Tripple track diplomacy in the Persian Gulf
April 12, 2000
In the past week Iran has stopped about a dozen ships allegedly carrying
smuggled Iraqi oil. Meanwhile U.S. Secretary of State William Cohen has
visited regional capitals, warning American allies of the continued threats
posed by Iran, even though Washington is litself looking to improve ties
with an increasingly democratic Iran. And finally, for the first time in
20 years, Iran's defense minister is planning to visit Saudi Arabia. The
following essay was written for the International Commission for Security
and Cooperation in West Asia (Comprising Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Oman,
Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen) held in Istanbul,
Turkey last month.
In collaboration with several other non-governmental organizations (NGOs),
in 1998, the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research initiated
a project on Persian Gulf security that may be considered the first such
initiative of peacebuilding in this volatile region.
As part of the Toda Institute Human Security and Global Governance (HUGG)
research program, the project is named HUGG West Asia. The effort comes
at a time when two bloody wars and a creeping third war in the 1980s and
1990s have exhausted the littoral states. Moreover, declining oil revenues
have reduced the states' ability to continue the feverish arms races of
In the face of declining welfare expenditures, population pressures
and political demands for democratic participation are building up in the
Gulf countries. A rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran is paving
the way for a potential balance of power between the triumvirate of Iran,
Iraq, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,
Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirate, and Oman.
The puzzle is whether these propitious circumstances can lead to the
establishment of an indigenous security regime guaranteed by the great
powers and how and when this may be achieved. This essay critically reviews
the HUGG West Asia Project that aims at such an outcome through a triple
track diplomatic effort.
The role of multiple-track diplomacy in peace negotiations has received
increasing attention in the post-Cold War era . It is generally recognized
that the role of civil society in international relations is on the rise.
Market forces from the top and civil society forces from the bottom have
undermined the authority of the territorial state in a post-Westphalian
world order. The boundaries between domestic and foreign policy also are
While global market forces are imposing serious constraints on the power
of the smaller and medium sized states, an international civil society
is pressuring the states to observe the global norms in human rights and
environmental protection. The role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
in peacemaking and peacebuilding is of critical importance.
Given the enormous sensitivity of the states to "foreign"
interference, this role would be more effective if mediated by independent
agencies that enjoy the confidence of the contending governments. In contrast
to dual track diplomacy that provides an NGO channel parallel to official
diplomatic negotiations, triple track diplomacy attempts to build a bridge
between NGOs and governments.
This case study of a triple track diplomatic initiative presents the
problems and prospects of such an approach. In collaboration with several
other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in 1998, the Toda Institute
for Global Peace and Policy Research initiated a project on Persian Gulf
security. As part of its Human Security and Global Governance (HUGG) research
program, the project is named HUGG West Asia.
In its first phase, the project focuses on confidence building among
the Gulf states by establishing an International Commission for Security
and Cooperation in West Asia. The Commission consists of distinguished
diplomats and scholars from the eight littoral states plus the five permanent
member-states of the United Nations Security Council and a UN representative.
The project will act as a second track diplomatic bridge between peace
scholars and governments by opening up channels of communication, massaging
all submitted peace proposals to prepare them for the consideration of
the relevant governments, and promoting a regional security regime for
The Commission met in Istanbul on March 6-7, 1999, for the first time
and unanimously recommended the establishment of a center for the promotion
of regional cooperation and confidence building in security, political,
economic, social, and cultural arenas.
The Commission also recommended that its next meeting should take place
in one of the Gulf littoral states focusing on confidence building among
the states. This essay reviews the evolving security regimes in the Gulf
region, provides a background to the HUGG West Asia project, reports on
the substance of the discussions at the Istanbul conference, and concludes
with the prospects for the establishment of an indigenous security regime
in the Gulf region.
The Evolving Gulf Security Regimes
During the 20th century, the Persian Gulf seems to have gone through
at least three distinctly different security regimes, including Pax Britannica,
Pax Saudi-Iranica, and Pax Americana (Mojtahed-Zadeh 1998) .
Pax Britannica lasted from 1918, the conclusion of World War I, to 1971,
which marked the withdrawal of British forces from the East of the Suez.
The destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the transfer of Iraq, Trans-Jordan,
and Palestine to Britain as League of Nations mandates, inaugurated this
period. The Iranian Majlis turned down the proposed Anglo-Iranian Treaty
of 1919. The treaty would have reduced Iran to the status of a protectorate
like Egypt. Nevertheless, Britain exercised considerable influence in the
political affairs of Iran.
The coup d'etat of 1921 by Colonel Reza Khan, masterminded by the British,
brought Iran for the next 20 years under a pro-British dictatorship. Although
much less independent, the Gulf Arab Emirates (Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, and
what now constitutes the United Arab Emirates (UAE)) were at the same time
carved out of the nominally Ottoman territories by the British.
Like Iraq and Trans-Jordan, the borders of the Emirates were drawn up
to pay political debts while ensuring a system of divide and rule. Many
of the current border disputes in the region stem from such colonial schemes
(e. g. disputes between Iraq and Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, Iran and UAE).
The era of Pax Britannica came to an with the postwar dismemberment of
the British Empire and the rise of nationalist regimes in Iran, Iraq, Syria,
Palestine/Israel, and Egypt.
A new era emerged in 1971 when the British forces were withdrawn from
the East of the Suez. Under the circumstances, Pax Americana could have
effectively replaced Pax Britannica. However, the United States defeat
in Vietnam had led to the emergence of the Nixon Doctrine calling for the
establishment of proxy powers in various regions of the world to act on
behalf of the United States interests.
In the Persian Gulf, the monarchist regimes of Saudi Arabia and Iran
presented themselves as candidates for this role. The two regimes were
thus bolstered by extensive U. S. political and military aid. The emergence
of a Pax Saudi-Iranica had anticipated and unanticipated consequences.
It led to Saudi-Iranian rapprochement on the Shi'a-Sunni conflicts, the
Organization of Islamic Conference, but also to a new unity in the Organization
of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) that quadrupled the price of oil
Some boundary disputes were resolved, including the Iranian abandonment
of sovereignty claims over Bahrain, an understanding between Iran and Sharjah
on Abu Musa Island, and continental shelf agreements among the littoral
states. In 1975, Iran and Iraq also reached an agreement in Algiers regarding
their boundary dispute over Shatt-ul-Arab and the withdrawal of Iranian
support for the Kurdish rebellion in Iraq.
As part of the new security regime, Iran also assisted the government
of Oman to successfully defeat a Marxist rebellion in the Dhuffar Province.
The Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran brought Pax Saudi-Iranica to an
With the tacit support of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, as well as Western powers,
Iraq invaded Iran in 1980. A historical pattern was repeating itself. As
in the case of modern revolutions in France, Russia, China, and Cuba, the
new revolutionary regime in Iran presented an ideological threat to its
neighboring conservative governments.
Although the rhetoric far outweighed the power of a newly established
and disorganized government, it was considered opportune by Iraq and its
Arab and Western allies to nip the revolution in the bud. However, as in
other historical instances, the Iraqi invasion had a counter-intuitive
effect. It unified a divided revolutionary regime against the enemy in
a patriotic war that "imperialists and their lackeys had imposed on
the country" (jang-i-tahmili).
The consequence was an eight-year tug of war in which both sides suffered
incalculable material and human costs. Initially, Iraq had the upper hand,
but as the Iranians better organized themselves, the tide turned against
Iraq in roughly 1987. During a tanker war that threatened oil exports from
the Gulf, Kuwait also requested the United States to protect its ships.
These dual circumstances brought the United States with full force into
A third period thus began under the aegis of Pax Americana. The approaching
end of the Cold War had made it possible for the U. S. and Soviet Union
to jointly pressure Iran and Iraq to accept a cease-fire in 1988 (Hume
1994). Under the threat of great power intervention, Ayatollah Khomeini
had no choice but to drink the "poisonous cup."
The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq on August 2, 1990 ensured that intervention.
Thanks to his Arab and Western allies, by 1990 Saddam Hussein had acquired
a new powerful war machine and tested armed forces (Tehranian 1999, 177-178).
He therefore turned his attention to Iraq's old territorial ambition, Kuwait,
which was now demanding repayments for its wartime loans. Iraq invaded
and occupied Kuwait in August 1990 by a blitzkrieg.
The United States response was a rapid deployment of forces to oppose
the Iraqi invasion. It is not entirely certain if this turn of events was
premeditated. On the one hand, the massive destruction of Saddam's war
machine may be considered a calculated strategy by the United States to
undo the Frankenstein monster that was created in the Iraqi war against
This interpretation is supported by U. S. Ambassador April Glaspie's
assurances of neutrality between Iraq and Kuwait that must have encouraged
Saddam gamble at an invasion of Kuwait. It is further supported by the
subsequent U. S. refusal to allow Saddam a face-saving exit out of Kuwait.
On the other hand, the U. S. responses to the events could be considered
to have been spontaneous and without premeditation. At any rate, the events
were unanticipated by Saddam.
Coming at the heel of the end of the Cold War and the disappearance
of the Soviet Union as a superpower, Saddam was gambling on an easy victory.
During the Iran-Iraq war, he had assumed a new stature as a Pan-Arab nationalist
and was hoping to cash in on his prestige by championing the cause of a
united Arab world against all enemies. But he had miscalculated a second
time. From the globalist perspective of the United States and its allies,
the emergence of a hostile regional superpower in the Persian Gulf would
have proved disastrous for Western oil and strategic interests.
From a domestic perspective also, the Republican Party in power in Washington
wished to exorcise the "Vietnam syndrome" in the United States
that had deterred it from playing a more active global, military role.
The invasion of Kuwait assumed a symbolic significance in the post-Cold
War era. Should a potentate be allowed to seize regional power by virtue
of a Western default?
President Bush quickly responded to that question by deploying the largest
postwar military force into Saudi Arabia. Following fruitless peace negotiations
in which the United States was unwilling to allow Saddam even a face-saving
withdrawal, the United Nations forces with the tacit approval of all five
Great Powers, and led by the United States, re-conquered Kuwait and restored
its monarchy to power.
Iraq itself came under UN economic sanctions, and no-fly zones in the
north and the south were established in order to protect the dissident
Kurds and Shi'ites. Following Egyptian President Nasser's challenges of
the 1950's and 60s, the colliding moral spaces of Western globalism and
Pan-Arabism led in 1991 to a decisive defeat for the latter.
Although Pax Americana has been a fact of life in the Gulf during the
1990s, it has proved to be an unstable regional security regime. The failure
of the U. S. policyof dual containment of Iran and Iraq calls for a new
design. Since 1996 under the leadership of President Khatami, Iran has
regained the respect of the international community for its restrained
foreign policies. A
lthough Saddam Hussein is still in power and defiant in Iraq, France,
Russia, and China have diverged from the United States and Britain in their
recommendation for ending the isolation of the country. The time is thus
ripe for inaugurating a new indigenous security regime under which Iran,
Iraq, and GCC can settle their border disputes, guarantee non-interference
in each other's internal affairs, and cooperate for a durable peace. The
new regime, however, would be impossible without guarantees from the great
Why HUGG West Asia?
The two Gulf wars (1980-1988 and 1990-1991) and the risks of an impending
third one have created grave threats to international peace and security.
As the source of some 60 percent of the world oil reserves and exports,
the region has invited unprecedented numbers of foreign interventions and
spiraling arms races that lead nowhere except to greater insecurity for
the regional states and further threats to world peace. The human costs
during the two decades of warfare (1980-1999) in the region have been staggering.
About one million people were killed and another one million were maimed
in the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988. The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq on August
2, 1990 and the subsequent high technology war against Iraq by the UN forces
involved fewer casualties, but it nonetheless entailed disastrous results.
The breakdown of the Iraqi physical and social infrastructure as well as
the continuing economic sanctions against Iraq have resulted in the premature
death of about half a million Iraqi children each year due to malnutrition
and infectious diseases.
Under present circumstances, prospects for the normalization of relations
among several of the contending states in this affair appear dim. Iran,
Iraq, and the United States have severed their diplomatic relations. Similarly,
Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq continue to act as belligerents.
In the absence of diplomatic relations among the main parties to the
regional disputes, prospects for peace are slim, unless international civil
society assumes its responsibility by providing alternative channels of
communication and negotiation. The role of NGOs in multiple-track diplomacy
is thus indispensable.
Although governments are often protective of their "rights"
to conduct foreign relations without interference from "meddlers,"
they would welcome the additional information and facilitation that may
result from NGO involvement. For instance, the U. S. Department of State
has often treated the role of such figures as Jimmy Carter and Jesse Jackson
in supervising elections and releasing hostages with disdain. However,
it also has had to acknowledge the positive contributions they have made
in the process.
These include release of hostages, supervision of elections, and a general
opening of channels of communication. To initiate a peacebuilding effort,
the design and preparation for the Toda Institute's initiative for security
and cooperation in the West Asian region took place largely in 1998. In
this process, three major obstacles had to be overcome.
First, the conflict over the name of the project was resolved by changing
it from HUGG Gulf to HUGG West Asia. The Arab participants would not take
part in the project if the region was to be called by its historic name,
the Persian Gulf. The Iranians would refuse participation if the project
were to be called by the name the Arabs preferred, namely "the Arab
Gulf." A compromise was reached by calling the project HUGG West Asia,
a label that more accurately fits the region than its colonial label of
"the Middle East." The latter is a strategic label devoid of
any historical or cultural content.
Captain Alfred Mahan, Theodore Roosevelt's close friend and colleague
in the U. S. Navy, coined the term "the Middle East" in the late
19th century (Mahan 1894). He argued that in order to have world domination,
a state must have naval superiority through control of landmasses lying
between the Near East and Far East, i. e. the Middle East. The control
of this piece of real estate was therefore critical to Captain Mahan, who
probably had no notion of its cultural and historical complexity.
A second obstacle to overcome was the traditional suspicions and conspiracy
theories that characterize the colonial past of the region. Two bloody
wars in the last two decades and a creeping third one have taken their
toll on trust. We had a triple-T problem: Tehranian, Toda, and Tudeh. Initially
some Arab colleagues suspected that the project was an Iranian government
conspiracy because the director of the Toda Institute is Iranian-born.
Once they were dissuaded from this thought, an imaginative colleague
in the region suggested that Toda corresponded to Tudeh, the name of the
Iranian Communist Party. The project therefore must be a communist conspiracy!
The Institute obviously had to explain that it had been named after Mr.
Toda, the second President of Soka Gakkai, to honor his work for peace
and global citizenship.
Finally, someone suggested that since the conference is being held in
Istanbul, it must be a Turkish-American-Israeli conspiracy against the
rest of West Asia. Reasons for the choice of Istanbul, however, were convincing
enough to dispel that suspicion: to avoid partiality, the first conference
would not be held at any of the littoral states. Thus, Istanbul was the
nearest major city to the region that could be found. A third obstacle
presented itself as the conference time approached.
The capture of Ocalan, the Kurdish nationalist leader, and his dispatch
to Turkey to stand trial created some security fears. In the light of worldwide
Kurdish demonstrations against Ocalan's capture, we considered a postponement
of the conference. But assurances by the Turkish government of the security
of the participants and the determination to press on kept us on target.
Despite these difficulties, there were many good omens as well. Because
the project was an independent initiative supported by several peace and
policy research institutes from outside the region, fears of partiality
and manipulation were allayed.
The co-sponsoring organizations included the Toda Institute, Copenhagen
Peace Research Institute, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs,
and the Center for Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies of Australian
National University. The distinguished diplomats and scholars who accepted
our invitation to join the International Commission also helped to diminish
the anxiety about "conspiracies."
To further allay any fears or suspicions, a letter of request was sent
to all of the foreign ministers of the eight littoral states and the five
permanent state-members of the UN Security Council. It listed the purpose
of the project, and requested them to nominate someone from their own country
for Commission membership.
The letter emphasized that the Commission members should have the confidence
of their own governments and civil societies without necessarily representing
them. The objective was clearly to have a non-governmental commission whose
members were participating in the security dialogue in their personal capacity
rather than as officials of their governments. One foreign minister, that
of Britain, responded negatively to our request.
Russia, Iran, and Oman nominated representatives, while the remaining
foreign ministers left our request unanswered. Informal contacts with non-responding
government officials, however, indicated a bemused interest in the project.
Selection of other representatives thus had to employ the project's informal
academic and governmental channels to identify those who might qualify
as eminent citizens of their own countries, enjoying equal respect from
their governments and civil societies.
The first meeting of the International Commission for Security and Cooperation
in West Asia took place successfully on March 6-7, 1999, in Istanbul, Turkey.
The fact that representatives of countries with broken diplomatic relations
could meet in an atmosphere of friendship and cooperation helped build
confidence among them as a prelude to serious discussions. This was a proof
of Woody Allan's assertion that "ninety percent of life is just being
Professor Saleh Alkhatlan, the Commission member from Saudi Arabia,
has best expressed the positive feelings and the results that came out
of the Istanbul conference: "I send you my deepest thanks for two
days of fruitful and informative discussion. I really enjoyed our meetings
and strongly believe that the conference was a big success. As it was discussed
in the meetings, misperception is a major obstacle to security and cooperation
in the region, so please see if Toda's experience in enhancing communications
and global understanding may help in overcoming such cognitive problems.
You will be happy to know that today I am sending an email to our colleagues
from the Iranian Institute of Political and International Studies (IPIS)
to say hello and thank them for frank and sincere discussions. To my knowledge
this is the first e-mail contact between Riyadh and Tehran and it would
have not been, it were not for Toda (not Tudeh). May Allah help us in achieving
our objectives and see the Gulf stable and its peoples happy and prosperous.
Thanks again and keep up the good work."
On a sad note, however, Tehran Times of March 6, 1999 (Internet
version), reported on the conference under the headline: "Institute
close to CIA hosts conference on Persian Gulf security in Turkey."
The report stated that "the conference has been organized by Toda
Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research, which is headed by an Iranian
Majid Tehranian, who has close links with the CIA This is the first time
Iran is involved in negotiations with the US focusing on the Persian Gulf
We immediately wrote to the editors to deplore their irresponsible and
false reports while denying the allegations of any CIA connection and emphasizing
the NGO nature of the project. However, the incident showed once again
that the lot of peacemakers is not easy at all. The project was being abused
as a pawn in the power struggles between the conservatives and the liberals
As the mouthpiece of the conservatives, Tehran Times was thus trying
to discredit the peacemaking initiatives of President Mohammad Khatami's
government towards the Arab states and the West. Regardless of the hurdles,
what are the objectives and methods of the project?
As a triple-track diplomatic initiative, the project consists of the
government first track and an International Commission acting as a second
track while a third track of peace scholars feed it with proposals to promote
a regional non-aggression pact, an arms control agreement, and a regional
Mr. Yasushi Akashi, former UN Under-Secretary-General and current Director
of the Hiroshima Peace Institute, initially accepted to chair the Commission
until a permanent chair was elected. However, due to his decision to run
for the Governor of Tokyo at about the time of the Istanbul conference,
he had to withdraw. Mr.
Vladimir Petrovsky, Director-General and Under-Secretary-General of
the United Nations Office in Geneva, also had to decline participation
while assuring us of his continued support for the project. The Istanbul
Conference Invitees to the Istanbul Conference consisted of representatives
from the eight littoral states, the five permanent members of the UN Security
Council, the UN Secretary-General's office, and a number of observers.
Despite considerable efforts, no representatives from Kuwait and Bahrain
attended the conference. Due to circumstances beyond their control, the
UN and UAE representatives also excused themselves with assurances of continued
support of the project and promises to attend future meetings. The conference
agenda called for a preliminary discussion on various models of regional
security and cooperation to be followed by explorations of the possibilities
for a regional non-aggression pact, an arms control treaty, and a regional
organization for security and cooperation. At the conclusion of the conference,
we reached a unanimous agreement on the future of the Commission with a
press release that called for the establishment of a regional research
center for security and cooperation in the Gulf.
Here are the main themes that were discussed at the conference:
1. Procedural Matters. Conference participants agreed first and
foremost that the Chatham House confidentiality rules must apply to discussions,
i.e. conference reports must refrain from any direction attribution of
comments. This rule provided a secure atmosphere for open and frank discussions.
The participants also agreed that Yemen should be added to the Commission.
Yemen is expected to join GCC and its participation is vital to a viable
security regime in the region. Moreover, most participants expressed a
skepticism. Participants also expressed a preference for soft rather than
hard agenda items, as well as concrete rather than vague measures. They
added that the language and framing of problems must be free of stereotypes
and threats. The Commission should work first on confidence building measures
and common grounds such as the Gulf price of oil.
2. Models of Regional Cooperation. There are currently two good
models for regional security regimes established by the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Association of South
East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in which arms control, transparency, and preventive
diplomacy have been combined to provide enduring regional peace. Past security
organizations in West Asia have been often prompted from the outside, e.g.
the Baghdad Pact followed by the Central Treaty Organization. The Commission
could learn from such examples. To succeed, however, the new regional organization
must be initiated from within the region itself. Furthermore, participants
felt the support and guarantees of the five permanent members of the UN
Security Council were vital to regional security in the Gulf.
The experiences of other regional groupings are not, however, direclty
transferable to the Gulf. Despite this warning, there are three basic requirements
for any successful regional formation: consensus, inclusiveness, and functionalism.
Consensus building means regular visits by government officials to develop
a common view on regional problems and possible solutions. Inclusiveness
means to include all states of a given region regardless of their ideological
or political orientations.
Functionalism suggests that it is easier to achieve agreement on functional
cooperation such as regional transportation and telecommunication, than
sensitive political and economic issues. It takes a long time before the
potential member-states of a regional organization can gain sufficient
confidence and trust in each other to commit to long-term, cooperative
relations. In the case of the Gulf states, the following confidence building
measures will help:
- Agreement on frontiers by peaceful negotiation for any needed adjustments
- Prior notification of military exercises
- Reciprocal observation of military exercises
- Reciprocal inspection of military facilities
- Transparency in arms production and imports
- Replacement of US with UN forces in the Gulf
- Great power guarantees of regional security through United Nations Security
- Preventive diplomacy through regular exchange of views on outstanding
- Regional games in popular sports such as soccer
- Regional exchange of performing artists
- Regional research and training center for security and cooperation
- Regional educational exchange programs
- Studies of security perceptions of the Gulf states
- Studies of mutual misperceptions and stereotypes in order to remove them
- Delinkage of Gulf issues from the Arab-Israeli disputes
- Focus on process rather than outcome
- Cultural exchange among non-governmental organizations
- Regional exchange among journalists
- Encouragement of European Union to get more involved in the Gulf security
- Starting perhaps with a single step such as the formation of a regional
center for security studies
3. Major Security Concerns. It is important to recognize the
legitimate security concerns of the Gulf states before responding to them
in a new regional security regime. While the Gulf region as a whole shares
some common security concerns, each state in the region also has its own
unique preoccupations. However, it can be safely said that stability in
the flows and price of oil, non-interference in their internal affairs,
and long-term economic development, are the common concerns of all of the
Gulf petroleum exporting states.
At the crossroads of East and West, Iran is bordering 12 different sovereign
states, all of which are characterized by internal and external insecurity.
Iran's security anxieties are thus real. Witness the Iraqi invasion of
1980 and the skirmishes with Afghanistan in 1998.
As the largest of the Gulf states in population, Iran views its role
as the balancer of power. Although successive Iranian governments have
consistently denied any hegemonic intentions, they are often accused of
such designs. To assume domination, however, Iran faces competition with
the outside powers.
Under Pax Saudi-Iranica, for a short period, Iran assumed a proxy role
for the United States. After the Iranian revolution, however, the United
States has tried to isolate Iran. The two Gulf wars and increasing political
maturity have led the Iranian regime to make greater efforts toward confidence
building with the Gulf states, except Iraq. Ever since the Iran-Iraq war,
relations between the two countries have been tense.
Each regime provides a base of operation for opposition groups to the
other regime. War reparations, return of Iraqi jets that are claimed by
Iran as part of war reparations, exchange of war prisoners, and ideological
differences are the main issues at stake. However, both states wish for
the United States to leave the Persian Gulf. Both desire higher prices
for oil. And both consider themselves vanguards of the revolutionary movements
in the region.
Iraq claims leadership of the secular nationalists and republicans while
Iran champions the cause of the Islamic revolution. Iraq's internal divisions
(60 percent Shi'a, 20 percent Sunni, and 20 percent Kurdish) have shaped
its security perceptions. With its historical memories of grandeur as the
center of the Abbasid Dynasty during the 9-13th centuries, Iraq has in
modern times competed with Egypt and Syria for leadership in the Arab world.
Following 1968, under the Ba'athist regime, this competition reached its
peak during the Iraqi invasions of Iran and Kuwait. During the first Gulf
war, Iraq enjoyed the support of Arab countries except Libya and Syria.
In the second Gulf War, however, it was isolated except for Jordanian
and Palestinian support. Having been subjected to nearly a decade of economic
sanctions, the Iraqi regime suffers from intense insecurity. It views itself
as the victim of Western imperialism, conservative Arab perfidy, and Iranian
hostility. Dominated by Sunni Arab leadership, the Ba'athist regime's suspicion
of its own Shi'a and Kurdish population adds to this sense of insecurity.
The GCC consists of six countries that vary in size and attitudes. Saudi
Arabia has successfully served as the GCC leader shaping its policies in
the Gulf. As a group, the GCC considers itself a balancing power vis-à-vis
the two Gulf big boys, namely Iran and Iraq. As relatively rich but less
populated countries, the GCC governments also look for protection from
the United States against possible threats from Iran and Iraq. However,
feelings about the presence of the U. S. forces are mixed. Too close an
identification with the U. S. opens the GCC regimes to accusations of complicity
with un-Islamic and imperialist powers.
Although the recent rapprochement with Iran is not universal among the
GCC members, Saudi Arabia has led the way. The United Arab Emirates continues
to have a serious conflict with Iran on the issue of sovereignty over the
three Gulf islands (Abu Musa, Greater and Smaller Tombs). Bahrain has accused
the Iranian regime of subversive activities within its borders.
Oman and Qatar seem to enjoy the best relations with Iran. Expanding
commercial relations between Iran and the southern Gulf states, however,
are paving the way for greater common and enduring interests. Saudi Arabia
and the UAE are currently at odds over the GCC opening to Iran. Symbolic
issues such as the name of "the Gulf" and practical issues such
as the control of the three Gulf islands continue to divide the two sides
of the Gulf.
This brief account of an effort at peacebuilding in a war-torn region
of the world has reviewed the historical evolution of security regimes
in the Persian Gulf. It has argued that the current situation is both untenable
and conducive to a new, indigenous security regime for long-term regional
security and cooperation. The essay has provided the background to the
HUGG West Asia Project, an NGO initiative aiming at the establishment of
such a regime.
In reporting the deliberations of the first meeting of the International
Commission for Security and Cooperation in West Asia, held in Istanbul
on March 6-7, 1999, the essay has also outlined the main obstacles to establishing
regional cooperation for security as well as the opportunities that present
circumstances can afford in that direction.
What lies ahead? As soon as the Gulf states adopt the Commission's recommendation
for the establishment of a regional center for security and cooperation,
the task of the HUGG West Asia Project may be considered completed. However,
until such a time, much needs to be done.
Regular meetings of the Commission are planned for the next few years.
In preparation for these meetings, research projects are under way exploring
the security perceptions of Iran, Iraq, and GCC and how a common ground
can be developed among them.
Other issues for research and policy development include arms control,
border disputes, trade and development problems, oil production controls
and prices, scientific, technological, and cultural cooperation, the role
of great powers, the European Union, and the United Nations, the structure
and program of a regional research center, and the formation of a regional
and Expert Advisers
Majid Tehranian is professor
of international communication at the University of Hawaii and director
of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and