Strategic Analysis

Strategic Analysis:
A Monthly Journal of the IDSA

March 2001 (Vol. XXIV No. 12)


Security in the Persian Gulf
By Farah Naaz *



The location of the Persian Gulf has given the region a significant economic and strategic position. Due to the geostrategic changes during the last two decades the region suffered a prolonged period of tension and instability.

Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 had a tremendous impact on the regional politics. The US was working together with Saudi Arabia and this was followed by the forging of ties with individual GCC countries. Iran's decision to remain neutral during the Iraq-Kuwait crisis resulted in an improvement in Iran's relations with the West and the GCC countries. Iraq remained weakened after its defeat in the second Gulf War. The security of the Persian Gulf is linked to South, Southwest and Central Asia.

The article also discusses how these countries can cooperate in order to ensure security and stability in the region. Iran is an important player in the Persian Gulf and because US has committed itself to the security of its Arab allies, no political settlements of Gulf conflicts are possible as long as these two countries remain adversarial.

The location of the Persian Gulf has given the region a significant economic and strategic position. The region has long played an extremely sensitive role in world security. Since the fifteenth century AD, world powers have made use of this waterway and its bases. During the Cold War period, the region acted as the third strategic front; Europe and Southeast Asia being respectively the first and the second fronts. Some believe that the third front was equal in importance to the other two. 1 The region enjoyed relative stability for about three decades during the post-World War II period. Littoral states were able to resolve problems among each other peacefully with no aggressive encounters.

Throughout recent history, the Gulf has witnessed the presence of a global great power that has profoundly influenced the political and economic dynamics of the region. In the past quarter century, the US has slowly moved into the region. The deepening American presence in the region has been accelerated by US economic interests that depended upon favoured access to the rich oil deposits of the region. Disruption of the American security structure in the Persian Gulf region in the late 1970s led the United States to bring about a radical alteration in its involvement in the region. In Presidential Review Memorandum 10 (PRM10) issued in August 1977, the US government emphasised on maintaining a force posture that would allow the US to respond simultaneously to a minor or major conflict outside the European theatre. It was PRM 10 that provided the impetus for the creation of a rapid deployment force that became a linchpin of US military strategy in the Persian Gulf in the 1980s and beyond. 2 By late 1979, the concept of creating a rapid deployment force received enough support for the Pentagon to seek facilities for such a US force. Base agreements were consequently signed with several countries including Oman.

Tensions in the region seriously increased as a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In the changed political circumstances and after the revolution in Iran, the US was all the more eager to retain its hold in the region. The US responded with creation of Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF) which came to fruition on February 18, 1980. 3

The special importance attached by the Reagan administration to the RDJTF was reflected in the creation of a new military command structure for Southwest Asia. On January 1, 1983, the RDJTF became the US Central Command (CENTCOM). 4 CENTCOM was the crucial part of the US led war against Iraq. CENTCOM'S regional headquarters are now located at Bahrain.

Under such a situation Saudi Arabia emerged as a major military actor in the region. In order to enhance regional security Saudi Arabia orchestrated the formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in May 1981 comprising Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain whose military capabilities could be developed with the tacit support of the US.

The US in order to protect its own interests wanted to tie the various Gulf states militarily under USCENTCOM. The GCC states were however divided over military cooperation with the superpowers. While Oman preferred a collective defence agreement between the Gulf countries and the US, Kuwait advocated a balanced relationship with both the superpowers and the Saudi leadership wanted to reserve the right of defining the parameters of cooperation with the US. According to the Secretary General of the GCC Abdullah Bishara, the member states did not want either superpower to gain a foothold in the Gulf area and preferred a "Gulfanisation" of Gulf security that is an arrangement based upon cooperation among the Gulf states on matters of internal security and external threats. 5

Iraq had been very keen to be involved in the regional groupings including GCC. It participated in all regional ministerial conferences on foreign affairs, finance, and commerce. In February 1979, Iraq signed a Mutual Internal Security Agreement with Saudi Arabia. In April of the same year, it declared that it would defend Saudi sovereignty against any infringement. Saddam Hussein also showed to the GCC rulers that he was fighting their war against Iran. 6 However, Iraq's territorial claims on Kuwait did not endear Iraq to the Gulf rulers. At the end of the Iran-Iraq war, though the Iraqi economy was shattered, Iraq possessed weapons systems from a variety of sources which were continually added to and improved upon.

Iran at that time was isolated regionally and internationally because of US policies of containment. Also, the relations between Iran and the GCC were never devoid of suspicion. With the Shah's departure from the scene, the situation changed drastically. Post-revolutionary Iran retained the element of dominance. There was an almost total estrangement of Arab-Iranian relations. The Shi'is in the Arab Gulf states have been the closest to Iran both in terms of geography and sectarian affiliations. The Gulf rulers are all Sunnis and the Shi'is have felt themselves at a disadvantage in their societies. Soon after the revolution in Iran, there were at least two spontaneous uprisings by the Shi'is in the Gulf-in Saudi Arabia in 1979-80 and in Bahrain in late 1980. 7

The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in the emergence of a unipolar world which gave unhindered opportunity to the sole superpower, the US, to shape the world according to its own national interests. The period resulted in a race for expansion of spheres of influence, display of military might, proliferation of nuclear weapons and missiles, and a renewed search for strategic allies and partners.

The Post-Gulf War Scenario

Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 had a tremendous impact on regional politics. By taking over Kuwait, Iraq wanted to fulfil three specific needs-cancellation of Kuwaiti loans, to establish itself firmly in the Gulf and demand for a respectable berth on the GCC.

The socio-political developments in all the eight states of the Persian Gulf took different courses in the post-war scenario. Iraq entered a new traumatic phase after its defeat in the second Gulf War (1990-91), following the formal conditional termination of war by the UN Security Council on April 12, 1991. Security Council resolution 687 (1991) was extremely debilitating. It laid down guidelines for imposing a guided development on Iraq under the regimes of sanctions, reparation and a machinery to enforce and verify destruction or rendering harmless the country's weapons system. The US has taken a lead in a policy that has created externally protected zones of autonomy in the Kurdish area of the North and in the Shi'a populated South. Furthermore, a punishing economic embargo sharply curtailed Iraq's capacity to market its petroleum. 8 Although Iraq's rich oil reserves and relatively large population are indicators of Iraq's long term importance, today, Iraq remains weakened and contained in the aftermath of the Gulf war. The continuing fallout from the war has diminished its economic and political power.

The GCC condemned the Iraqi aggression. They demanded the return of Kuwait peacefully and also stated that the option of war would be open. Despite the comprehensive defeat and destruction of Iraq, the Gulf states were seriously concerned about their security and stability. All wanted President Saddam Hussein to be removed, but beyond that goal, each state had its own alternative perceptions. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait felt exposed and vulnerable and thus they wanted the Iraqi military machine to be completely destroyed. The other four GCC states did not like Iraq to be either totally or partially dismembered. 9 Nor did they want a dominant Iran.

Amidst all this, a plan for collective security in the Persian Gulf was floated in March 1991 but that could not take off. There was general erosion of the GCC rulers' faith in mutual reliance and an exclusively Arab security alliance. The GCC states started having bilateral defence pacts with the Western states, for example. Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia bought fresh arms worth over $20 billion from the US. 10 The new pattern of arms transfer and defence agreements revealed the true proclivities of the GCC rulers.

In Iran, since the demise of Ayatollah Khomeini, the power struggle between the extremist and moderate camps reintensified. Both the factions were two sides of the Khomeinist coin. The moderates or pragmatists led by President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, developed a new vision for Iran and advocated cautious breakthrough in the domestic and foreign policies of the country. It also turned its attention towards repairing its relations with its neighbours.

The Islamic Republic of Iran was not an unconcerned or silent spectator of the post-war scramble for influence and security in the Persian Gulf region. Iran opposed any territorial compromise and refused to cede Bubian to Iraq. Its UN envoy Kamal Kharrazi underscored Iranian compliance with the UN resolutions. Also no Iraqi oil was exported through Iran. Iran's decision to remain neutral in the Iraq-Kuwait crisis ended its diplomatic isolation in regional and global affairs. Soon after the crisis, Iran normalised its ties with a number of Arab countries including Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Since September 1990, there was a notable change in Iran-GCC relations-for example, UAE, Oman, Kuwait. Iran started improving their relations with the GCC states in order to secure a role for Iran in the Gulf security arrangements. During the GCC summit that took place in Doha in December 1990, the Iranian ambassador to Doha was invited to attend one of its sessions. The summit communique contained a special section on relations with Iran in which the GCC welcomed the Iranian desire to improve and promote its relations with all GCC countries. The GCC states were also keen to have Iran's participation in a regional security set-up which included the Western forces and stressed its own desire to establish its relations with Iran on the basis of good neighbourliness, non interference in domestic affairs and respect for sovereignty. Iran however was against the presence of foreign troops in the region. 11

South Asia

The security of the Persian Gulf is linked to South, Southwest and Central Asia. Pakistan's involvement in Kashmir and Afghanistan and the role of Pakistani fundamentalist activists in other countries is well known. Islam has been grossly politicised in order to gain power.

Pakistan has been deeply involved in Afghanistan since the mid-seventies. Later it became a frontline state in the US war against Soviet incursion in Afghanistan. It is known that Pakistan has emerged as the centre of a variety of Islamic militant and terrorist organisations in the aftermath of the civil war in Afghanistan. During the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, the US security agencies had funded and sponsored volunteer groups to fight the Soviet forces. Once the war ended those militant groups set up their camps in Pakistan with the support of that country's security agency to train the militants to fight in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir. These militant groups threatened peace and stability in the countries of South and Southwest Asia. The US supply of weapons to Afghan Mujahidin groups was channelled through Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI. But not all the arms supplied by the US for fighting against the Soviet army reached the Mujahidin. Some of them were kept within Pakistan and the local militant groups got their hands on them. 12 The Pakistani involvement in Afghanistan was again highlighted by the sudden emergence of the Taliban militia in 1994 which is seen as a threat to the security of the region.

Several Asian and non Asian countries have expressed serious concerns. Iran was primarily concerned because of harsh treatment of the Shia minorities and the execution of Iranian diplomats by the Taliban. Iran has been protesting to Pakistan over this. The US has also shown similar displeasure about the killing of its citizens in Pakistan. Uzbekistan has recently accused some Pakistani organisations of clandestinely training the Central Asians in terrorist activities. The UAE has described the Pakistani drug traffickers as a threat to its national security. Russia, Egypt, Tunisia, Malaysia, Algeria, and Tajikistan have protested to Pakistan against the origin of terrorist activities from its territory. 13

Soviet Withdrawal and the Continued War in Afghanistan

The instability in Afghanistan has become the most serious security problem for the entire Persian Gulf, Central and South Asian region. In the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal, the situation had redefined the contours of post-Cold War regional alignments in the region. The rise of the Taliban since late 1994 had a profound geopolitical consequence for the entire region and would impinge on regional security. It acts as a major constraint for developing communication and energy pipelines in the southern direction. Other threats are that of transborder terrorism and refugee influx.

The conflict in Afghanistan as well as the proxy war in Kashmir have also given rise to small arms trafficking that include Kalashnikov assault rifles, powerful machine guns, rocket launchers, grenades and explosives, surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and millions of landmines. These weapons have now reached the hands of non-state actors like criminals, terrorists and separatists. It is estimated that over 500 million small arms are outside governmental control in the region. The phenomenon, known in Pakistan and Afghanistan as "Kalashnikov culture", has already threatened and brought armed conflicts within the civil society, posing a threat to the entire region. 14

The phenomenon of weapons proliferation is linked with the growing narco-trafficking, money laundering and war patronage. The trafficking is increasing in the region of the Golden Crescent (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran frontier). With the Taliban controlling southern Afghanistan, drug cultivation and trafficking are reported to have increased.

Future of Central Asia

The emergence of former Soviet Central Asian states as independent entities has added a new factor to the security environment of the region and has wide implications for the whole of Asia. The gates of Central Asia are opening up in all the directions including the Persian Gulf region. The power vacuum and the social, economic and political tensions created by the sudden disappearance of the Soviet Union has posed serious threats to the stability and security of these states. For example, possession of ICBMs and nuclear weapons by one of the Central Asian Republics i.e. Kazakhstan is a major security problem in the region. 15

The leaders of most Central Asian states are former communists and the majority of the population in Central Asian Republics is Muslim but they have a liberal and secular outlook. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asian Republics is being looked upon with serious concern and the leadership in these countries is apprehensive that growth of militant Islam will create social and political tensions in the region which will hamper their efforts for economic development.

Energy Security

Conventional wisdom had it that energy security relates first to that of the West (i.e., North America and Western Europe) with the rest of the world assuming second place. The West has to rely on imports, most conspicuously from the Gulf. Any sizeable reduction in exports from the Gulf for a sustained period of time could cause serious economic dislocation for the Gulf countries and hence no Gulf country can withstand any impediments to its exports for a comparable period of time. Furthermore, Gulf countries, whether friendly or unfriendly to the West, are aware of aircraft carriers, cruise missiles and smart bombs close to their shores. A catastrophic event such as burning of oil wells, as happened in Kuwait during the Gulf War could be disastrous.

It is when the Western intentions in the area reflect only the desire to reap the greatest benefits in the shortest possible time irrespective of the impact on the future welfare of the people of the area, that would invite instability. 17 The Gulf countries are much more vulnerable than the West in the area of energy security. Still, the energy security is reciprocal. The policies of both the West and the Gulf countries should reflect cooperation.

Iran-UAE Dispute Over Islands

Iran-UAE dispute over the three islands of Abu Musa and the two Tunbs, complicates Iran's relations with other Gulf states as the UAE is supported by other GCC partners. The tiff between Iran and the UAE, which erupted in April 1992 was the revival of a long-standing dispute which had been put in the cold storage in 1971. Attempts were made to reach a negotiated settlement. However, no agreement could be reached as each side held contradictory views regarding the security prospects, the 1971 agreement and the ownership of the two Tunbs islands. The dispute was internationalised when it was discussed in the fora of the (P)GCC, Damascus Declaration States, the League of Arab States and the UN General Assembly.17

The dispute prevented Iran's relations with its southern neighbours from going deeper. While the Iranians keep insisting on continued bilateral discussions, the UAE emphasises the need to submit the contending claims to the International Court of Justice, and to accept the body's decision, whatever that may be. 18 Various attempts at mediation have proved futile and an early settlement is required.

The future course of Iranian-Arab relations in the Gulf represents a major conundrum. Iran is the largest of the Gulf states, and the GCC countries continue to see Iran as searching for a hegemonic role. Persistent internal instability in Iran keeps its neighbours concerned. The radical elements within the revolution remain powerful and continue to preach their revolutionary ideology and remain extremely critical of the Gulf Arab states.

The wall of suspicion between Iran and its Gulf neighbours can be overcome only through new foundations. Foremost is the peaceful resolution of regional disputes. Confidence building measures are needed to be employed over a long period of time. For that they must go beyond the political sphere and create institutions of economic cooperation and cultural understanding in the region.

Arms Race

Historical enmity among regional states, and the great power rivalries have spurred an arms race particularly since the Persian Gulf crisis of 1990-91. This arms race aggravated the security scenario. Iraq has since 1990 been cast in the role of the main military threat to the stability of the Gulf. The war between Iraq and the UN coalition for the liberation of Kuwait (Gulf War) dramatically affected the regional balance of power by reducing Iraq's military strength.

During the Cold War Iraq benefited from the Soviet desire for a counter-weight to US influence in the region and was a major recipient of Soviet weapons of all kinds. This provided Baghdad with a considerable offensive striking power, which Iraq sought to further enhance by the development of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction). The ensuing Iran Iraq war, depleted Iraq's resources militarily, financially and otherwise while its neutral neighbours prospered. Hence the felt need to redress the balance with the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. In the aftermath of the second Gulf War, with the UN Security Council Resolution 687 Iraq had been subjected to the most intrusive and rigid constraints. Iraq lost its right to entire categories of weaponry that were regarded by the adversaries as particularly threatening (WMD and Ballistic Missiles). However, most of Iraq's conventional military strength survived. 19 Since nobody seems to want the elimination of Iraq as a state, it is bound to re-emerge, at some stage, as a major player, also in military terms. Regardless of what motives Iraq may have had for arms build up it is rightly seen by its neighbours as a threat that cannot be ignored. Hence Iraq's military strength inevitably spurs a similar build up in neighbouring states.

Iran was the third world's number one spender on arms in the 1970s, partly as a consequence of the role envisioned for it by the US and partly because of Iran's vastly expanded purchasing power as a result of Tehran's rising oil revenues. The war with Iraq rapidly exhausted the stocks. Iran has not yet made up for its war time losses and its arms acquisitions as well as military expenditures remain well below those of the GCC and most of Iran's arms acquisitions have been entirely consistent with defensive intentions. 20 One must take into account that the country remains concerned about a resurgent Iraq, it has long borders with unstable countries such as Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics and the new American assertiveness that might even lead to intervention.

During the post-Gulf War period, in the wake of the defence pacts and arms build up, Iran embarked on an unprecedented arms acquisition programme. Iran acquired arms from a variety of sources for example, Soviet Union and China. In addition to acquiring conventional weapons, Iran was also keen on pursuing development of chemical and nuclear weapons. Rafsanjani openly condemned the US for forcing other countries not to cooperate with Iran on nuclear projects and mentioned China and India as the countries thus pressurised. 21

There are of course, worrisome elements in the Iranian build up. The purchase of Kilo class submarines from Russia, the acquisition of SCUD type ballistic missiles from suppliers such as China and North Korea and the indigenous production of the RAN-130 missile. 22 There are also allegations of a nuclear weapons programme, based on the (IAEA monitored) Bushehr nuclear reactor and the apparent quest for nuclear technology.

Both Saudi Arabia and the smaller GCC countries have continued upon a significant arms build up, that has included the purchase of both armoured vehicles, artillery, SAMs (Surface-to-Air Missiles) and Patriot ATBMs (Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missiles) as well as a range of warships to which may perhaps be added submarines. Above all, the GCC states have bought sophisticated aircraft in large batches. 23

The GCC acquired arms to enhance indigenous defence capabilities as well as to please the US by appearing to do whatever could reasonably be expected from the GCC states, and do so by buying weaponry made in the US. Nevertheless, arms acquisitions produce military options, especially when pooled as in the GCC. They may therefore lead to reciprocal steps by the GCC's adversaries, i.e. both Iran and Iraq, regardless of the motives behind them.

The major problems with the acquisition of arms is, they divert resources needed elsewhere. There are negative economic implications of the arms build up which is a matter of concern. Also economic development may be a precondition for domestic stability and security. The military expenditures are a drain on their total resources. The acquisition of arms also tend to jeopardise stability. The region may end up in a situation of fragile balance where everybody is in a position to hurt everybody else, but is in no position to defend itself.

Resolving the Security Dilemma

In order to create an atmosphere leading to a peaceful environment within which states can pursue national interests without going against global strategies, the first step is to recognise the roots of instability which in the case of the Persian Gulf mainly arise out of frontier disputes, territorial claims, ideological differences and supranational intervention, and take measures to remove them.

Integration: It is important for the Persian Gulf region to be well integrated in order to reduce the chances of conflict, the slowing down of the socio-economic development and curtail the high defence expenditures.

In order to bring peace to the region certain preconditions should be met. For example, establishment of a permanent consultation framework for addressing not only the present but future issues, creation of an economic system which stimulates growth, establishment of a security system providing adequate internal and external security, nurturing of an integrative moral political climate like mutual benefits and a reconciliation of the past, present and future. 24

Confidence Building Measures (CBM): The development of CBMs has been a notable feature of most regional attempts to develop more stable relations amongst former antagonists. Such CBMs have taken many forms. Some are specifically military, while others seek to develop a wider range of contacts in academic, cultural, economic and other areas.

A fundamental precursor to serious discussion of CBMs in this region must first be a dialogue over what threats people in the region believe they face, both from each other and from other potential causes of instability. 25 All sides need to show at least some respect for the concerns and policies of the other side. There are many subjects worthy of consideration in such dialogues, for example, reviewing individual proposals for CBM, idea of maritime CBMs which may be particularly relevant to the region as most of the states meet at the sea and some have conflicting maritime claims and examining each other's threat perceptions and then discussing ways to address them. Other potential avenues of cooperation can be explored, for example, crime prevention and common environmental concerns.

Consideration of the application of CBMs to the Persian Gulf is timely and necessary. Recent political changes in Iran, and the response to those changes from the region indicate that the possibility of serious dialogue is now greater than it has been for some time. CBMs can create confidence only when there is a desire to change the basis of the relationship. It must culminate in each side coming to see the other as a partner instead of an adversary.

Regional Alliance and Common Security: It is known that while the GCC states support the existence of US military presence in the region, the Iranians are against this. The continued foreign military domination of the region, is a source of insecurity in the Persian Gulf. It is against this background that one is bound to think of the inevitable alternative which is a comprehensive regional alliance involving all littoral states and without the participation of extra regional powers and which is also the prerequisite for true political development and economic prosperity.

The Persian Gulf region has a potential of creating a regional alliance or a regional economic grouping. A major step forward in this direction will have to be the satisfactory display of goodwill for the settlement of remaining Arab-Iranian territorial differences. The big powers will be opposed to any development of this kind and will therefore try to undermine any regional cooperation. It is in the light of these realities that the region has to move towards the settlement of regional differences and to give precedence to the cooperation in non political issues over politico-strategic cooperation in the initial stages with the understanding that the former is a prelude to the latter. 26

The concept of common security seems perfectly applicable to this region where a state with merely defensive intentions acquires weapons merely to defend itself, but by doing so creates the impression that it may be preparing for an attack and thereby spurs a reciprocal arms build up by its adversaries.

A cooperative security approach to the regional conflicts in the Gulf would have to involve both Iran and Iraq as directly as possible, i.e. integrate rather than contain the two perceived main threats to regional stability. One implication might be the forging of economic ties, where the states would be interdependent that would give all the states a stake in maintaining peace.

Non Offensive Defence (NOD): Another measure to provide stability to the region can be the building up of NOD. As the Gulf region is the locus of several conflicts, one should look for a stable situation in which all three corners of the triangle, i.e. Iran, Iraq and the GCC, might feel secure, preferably even without external assistance. In this Non Offensive Defence, i.e. a simultaneous build down of offensive and upgrading of defensive capabilities can be useful. It is in fact possible to strengthen one's defences while building down offensive capabilities, simply because the defensive form of combat is inherently the strongest. 27 Arms control endeavours should also be taken into account. Clearing away misunderstanding may remove incentives to acquire nuclear weapons. This is where confidence building measures may prove useful.

India has a deep interest and stake in the security of the region. India's primary strategic interest is the socio-economic development of its people. The economic changes introduced in India require a wider framework of cooperation for their success. India has the world's largest pool of scientific and technological manpower base. It imports nearly 38 per cent of its requirements of oil. The bulk of this oil comes from the Persian Gulf region. Past oil shocks had a serious debilitating effect on the Indian economy. India is working with Iran, Oman and Qatar to try and set up oil and gas pipelines from these countries to India across the Arabian sea. Assured supply of oil at reasonable rates will remain a key interest for India's development. At the same time, Indian expatriates remain a hostage to the stability and security in the region. Peace and security in the Persian Gulf region, therefore, will remain of great importance to India. With its close relations with the countries of the region, India has the incentive and potential to contribute positively to enhancing peace and cooperation in the region. 28 Security of the Persian Gulf is also vital for India in view of its relations with Central Asian States as India's strategic concerns are tied up with the regions bordering its north and northwest. In this context India's relations with Iran can prove fruitful.


Despite the complex interdependence of the countries in the Persian Gulf, no significant progress has been made in terms of regional cooperation and integration. There have been some efforts at the sub-regional, regional and trans-regional levels to create a stable, secure and socio-economically healthy region, but there is still a long way to go.

In order to ensure security in the region it is important that the factors that affect security should be given serious consideration. The massive presence of the US in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf directly affects the security of the region. Whereas the GCC rulers reposed their confidence in the US and engaged in substantial military build-ups, the US camouflaging its basic abiding interest in the energy resources of the region, posed itself as the peace keeper and upholder of the states' sovereignty and territorial integrity. Iraq and Islamic fundamentalism were projected as the new sources of threat. It may be legitimately questioned that when the power potential of Iraq had been systematically sequestrated, what was the rationale of arming the Sheikhdoms and evolving a more organised pattern of US presence in selected areas? 29

While the US may thus play the traditional role as a balancer in the future, a precondition for playing such a role is a certain impartiality, which is incompatible with singling out arbitrarily some states as rogues. Washington's policy of dual containment has affected both Iran and Iraq. Rather than continuing the dual containment of these countries, regional and extra-regional states should seek to integrate them in a cooperative security framework, which requires taking their security concerns seriously. The security of the Persian Gulf region should be the exclusive responsibility of the littoral states. The regional states must adopt fundamental methods which avoid the intervention of foreign powers.

The roots of the crisis in the Persian Gulf region are partly based on an excessive emphasis on military security. In the light of the altered geostrategic balance since the Iran-Iraq war and Operation Desert Storm, the prospects for arms control are quite dim. Considering the intensity of the GCC members security dilemmas, no state has a long term incentive to scale down its arms purchases. Moreover, the supplier states have every incentive to maintain a geo-strategic and financial foothold in this lucrative arms market. In the long run the arms race is costly for the region. As these states militarise their infrastructures, they are sacrificing their needs for sustainable development and creating conditions for instability on which external powers may capitalise.

It is important that the countries of the region should work towards cooperation, the first condition for which is to establish a permanent consultation framework for addressing the future issues. Peace in Afghanistan is a prerequisite to peace and development in the whole region. Iran is an important player in the Persian Gulf and because US has committed itself to the security of its Arab allies, it is also important that these two countries (Iran and the US) must not remain adversarial.

They should also work towards deeper economic cooperation. This distinct region with its common objectives of environment provides the best opportunity for the littoral states to cooperate towards the creation of an economic grouping which is necessary for the economic survival of the regional countries. The countries of the region must also work together to find solutions to frontier disputes and territorial claims and must not allow the extra-regional powers to exploit the disputes. Solutions to regional problems can also greatly reduce a regional arms race as well as the scope of foreign intervention.


Note *: Associate Fellow Back.

Note 1: Ezzatollah Ezzaty, "Iranian Geo-Politics and its Effects on Persian Gulf Security", Iranian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 10, nos. 1&2, spring/summer 1998, p. 122. Back

Note 2: Nader Entessar, "The Post Cold War US Military Doctrine: Implications for Iran," The Iranian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 8, no. 2, summer 1996, pp. 394-395. Back

Note 3: Ibid., p. 396. See also, Lincoln Bloomfield, "US Policy in the Gulf Region", Emirates Lecture 4, (Abu Dhabi: The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, 1997), p. 2. Back

Note 4: For details, see, Ibid., pp. 396-397. Back

Note 5: Ashraf Hussain, "Iran-GCC Relations", in A.K. Pasha, India, Iran and the GCC States: Political Strategy and Foreign Policy, (New Delhi: Manas Publications, 2000), p. 171. Back

Note 6: Gulshan Deitl, Through Two Wars and Beyond: A Study of GCC, (New Delhi: Lancer Books, 1991), pp. 55-56. Back

Note 7: Ibid., p. 59. Back

Note 8: James A. Bill, "The Geometry of Instability in the Gulf", in Jamal al-Suwaidi, Iran and the Gulf: A Search for Stability, (Abu Dhabi: The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, 1996), p. 105. See also, A.H.H. Abidi, "Changing Politico-Security Profile in the Persian Gulf, Strategic Analysis, vol. 16, no. 6, September 1993, pp. 702-3. Back

Note 9: Abidi, ibid., pp. 705-6. Back

Note 10: Ibid., p. 707. Back

Note 11: For details, see, A.K. Pasha, "Iran and the Arab World in the Nineties: Conflict and Cooperation", in A.K. Pasha, n. 5, pp. 132-139; Deitl, n. 6, pp. 262-264. Back

Note 12: Kalim Bahadur, "Security in South, Southwest and Central Asia," Paper presented at the seminar on India-Iran Strategic Dialogue, August 28-29, 1999, by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses and Institute for Political and Strategic Studies. Back

Note 13: P. Stobdan, "India and Central Asia: Imperatives for Regional Cooperation", in Jasjit Singh, Peace and Security in Central Asia, ed., Occasional Paper Series (New Delhi: Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, 2000), p. 103. Back

Note 14: Ibid., p. 102. Back

Note 15: Kalim Bahadur, n. 12. Back

Note 16: The Gulf: Future Security and British Policy, (Abu Dhabi: The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, 2000), pp. 51-52. Back

Note 17: Abidi, "Iran in the Post Persian Gulf War Crisis Scenario", Iranian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 7, no. 3, Fall 1995, p. 630. Back

Note 18: Anwar Gargash, "Iran, the GCC States and the UAE: Prospects and Challenges in the Coming Decade", in Jamal al-Suwaidi, n. 8, p. 153. Back

Note 19: Bjorn Moller, Resolving the Security Dilemma in the Gulf Region, The Emirates Occasional Paper, (Abu Dhabi: The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, 1997) p. 22. Back

Note 20: Ibid., p. 23. Back

Note 21: Abidi, n. 17, p. 625. Back

Note 22: Moller, n. 19, pp. 23-24. Back

Note 23: Ibid., p. 25. Back

Note 24: Luc Reychler, "Conflict Prevention and Regional Integration in the Persian Gulf", The Iranian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 10, no. 1-2, spring/ summer 1998, pp. 74-75. Back

Note 25: Peter Jones, "The Role of Confidence Building Measures in Enhancing Regional Convergence", Iranian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 10, nos. 1&2, spring/summer 1998, p. 30. Back

Note 26: Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh, "Regional Alliance in the Persian Gulf: Past Trends and Future Prospects", The Iranian Journal of International Affiars, vol. 10, nos. 1&2, spring/summer 1998, pp. 17-18. Back

Note 27: Moller, n. 19, pp. 35-41. Back

Note 28: Jasjit Singh, "Regional Cooperation for Peace and Security", Iranian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 8, no. 3, fall 1995, pp. 556-557. Back

Note 29: Abidi, n. 8, p. 708.