SWOT analysis of a GCC Union |
Kuwait Times - 05 July, 2012
Author: Fouad Al-Obaid
The Gulf Cooperation Council was formally established on May 25, 1981 with six member states that share commonalities in terms of history, culture, political structure and economic activity – mostly in the form of oil and gas exporting industries. The idea behind the creation of the GCC is dual; on the one hand the geopolitical realities of the region where the six Gulf states; regrouped into three small territorial states, two medium sized states, and the elephant in the room (the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) that effectively spans two and a quarter million kilometer, are surrounded by neighbors that are militarily stronger with belligerent tendencies. The second intention is to group into an effective monarchy club fending off democratic tendencies.
The GCC secretariat official website mentions the following when it comes to the reasons behind the forming of the council and its objectives as the following: “the deepening and strengthening of relations, links and areas of cooperation among their citizens.” Further adding, “The underpinnings which are clearly provided for in the preamble of the GCC Charter, confirm the special relations, common qualities and similar systems founded on the creed of Islam, faith in a common destiny and sharing one goal, and that the cooperation among these states would serve the sublime objectives of the Arab nation.” Concluding, “Deep religious and cultural ties link the six states, and strong kin relations prevail among their citizens. All these factors, enhanced by one geographical entity extending from sea to desert have facilitated contacts and interaction among them, and created homogeneous values and characteristics.”
This editorial will attempt to analyze the merit of the given claims in a SWOT analysis manner:
The nature of the economics underlying the GCC states stand firmly on the ‘export’ ability of primarily two prime sources, oil and gas. Secondly, the revenues of the sale of hydrocarbons has generated surplus liquidity that forms the second major GCC export found in the form of excess capital being either parked or invested in largely Western economies. The two key exports have ensured that the region is not overlooked. Case in point, the 1990 invasion of Kuwait has shed light on the willingness of more powerful states to ‘rescue’ and liberate a country in record time due to the threat that such an invasion poses not directly on the country, rather on the region’s ability to safely export crude and refined oil, as well as gas to the global markets.
Economically powerful states are the envy of most states, when the given countries are territorially small and have a small citizenry in comparison to territorially larger neighbors with a clear numerical advantage. When the given states not only have the ability to draft people in case of conflict and have done so for protracted conflict in the past, gaining tactical advantage. Armed envious neighbors increase the risk of conflict. The examples are multiple, the 1980s tanker war, the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, the continued occupation of three UAE islands by Iran and the troubled conflict between Saudi Arabian forces and the Houthi rebels highlighting the regions inability to truly enter into conflict, let alone sustain and win. Most pressing though is the Strait of Hormouz blocking that is the main transit point for the GCC hydrocarbon export.
Internally, the democratic deficit and the structure of governance in light of the ongoing changes in the Arab world are creating and pushing 0 citizens toward revolting against the leaderships in the various states. The Saudi led-intervention in Bahrain highlights the volatility and viability of the GCC states -especially the smaller ones to maintain autonomy. Sovereignty/loss- will question the domestic desire for greater control of what essentially as per the charter of the GCC is a Saudi-led project to unify the region under a Saudi-leadership. Furthermore, the challenge remains in balancing necessity to integrate the six-armed forces into a combined coherent force capable of ensuring the collective security of all the GCC states, and the desire of maintaining a high level of sovereignty and territorial integrity by the six-nation council.
Closer cooperation could ensure the pooling of resources and energies in developing a cohesive master plan for economic diversification. Effectively, this will create a viable GCC-market opening up to greater inter-Arab trade. The financing abilities of the region should make the GCC more able to cope with cyclical global economical downturns. The over reliance on oil has benefited the region, now is the time to clearly set the foundation of the post-oil era. The linking of the GCC power grid, the proposed inter-GCC railway, amidst an ever expanding global air-link via growing national carriers, along with existing and proposed seaports will continue to ensure the regions global relevance.
The Arab Spring has brought about a renewed desire for greater involvement of the citizen in the decision-making process of the GCC states. The liberties are not equal amongst the six states, which is a cause of concern. The temptation by more restrictive states to limit the possibilities of change for fear of exporting rebellion, as has been witnessed in Bahrain. Kuwait the most politically and socially outspoken of the six, will continue to create a desire for greater political participation. The threat of terrorism though subdued remains a constant, along with sabotage in the form of attacks on oil and gas installations. Most daunting would be the arrival of revolutionary trends to the region that could lead to a change in the leadership structure.
By Fouad Al-Obaid