GCC: turning 40

Summary: as the US continues to pivot away from the Gulf and the wider Middle East and Iran remains a significant regional threat the GCC, approaching its 40th anniversary, sees strategic sense in patching up differences.

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2 thoughts on “GCC: turning 40”

  1. David Handley

    Speaking personally, I found this article on an important milestone a little two dimensional. I would have liked to have seen something on the GCC’s relations with the wider world and on that wider world’s reaction to the GCC since its creation.
    I remember when the GCC was established, we held discussions in London to understand its importance, the directions it might take and what our relations with it should be. Several UK Departments and Agencies did this individually and together. One of the most important issues was what assistance should we offer the GCC as a collective, and how we should approach making such an offer when the long term survival of the GCC itself was not a given.
    While we never expected it to look like the European Union in the Arabian Gulf, not least given the internal GCC power dynamics, we had hopes that it would offer a focal point with which we could interact to some extent in political, trade, defence and security terms. Perhaps in other ways too.
    I’m am not close enough now to know how all this has worked out, and how other countries and associations of countries have interacted with the GCC, but I would have welcomed the views of such as the author of this piece.

    1. I thank Mr. Handley for his comment and for his most valuable recollections of the discussions at the time of the GCC’s creation in 1981. One challenge the GCC has faced throughout its four decades in existence has been the inability of the six member states to forge consensus on issues that impinged upon questions of national sovereignty, such as foreign, security, or defence policy. The inherent and pragmatic flexibility that allowed the member states to ‘agree to disagree’ also dissipated after 2011 and it is too early to tell whether the shift back toward consensus (at least outwardly) in recent months will be a harbinger of the return to the pragmatic flexibility of old. While there are encouraging signs that the GCC has learned lessons from the recent past, enhanced competition for scarcer resources post-pandemic might sharpen competitive rivalries once again. It is hard to see the GCC restarting meaningful progress on big-ticket items such as the aborted single currency but returning to the common market and travel area is a start. Unfortunately, it seems the outside world will continue to engage with Gulf States on an individual basis, with China, for example, prioritizing its (separate) bilateral relationships with Saudi Arabia and the UAE (as well as Iran). Given the potential synergies (and historical linkages) between the GCC and an aspirational Global Britain, it will be instructive to see how far and how fast the UK can progress toward a free trade agreement with the GCC rather than with the individual states.

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