Challenges In UK’s Interactions With GCC – OpEd


By Hossein Kebriaeizadeh*

The British Prime Minister Theresa May was invited to attend the 37th summit meeting of the member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC] last week. During the meeting, she made unprecedented remarks, which elicited reactions from other regional actors, including Iran.

Theresa May not only stated that her country was making plans to engage in free trade with the member states of the (P)GCC, but also made controversial statements in which she defended the Arab states of the Persian Gulf against Iran.

Those positions were taken by London at a time that the UK is grappling with the crisis emanating from London’s decision to exit the European Union – know as the Brexit – and it is clear that this country now has to pay special attention to such lucrative markets as the littoral states of the Persian Gulf. It must be noted that the growth of trade between Britain and the member states of the (P)GCC has approached 18 percent during the current year. It is also predictable that following consultations between the two sides to promote the volume of their bilateral trade to about 50 billion pounds over the next five years, strategic interests of Britain will lead to a turning point in London’s interactions with these countries.

This need has been, however, felt by the Arab sides as well and they have informed London of their conditions for further expansion of trade ties. As a result, although the former British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, criticized Saudi Arabia’s attacks on civilian locations in Yemen, now his successor in May’s government, Boris Johnson, asserts that Saudi Arabia’s military assaults on civilian, residential and educational centers in Yemen do not violate the principles of human rights. This new position seems to be in line with the priority that Britain gives to its own expediencies according to its mercantilist logic. Meanwhile, such double standards applied to human rights issues by the West, which constitute the most important weakness in Western countries’ commitment to human rights in the current century, are now evident in London’s behavior.

On the other hand, London’s undiplomatic behavior in trying to capitalize on the existing rift between Persian Gulf Arab states and Iran in order to avail itself of its economic benefits and sell more arms to the member states of the (P)GCC can be seen as a solution for Britain in the post-Brexit era, though it will once again cause the littoral Arab countries of the Persian Gulf to find themselves in a vicious circle of security puzzles.

In this way, London would be benefited by the money that Arab states invest in purchasing their security without those Arab states achieving anything remarkable in return for the investment they have made. In fact, spending petrodollars in purchasing security will, on the contrary, led to spread of violence and cause other actors to make erroneous calculations. In their totality, such actions will lead to a new round of arms race across the region. Let’s not forget that former British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, signed an arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth 70 billion dollars in the 1980s to sell weapons to Riyadh and in doing so, she paved the way for other actors to take similar measures, which finally led to escalation of violence by other allies of the UK, including the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein.

In addition, apart from imposing the aforesaid costs on the (P)GCC, adoption of unrealistic decisions will cause ambitious and more respectable goals pursued by its members, such as the creation of a single currency and launching a structural fight against terrorism through educational reforms as well as political, social and cultural development to be marginalized.

A review of about four decades of the council’s life, which is full of similar statements, shows that insisting on such inflexible approaches, which are mostly based on general remarks and only suitable for statements, will not solve any of the council’s problems. As a result, past experiences of these countries, including forming alliances with such transregional actors as France and the United States, and their presence in the council’s meetings, have not been able to help this group of countries get rid of their security crisis, which has various dimensions and is fed by various sources.

Part of the current insecurity, which has been threatening these countries, is the result of the ambitious approach taken by such actors as Saudi Arabia, which imposes its own interests on all council members. An evident example in this regard was Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against Yemen, which has taken more than 20 months thus far and faces the (P)GCC with new forms of insecurity on a daily basis.

Another part of the regional insecurity is related to the existence of terrorist groups in the region, which are affiliated with radical Islamist currents and happen to be especially sensitive about presence of the West and Western countries in the region.

Taking a single approach to all sources of insecurity in the region by the (P)GCC and summarizing all of them to the Iran threat and Tehran’s regional goals may be the simplest solution to the council’s problems, but it will not radically the problems that the (P)GCC faces for building security. Such an approach only provides countries like the UK with an opportunity to seek their own economic benefits by taking advantage of subjective and unrealistic gaps in the region.

Given the background of Britain’s presence in this region, its current policy is a source of surprise. London’s insistence on military presence in the Persian Gulf region and establishing military bases in the member states of the (P)GCC, creating military emotions among forces stationed in the country’s regional base, sending warships to the Persian Gulf and doing the United States’ marine missions in the Persian Gulf without attention to sensitivities of regional nations about the West and their pessimism toward Britain’s colonialistic policies are all thought-provoking and can be considered as the result of undue political haste caused by pressures of the Brexit.

The geopolitical balance sought by Theresa May cannot be achieved through mere militarism, but requires a certain level of mutual trust not only between the two sides, but also among all influential actors in the region. However, realization of such a high level of trust does not seem to be possible in view of Britain’s past performance and track records.

On the whole, the grounds for interaction between Britain and the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council, which were enumerated by May, will not only fail to help the council meet the minimum degree of its security needs, but will also face the member states of the (P)GCC with new challenges.

* Hossein Kebriaeizadeh
Expert on Middle East Issues

Iran Review

Iran Review is a Tehran-based site that is independent, non-governmental and non-partisan and representing scientific and professional approaches towards Iran’s political, economic, social, religious, and cultural affairs, its foreign policy, and regional and international issues within the framework of analysis and articles.

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