Middle East

GCC – Gulf Cooperation Council

The GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) was founded in 1981 with the aim of ensuring security and stability in the region through economic and political cooperation. Its current issues include political reforms and the process of reducing dependence on oil exports. Secretary-General Nayef al-Hajraf took office in 2020. The GCC has six member states.

Introduction

The Gulf Cooperation Council (short for GCC by ABBREVIATIONFINDER) emerged from the concerns of the heads of state in the region when the Shia Muslim revolution broke out in Iran in 1979.

Most of the states on the Arabian Peninsula have large Shia Muslim minorities within their borders but are ruled by Sunni Muslims. There were great fears that Shia Muslims would be inspired by the events in Iran and revolt.

When, since the war between Iran and Iraq, which began in 1980, it seemed possible to swell across the countries’ borders and withdraw the neighboring states, the need for a regional association was considered ever greater.

Formalized regional cooperation would give the small states (together the GCC states have about 35 million inhabitants) a means of power against the powerful Iran and Iraq (close to 70 and 26 million inhabitants respectively). The GCC would guarantee security and stability in the region through economic and political cooperation. Social and cultural issues would also be coordinated.

The emergence

In the spring of 1981, the Foreign Ministers of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia formed the Gulf Cooperation Council. In 1984, the states agreed to establish a regional protection force (Dir`al-Jazira, “Peninsula Shield Force”, or in English Peninsula Shield Force, PSF) consisting of units from all member states.

PSF was stationed in Saudi Arabia and was intended to act as a rapid reaction force that could withstand intruders while awaiting reinforcements (preferably from the United States and the United Kingdom). Discussions were also held about creating a joint army for the area and coordinating arms purchases.

The formation of the GCC was for the conservative and change-reluctant monarchies in the Persian Gulf an unusually rapid process and more a reaction to external events than a response to an internal will for cooperation and integration. It also seems that the signatories were driven by different visions of what the organization was aiming for, something that is reflected in the GCC’s statutes.

The statutes stipulate that the GCC shall strive for social and economic integration, a line which shall have been represented primarily by Kuwait. Oman pushed for a common military alliance that would cooperate with the United States. The Saudis seemed lukewarmly interested in both economic integration and military cooperation, and instead prioritized political stability in the region (in practice, to prevent the Shia Muslim-dominated revolution in Iran from spreading to Saudi Arabia).

In 1987, while war was still raging between Iran and Iraq, Kuwait was subjected to a robot attack by Iran. Kuwait, like the other GCC states, supported the Iraqi side in the war. Following the attack, the GCC declared that an attack on any of the Member States would be perceived as targeting all of them. For the GCC, as for all states and organizations in the region, the Iraq invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 was tense. However, unlike other regional organizations, the GCC was not divided on the issue. The GCC Council of Ministers was united in its condemnation of the invasion, which was described as a violation of Kuwait’s sovereignty. The GCC demanded that Iraq leave Kuwait immediately.

The organization’s security force was placed on high alert to prevent an Iraqi invasion of Saudi Arabia in the first place. But of the proud declarations of PSF, it had only become an active force of almost 7,000 men. The Kuwait crisis showed that the countries’ defenses were vulnerable and weak, despite investing large sums in common defense systems.

During the Kuwait crisis, closer cooperation emerged between the GCC countries, Egypt and Syria. Egypt and Syria had both welcomed the US-led UN alliance formed to liberate Kuwait. As part of the cooperation between the two countries and the GCC , the Damascus Declaration was signed in March 1991. Its aim was to build a regional peacekeeping force, introduce a ban on weapons of mass destruction in the region and find a solution to the Palestinian issue through international conferences. After conflicts over funding and the composition of the peacekeeping force, plans for a joint peacekeeping force remained on paper.

During the 1980’s, relations within the GCC were inflamed by a series of internal conflicts. The organization’s two smallest states, Bahrain and Qatar, had been at odds over the Fasht al-Dibal reef since the 1930’s, where oil could be found. Both states claimed the area and in 1986 they were at war. Bahrain also claimed the city of Zubarah, which is located inside Qatar territory. After Saudi Arabia’s failure to mediate in the conflict, Qatar took the matter to the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 1991. After a lengthy trial, Bahrain gained sovereignty over the Hawara Islands and Qit`at Jaradah, while Qatar gained Zubarah, the island of Janan and the Fasht al-Dibal reef.

A security agreement to combat crime and terrorism was drawn up at the 1994 summit, but neither Kuwait nor Qatar signed it. Kuwait therefore abstained because an accession was considered contrary to the country’s constitution and Qatar abstained in protest against Saudi Arabia’s dominance in the organization. In 1992, a border conflict flared up between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. At the 1995 summit, Qatar boycotted the final negotiations in protest of the non-election of its candidate for secretary general. Instead, the council elected a Saudi to the new secretary general. Qatar did not accept the new Secretary-General until it was decided that the post of Secretary-General would rotate between the countries in the future. Only five years later was the border dispute between the countries settled.

In 1996, Yemen applied for membership of the GCC, and in the early 2000’s, Yemen was allowed to participate in bodies that discussed certain issues, such as education and health care. Negotiations on full membership continued, but the civil war has put an end to the process and Yemen is one of the issues on which GCC member states do not agree.

GCC - Gulf Cooperation Council