It was nevertheless their purpose that the populace followed these Pillars blindly. They were not allowed to question them, which reduced them to an end in itself rather than a means to an end as Islam conceives it in its all-embracing teachings. Finally, the West and especially the United States extended far-reaching security guarantees to erase the image of powerlessness against militant Islamism. President Carter assured Saudi Arabia in particular that the United States would not allow the fall of the King and created the Rapid Deployment Force to meet any contingencies.

In order to better circumscribe the security threat we have to make a small excursion to the political functioning of militant Islamism. Islam is an all-embracing religion and its influence is certainly not limited to the private lives of individuals. "It comprises a complete way of living and takes care of all aspects of the human existence. Islam provides guiding principles for all aspects of life, both individually as socially, in material as in moral, in economic as in political, in legal as in cultural, in national as in international respect. (34)" As long as Islam remains restricted to the private sphere it does not necessarily have political repercussions. It is only when the religious beliefs regarding piousness and correct behaviour are advanced as the basis of the political system that they have an impact on the government and international relations. From the perspective of the political sciences, precisely this duality will define the area of tension regarding Islam.

On the one hand, there is the Arab-Islamic model with its revealed values and that calls for a return to religion in order to found the Kingdom of God for the disciples. On the other, there is the earthly model with materialistic values, which aims at handing the disciples modern success. The dichotomy is defined that according to some the first model is realistic and authentic, but traditional and therefore outdated, and according to others the second is secular, often of foreign origin and therefore alienated. (35) Neither model exists in pure form as they undergo the influence of their environment. In other words, there exists a permanent dynamic process in which now one tendency and then the other is temporarily dominant.

In broad terms, any given society strives for as efficient as possible governance and organisation and in this endeavour it must fulfil certain existential and material needs of the members of that society. However, if the existing order is in trouble and therefore no longer a source of stability and satisfaction, and the identity or the basic material conditions are seriously threatened, then the faithful will revert to their religion. Religion is then no longer solely a means to salvation in the hereafter as it is usually in the private sphere, but an answer to the crisis during earthly life. (36) People thus try to return to the fundamental, the authentic values as written down in the Koran. From the clash results a new synthesis, a new beginning for the society, which will begin to secularize and modernize again as a consequence of the interaction with the environment until the leadership will again become so alienated that the people will return to the authentic values. However, meanwhile the interpretation of those authentic values is also subject to the society's evolution.

The Iranian revolution illustrates this process well. Although the religious leaders initially wished to isolate the country completely, after fourteen years the more secular component of the current dual leadership has become dominant over the clergy and Iran is seeking to become an integral part of the world community again. The reconstruction of the economy and technological base force the country to interact with the West once more. Teheran has also restrained its original ambition to export the Islamic revolution, but meanwhile engages in classic power politics in the Gulf.

Militant Islamist movements distinguish themselves from other Islamic movements by their willingness to use violence and the direct opposition to the established polity. The distinction is important because in most Muslim countries from Pakistan over Saudi Arabia to Mauritania the opposition has called itself Islamic without fundamentally questioning the democratic principle or the cooperation with the West in the country's further development. (37) The militant characteristic follows immediately from the belief that the clergy should be involved in politics(38) and the rejection of each compromise with the forces of evil. It is nevertheless possible that for tactical considerations they decide to play the democratic game. (39) Despite their heterogeneity in appearance, it is possible to state that they rise in specific circumstances that enable them to mobilise broad sections of the population and propagate an ideology of redemption claiming that religion can solve all society's problems. Five important conditions have been identified that foster militant Islamism. (40)

A first factor is political stagnation and a weakening of the central authority. The loss of political legitimacy may be the consequence of non-fulfilment of expectations among the population. This is strongly the case in Algeria and Tunisia following the rising poverty and the strict economic policies dictated amongst others by the International Monetary Fund. On the other hand, delegitimation can also take place because the leadership has come into an international isolation. The Libyan leader Qadaffi faces growing internal opposition because of the U.N. sanctions. The phenomenon is arguably most prominent in the competition for political leadership in the occupied territories between the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the radical Islamist HAMAS. The PLO's stature is being affected by the virtually hopeless intifada, the stagnation of negotiations at the international peace conference for the Middle East, and maybe most of all because of the isolation amongst Arab states for their too strong ties with the Iraqi leader during the Kuwait-crisis. Should the Ba'ath party, possibly after the removal or death of President Hussein, lose its political grip on the country, then Iraq may well be a candidate for Islamist activism and sectarian civil war, which may explain why the Gulf Arab leaders oppose any partitioning of the country and are reticent about Western calls to dispose of President Saddam Hussein.

A second common catalyst is economic stagnation and falling living standards as a consequence. In these circumstances the gap between the small social and economic elite and the impoverished masses widens. The free social benefits no longer suffice and it is therefore typical that many militant Islamist organisations apply themselves to providing those services thus making the contrast with the failing state even harsher. In addition, higher education and degrees no longer guarantee work which provides militant Islamist movements with a broad recruiting base amongst the young intelligentsia.

Another important element is the deterioration of the security conditions as a consequence of internal or external circumstances. The internal instability in Lebanon has allowed Hezbollah to gain a significant foothold. The central authorities in Libya and Tunisia suffered severe loss of face after the U.S. bombing of Tripoli in 1986 and the Israeli air strikes against the PLO headquarters in Tunis because they proved unable to retaliate.

The penetration of Western culture through the mass media, tourism and the necessity for technological development and economic growth are other factors causing friction in the Islamic world. Leaders who look too much to the West to aid their country's development, such as the Egyptian President Mubarak, form an important mobilising element for militant Islamist movements.

Finally, as an extension of the previous point, militant Islamists react strongly against secular states and leaders whom they believe wish to impose cultural changes and to be against their organisations. In such a context calls to separate state and religion and the persecution of members of Islamist movements create new frictions which contribute to the further radicalisation of certain sections of the population.

To summarize, militant Islamist movements in the Arab world profess that they can deliver the faithful from their political, economic, social and cultural problems in a perplexing and fast-moving world. They are revolutionary in the sense that they wish to introduce a new social order but they present themselves as saviours to protect the old community from self-destruction. In essence, the eyes are turned to some golden age in the past. As events in Iran have shown, this does not mean that the movement cannot get a revolutionary zeal.

The situation is, however, far more complex than such a categorisation of factors promoting the emergence of militant Islamism suggests. It does not explain why a politicized clergy carried the revolution in Iran and why Islamist movements and organisations currently pose the greatest threat to governments in a number of Arab countries. The absence of a deep-rooted democratic culture in which political forces of the majority and the opposition permanently interact with each other is arguably the single most important reason. Most governments in the Middle East are autocratic and try to eliminate opposition through repression, patronage or a combination of both. Secular opposition forces may range from liberals, socialists, communists over various kinds of nationalists to Islamic liberals and Islamic socialists. Their recruiting base are usually specific segments of society. Their suppression is often easily achieved through the decapitation of the intellectual leadership. Such success - as was manifestly the case in Iran during the seventies(41) - frees the road for a politicized clergy to mobilize masses from all social strata through their network of mosques and other religious institutions. Even if secular opposition forces manage to reorganize themselves, it still leaves militant Islamists as the sole contender for power. First, no secular movement can hope to attract broad cross-sections of society in a crisis situation. Second, state repression and the functioning of militant Islamism both contribute to further internal destabilisation, which leads to radicalisation of the secular opposition, thus either reducing its appeal to many or depleting the traditional recruiting base for less radical organisations. Moreover, to the masses the more secular movements are little differentiated from militant Islamism, as they are often all based on Islamic culture, nationalism, anti-colonialism and an overall Third-Worldist ideology. As was the case in Iran

    [...] the political discourse of the socialists and liberal-nationalists was not greatly different from the Islamicists in so far as all defined Iran's dilemma as dependency on the West/US with all its economic, political and cultural implications. It is this common discourse that facilitated cooperation and unity between the socialists, the liberal-nationalists and the rising Islamic movement. Cooperation between these opposition movements took the form of a populist pact against the Shah. By 1978, when the revolutionary movement arrived, the secular socialist and liberal-nationalist political cultures were confined to limited segments of the population - students, intellectuals, some ethnic minorities and some strata of the new middle class. The Islamic opposition, on the other hand, based on the bazaaris, the traditional middle strata, the urban poor and the clergy, had been gaining momentum and surged significantly to the lead. (42)

From this brief overview, it is clear that the Gulf Arab states and their Arab coalition partners such as Egypt and Syria already carry sufficient seeds for a militant Islamist opposition. In each case the leadership is westernized, secularized and at most islamized. The lack of a charismatic leader was clearly felt when poverty was on the increase. Each form of political dissent is physically repressed or suppressed through patronage. The remarkable fact was rather that militant Islamist movements remained calm and did not pose an internal threat. However, President Saddam Hussein's call for a holy war may have repercussions in the long term. The physical presence of large numbers of foreign troops in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait hand the militant Islamist movements an important rallying point. It enables them to refer to neo-imperialism and to the fact that the Saudi King, keeper of the two holy cities Mecca and Medina, can only maintain his position with the help of heathen troops. The dispute over oil pricing the Iraqi leader had with the conservative monarchs laid the deep cleavage between elites and masses bare for all to see. The policy of segregation between the minority of Kuwaiti nationals and the majority of foreign guest workers has become common knowledge.

The five factors that promote the upsurge of militant Islamist movements are present in the Gulf Arab countries. For instance, in 1992 the Saudi annual budgetary deficit ran at $8 billion or 240 billion Bfr. The authorities are not prepared to redress the situation, which will cause serious trouble in the longer term. Before the invasion of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia was one of the few capital-exporting countries. Today it has to import capital to pay for cost of the war. That war has another important consequence: the defence budget for 1993 has risen by 14% to 31% of the total expenditures. The introduction of an income tax is unthinkable nor would an increase in oil production bring any solution in view of the glut on the world market. An annual population increase of around 3% will also involve the government cost for free tuition and health and social care. Finally, government policy and spending aims at pacifying the population. In sum, the deficit will keep on rising which means that ultimately a large part of the national income will have to reserved for servicing interests on the debt. The Saudi authorities will eventually have to take difficult decisions and unpopular measures, yet, at present they are still not prepared to do so. (43) Algeria and Tunisia are probably not very attractive examples. Even if the kingdom manages significant economic growth all budgetary parameters remaining equal, the social fabric is undeniably undergoing fundamental changes. The export-oriented economy has created a previously non-existent middle class of traders and business men, who, often having studied in the United States and Europe, feel constrained by the current social order, their lack of influence on governmental decision-making processes, and who certainly have no requirement for the traditional royal tutelage. The House of Saud still has not accepted the idea of even limited franchise, let alone experiments in democracy. Moreover, it is influencing politics in neighbouring countries, such as Kuwait and the Yemen, to limit developments towards participative democracy as much as possible and has expressed its abhorrence at the prospect of the West introducing democracy in Iraq. If the new economically dynamic classes press for political reform and the present regime answers these demands with repression, then it will be paving the way for militant Islamist groups very much in the same way as the Shah of Iran did two decades earlier.

It is clear that militant Islamism poses a considerable threat to the existing social order in the Gulf Arab countries. Although that threat is at present mostly internal, it nevertheless has an impact on the international security debate. For a couple of years now, Israel considers the Islamist challenge in the region a greater peril to its existence than Arab nationalism. Many Arabs appear to share that perception. As one author described the development: (44)

In retrospect, one can see, Arab nationalism never developed a comprehensive ideology with an elaborated, coherent structure of thought and action. Rather, it remained a rehash of some general notions of shared cultural identity and heritage. Politically, Arab nationalism aspired to be a transnational panacea, but, by its disregard of prevailing Middle Eastern conditions, ended up divorced from reality. Unable to realize the elusive goal of Arab unity, Arab nationalism faded towards unimportance and irrelevance. Finally, the Gulf War of 1990-91 shattered the concept entirely, making it unlikely to survive as a major political force. Today, Arab nationalist rhetoric is dismissed by many Arabs as the empty sloganeering of a bygone era.

With the end of Arab nationalist ideology and the ascendancy of an Arab state system, one can expect Arab countries - to the extent they are influenced by modernists - to act more in terms of their distinct national interests, less in terms of all-Arab concerns. Regional, economic, and demographic factors will shape their relations and alignments. Among non- or anti-modernists, however, one can see that Islam is replacing Arab nationalism, and Islamicists are challenging modernists for control of the Arab world.

The Clinton administration is more receptive to Tel Aviv's security concerns than previous ones and tends to adopt similar views. Moreover, one cannot discount the possibility of some residual trauma about the 1979 hostage-taking in Teheran and the frustration of all diplomatic and military efforts by the Democrats to have the embassy employees freed. Throughout the eighties Islamist para-military groups in Lebanon held Western nationals captive for extended periods, thus permanently linking Iran and militant Islamism with terrorism. Internal religious-inspired turmoil in several Arab countries leads to these leaderships projecting comparable views about Islamic inspired political activism throughout the Western world. Such perceptions interact with fears that the Islamic Republic of Iran is rapidly becoming the major power broker in the Gulf. After Kuwait's liberation there were suggestions that Washington was exploiting the Iranian remilitarization to thwart a regional defence alliance which would have included Egyptian and Syrian troops and to secure bilateral defence agreements with each of the Gulf monarchies that would provide faltering U.S. defence contractors with significant orders. Iran is also once more seen as a centre for international terrorism. The bombing of the World Trade Centre and the discovery of other such plots in militant Islamist circles in New York have suddenly brought home continental America's vulnerability to such attacks. Those events will most certainly influence Washington's view on the Middle East and play an important role is security policies. Views in the United States, however, are far from homogenous. Indeed, scholars and politicians suggesting that Islamism does not constitute a threat to Western vital interests are in most cases also proponents of American isolationism. On the other hand, those who see a green peril replacing the red menace are mostly interventionists fearing direct threats to U.S. overseas interests and troops operating abroad.


Notes :

  1. D. Pipes; P. Clawson: Ambitious Iran, Troubled Neighbors. Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, n×1, 1992/93. p.124.
  2. The British author Peter Mansfield introduced the term Arabians as distinct from the Arabs to give a special identity to a small portion of the larger cultural group precisely because of the depth of this homogeneity. (R. Braibanti: The Gulf Cooperation Council: A Comparative Note. In: J.A. Sandwick (Ed.): The Gulf Cooperation Council. Westview Press, Boulder, 1987. p.206.)
  3. J. Christie: History and Development of the Gulf Cooperation Council: A Brief Overview. In: J.A. Sandwick (Ed.), op.cit., 1987.
  4. L. Mylroie: Why Saddam Hussein Invaded Kuwait. Orbis, Vol. 37, n×1, Winter 1993, pp. 126-127.
  5. J.A. Kechichian: The Gulf Cooperation Council and the Gulf War. In: C.C. Joyner (Ed.): The Persian Gulf War: Lessons for Strategy, Law, and Diplomacy. Greenwood Press, New York, 1990. p.91.
  6. M.J. den Hartog: Relations Between the European Community and the Gulf Cooperation Council: Politics, Development, Trade, and the Debate on Protectionism. Dissertation towards Master of Arts, University of Exeter, September 1991. p. 26 + 30.
  7. J. Wright Twinam: Reflections on Gulf Cooperation, with Focus on Bahrain, Qatar and Oman. In: J.A. Sandwick (Ed.), op.cit., 1987, p. 34.
  8. Oman has been allowed to levy tariffs on seven commodities from the other GCC members to allow it to protect its fledgling industrial base until 1993. (Middle East Economic Digest, 13 February 1988, p. 6; as quoted in M.J. den Hartog, op.cit, September 1991, p.27.)
  9. J. Christie, op.cit., 1987, p.11.
  10. M.J. den Hartog: De Gulf Cooperation Council: Economische samenwerking en integratie in de Golf. Sharqiyyat, Vol. 2, n×2, 1989. pp. 97-98.
  11. J. Christie, op.cit., 1987, p.16.
  12. For some vivid descriptions of incidents, see H. Norman Schwarzkopf: Er is geen held voor nodig. Uitgeverij Mingus, Baarn, 1992.
  13. D.D. Caron: Choice and Duty in Foreign Affairs: The Reflagging of the Kuwaiti Tankers. In: C.C. Joyner (Ed.), op.cit., 1990. p.155.
  14. International Institute for Strategic Studies: The Military Balance 1985-1986. London, 1985.
  15. International Institute for Strategic Studies: The Military Balance 1988-1989. London, 1988.
  16. J.E. Peterson: The GCC and Regional Security. In: J.A. Sandwick (Ed.), op.cit., 1987. p.189.
  17. To be able to repel an incursion across its remote borders, Saudi Arabia was originally interested in ground-attack aircraft. However, because of their capability to strike targets in Israel the U.S. barred sales of the F-4 fighter, and later of the F-14 and F-16. It offered the F-15 air-superiority fighter instead, a move that was hard for Israel to block as it was obtaining the same plane. Even so, Washington still imposed certain restrictions, such as a prohibition to operate these planes from the air-base at Tabuk in the north- western corner. (For extensive discussion, see: A.H. Cordesman: The Gulf and the Search for Strategic Stability. Westview Press, Boulder, 1984. Chapters 7-9 and 21. Milit╔rpolitik Dokumentation: Die Aufr─stung Saudi-Arabiens: Regionalmacht oder St─tzpunkt? Heft 36, Berlin, 1984. Chapters III.4 and III.5.) In 1985, an additional request for F-15s was again stalled on Capitol Hill. Saudi Arabia then turned to the British-German-Italian consortium Panavia to order 48 Tornado interdictor/strike aircraft correctly assuming that the Europeans were unlikely to impose any conditions.
  18. J.E. Peterson: The GCC and Regional Security. In: J.A. Sandwick (Ed.), op.cit., 1987. p.197.
  19. Oman still proposes a 100,000-strong force.
  20. The Middle East, January 1993, p.9.
  21. The Middle East, January 1993, p.10.
  22. The dispute was settled under an agreement signed in 1934, but came up for renewal in September 1992.
  23. The friction may also place the West before a dilemma. The conservative autocratic monarchy has been a long-time ally of the United States and Europe. Yemen, however, has succeeded rather well in its democratic experiment, which the West would like to see repeated in other Middle Eastern countries. A serious conflict between both neighbours might force the West to chose sides and compromise either its loyalty to certain Third World regimes or its sincerity in promoting democracy.
  24. International Institute for Strategic Studies: Strategic Survey 1992-1993. London, May 1993. p.123.
  25. D. Hiro: Iran: The Revolution Stumbles. The Middle East, n×225, July-August 1993. pp.14-15.
  26. During the 1st Gulf war, under Imman Khomeiny's leadership Iran was able to reduce the $15 billion foreign debt inherited from the Shah to $1 billion.
  27. The proposals have received little attention in the American and international press. The present analysis is based on: J. Law: Martin Indyk Lays Out the Clinton Approach. Middle East International, n× 452, 11 June 1993. p.3-4.
  28. K. Matthews: The Gulf Conflict and International Relations. Routledge, London, 1993. p.21.
  29. D. Brumberg: "Islamic Fundamentalism, Democracy, and the Gulf War. In: J. Piscatori: Islamic Fundamentalisms and the Gulf Crisis. The Fundamentalism Project, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Chicago, 1991. pp.194-195.
  30. S.K. Farsoun; M. Mashayekhi: Iran's Political Culture. In: S.K. Farsoun; M. Mashayekhi (Eds.): Iran: Political Culture in the Islamic Republic. Routledge, London, 1992. pp.8-9.
  31. A. Hussain: Islamic Awakening in the Twentieth Century: An Analysis and Selective Bibliography. Third World Quarterly, Vol. 10, n×2, April 1988. pp.1006-1007.
  32. In the Middle East secularism manifests itself in two forms, both of Western origin. The first is derived from the West's liberal democracies in which consumerism functions as the motor for economic growth. The Gulf monarchies, for example, are attracted to the economic model. The second is based Marxist-Leninist historical materialism and has been blended into the political culture of radical Arab states.
  33. These are the Shahadah (the religious conviction); the Salat (prayer), the Sawn (fast), the Zakat (charity), and the Hajj (pilgrimage).
  34. K. Ahmad: Islam: Basic Principles and Characteristics. In: The Islamic Council of Europe: Its meaning and message. London, 1976. As quoted in: D. Mariette: De plaats van de Islam in de Iraanse Revolutie van 1978-1979. Eindverhandeling tot het behalen van de graad van Licentiaat in de Politieke Wetenschappen, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, 1989-1990. p. 13. [Translated from Dutch.]
  35. A. Hussain: Islamic Awakening in the Twentieth Century: An Analysis and Selective Bibliography. Third World Quarterly, Vol. 10, n×2, April 1988. pp.1008-1013. W.I. Zartman: Democracy and Islam: The Cultural Dialectic. The Annals of the American Academy, n×524, November 1992. p.183.
  36. W.I. Zartman, op.cit., November 1992. p.185.
  37. W.I. Zartman, op.cit., November 1992. p.182.
  38. This was one of the main characteristics which distinguished Ayatollah Khomeiny, when still a lesser Ayatollah and marja in Qom in the early sixties. (M. Borghei: Iran's Religious Establishment: The Dialectics of Politicization. In: S.K. Farsoun; M. Mashayekhi (Eds.), op.cit., 1992. p.65.)
  39. Deeb, Mary-Jane: Militant Islam and the Politics of Redemption. The Annals of the American Academy, nr 524, November 1992. p.65.
  40. Deeb, Mary-Jane: op.cit., November 1992. pp.53-55.
  41. S.K. Farsoun; M. Mashayekhi: Iran's Political Culture. In: S.K. Farsoun; M. Mashayekhi (Eds.), op.cit., 1992. pp.8-10.
  42. S.K. Farsoun; M. Mashayekhi: Iran's Political Culture. In: S.K. Farsoun; M. Mashayekhi (Eds.), op.cit., 1992. p.11.
  43. The Middle East, nr 220, February 1993.
  44. M.A. Faksh: Withered Arab Nationalism. Orbis, Vol. 37, n×3, Summer 1993. p.425.


© 1996, Centrum voor Polemologie
Vakgroep Politieke Wetenschappen, VUB