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  • Author: Sara Nowacka
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The fight against the spread of the coronavirus in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has forced cooperation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, which were in conflict within the GCC. At the same time, the UAE took advantage of other countries’ need for support in countering COVID-19 to strengthen relations with China, Iran, and Syria, among others. The UAE’s activity emphasizes its ambition for domination of the region, which may lead to a new dispute within the GCC between the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Regional Cooperation, Coronavirus
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Gulf Cooperation Council, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Scott Edwards
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Al Jazeera Center for Studies
  • Abstract: On the 3rd of January 2020, the United States signalled its intent to escalate tensions with Iran, through the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds forces, in Iraq. Following attacks from Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia militia on the American embassy in Baghdad, the escalation took place on a backdrop of worsening US-Iranian relations, focused on the US withdrawal of the Iranian nuclear deal (and Iran’s subsequent rollback of key commitments), the reinstatement of economic sanctions against Iran, and increasing tensions in the Straits of Hormuz. Such tensions have been met with concern in East Asia, particularly among countries that have been steadily expanding their relationships with Iran. Responses, however, reflect a continuation of business as normal rather than any great change. While Malaysia, for example, has condemned the assassination in line with their growing closeness to Iran, there has been no tangible change of policy. Indonesia, who has developed a relationship but emphasised their desire to remain neutral in the Iran-Saudi tensions, have avoided making overt statements in support of Iran or condemning US action. For the most part, therefore, Southeast Asian states have been unwilling and unable to abandon their relationship with the US and other key states such as Saudi Arabia, or isolate themselves by supporting Iran overtly. For other East Asian states, overtly supporting Iran runs the risks of encouraging the escalation of the conflict and the damaging of their interests, such as is the case with China. As such, this paper will argue that while the perception surrounding Soleimani’s assassination among East Asia is for the most part negative, this will not fundamentally impact on their relationship with the US or spur a further shift to Iran. Instead, in the face of continuing US pressure on Iran, Iran’s relationships within East Asia have begun to ultimately suffer. This paper will begin by analysing the expansion of Iran’s relationship with East Asian states before going on to argue how these are likely to decline in future despite these countries’ concerns of US actions as well as actions of other important states such as Saudi Arabia. While Iran has expanded its relationship with a number of partners in East Asia, this paper will focus on relationships Iran finds particularly important. Primarily, this is Malaysia and Indonesia, who, as countries with Muslim majority populations, have seen their involvement with Iran growing at a faster pace than others but in relationships mired in complexity. It will also consider China’s perspective; a relationship that has taken on importance for different reasons.
  • Topic: Bilateral Relations, Sanctions, Conflict, Qassem Soleimani, Militias
  • Political Geography: Iran, Malaysia, Middle East, East Asia, Saudi Arabia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Mohammed Cherkaoui
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Al Jazeera Center for Studies
  • Abstract: On June 6, 2020, the Qatari crisis entered its fourth year with two parallel political discourses, which have endured the complexity of issues between Qatar and the Quartet [Saudi Arabia, Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt] since early June 2017: a) diplomatic hopes in the U.S.-backed Kuwaiti mediation amidst several gestures of rapprochement between the Qataris and the Saudis; and b) disparity of positions by the disputing parties while maintaining status quo politics. The Trump administration has urged the Quartet capitals to reopen their airspace for Qatari airlines as a step toward ending the open-ended blockade. The Wall Street Journal quoted U.S. officials saying "there is a greater sense of urgency to resolve the airspace issue. It's an ongoing irritation for us that money goes into Iran's coffers due to Qatar Airways overflights." (1) The Trump White House has been irritated by the so-called "overfly fees" that Qatar pays to Iran to use its airspace. There is growing hope Washington’s call will trigger momentum for lifting the land and sea blockade imposed on Qatar as well. Qatar’s foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani hopes “the initiative will produce results, we are open to dialogue and ready to meet each step forward with 10 steps from our side.” (2) Unlike the Saudis, the Emiratis have maintained the 2017 demands, and UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash insists “this issue will stay with us, and we have to manage it in a better way until we reach a future stage.” He has often characterized the blockade as “a result of Doha's interference policies," and argued "the solution for this crisis should be based on dealing with the causes of it." (3) As a result, the three-year blockade is causing a hurting stalemate for both sides of the Gulf conflict. In his new book “Qatar and the Gulf Crisis”, Kristian C. Ulrichsen argues the blockade has become “stuck at a political level where the Saudi and Emirati leadership—and especially Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed—appear reluctant to make the first move to offer concessions or progress to a negotiated compromise.” (4) This paper examines some major narrative turns of the Quartet-Qatar showdown and the transformation of Trump’s position. It traces the possibility of a de-escalation shift along Washington’s pursuit of mediation in the framework of the Kuwaiti diplomacy; and weighs on the future of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), as a counterbalance of the Arab Gulf strategic (dis)unity and common existentialism in a turbulent region.
  • Topic: International Relations, Diplomacy, Crisis Management
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Abu Dhabi
  • Author: Frederick W. Kagan
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: The Yemeni al Houthi movement claimed the drone and missile attack on Saudi oil facilities on September 14, 2019, but the attack on Abqaiq was planned and executed by Iran. The al Houthi claim to have conducted the attack diverted the Western discussion away from Iran’s role and focused instead on the war in Yemen and on Saudi Arabia’s misdeeds. The Iranian attack on Abqaiq was part of a pattern of Iranian military escalation in response to the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign. The US should conduct a military strike to deter continued Iranian military escalation. Refraining from retaliation will embolden Iranian proxies and allies and encourage the regime to stand fast with its nuclear program, regional activities, and repression of its own people.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Terrorism, Military Strategy, Houthis
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: David Coghlan
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Unless Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is found to have personally ordered Khashoggi’s execution, his position is secure.
  • Topic: Crime, Authoritarianism, News Analysis, Journalism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Karen E. Young
  • Publication Date: 09-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: The six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Oman—are in a period of profound change, both economic and social. The economic changes are a long overdue reaction to natural resource revenue dependency in their fiscal policies, while the social changes are a reaction to compounded migration and demographic shifts. The resilience of Gulf political economies will be defined by the ability to change both fiscal governance and policies of inclusion. Inclusion, in the context of Gulf political economies, means social protection for vulnerable groups, but it also means access to compete in a rule-based economy. The promise of economic reform, therefore, is a promise to reconfigure relations between citizen and state, and to renegotiate the provision of benefits to citizens in the form of subsidies of fuel, electricity, and water, as well as generous health and education services. And there will be taxes and new fees on everything from toll roads to sugary drinks to tobacco, and employment fees for foreigners. In exchange, citizens are promised—in some way—a retreat of the state from its predatory control over economies, though not its control over the political space and activism. Nonetheless, for many political economies of the GCC, the opening of opportunities in private ownership and investment in the sale of state assets—such as power and water plants, ports, and airports, as well as schools and hospitals—poses a challenge to the state’s track record in the provision of services. These privatizations also pose a risk to a constituency unaccustomed to fees-based service and corporate liability. Will citizens accept services from private entities at cost? Will citizens jump at the opportunity to own new companies that meet the needs of their compatriots for profit? And, perhaps most importantly, who will be left behind? The concept of resilience is often used in the literature on economic development to describe how governments can protect both citizens and their economies from external shocks, whether in the form of natural disasters, black swan events, or dramatic policy shifts. The regulatory environment and the capacity of the state to react and respond to different needs of its population, especially vulnerable groups, are key. For Gulf states, the current reform agenda is not so much a shock as a delayed reaction to a problem identified long ago. Diversification from oil-based revenue is necessary, and population growth has created an oversupply of candidates for public-sector employment that is not very productive. Generating growth has to shift, in its source and its deployment among a larger and more diverse population. The Gulf states have created their own middle-income development trap. This paper offers a wide-ranging analysis of some aspects of the reform agenda underway across the GCC. It explores specific case analyses of challenges facing individual countries (Saudi Arabia and Oman), and the organization of the GCC as a whole. It also addresses subsidy reform, the introduction of taxes and fees, and some experimental policies related to regulating labor markets and encouraging citizens to move out of public-sector employment.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Gulf Cooperation Council
  • Author: David B. Roberts
  • Publication Date: 05-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Institut français des relations internationales (IFRI)
  • Abstract: Something is happening with the military forces of the Arab monarchies in the Gulf. Traditionally, the armed forces of the Gulf monarchies played an incidental role when it comes to securing the states. The ultimate fighting power of the monarchies was relatively unimportant; rather, the monarchies’ security was derived from international relations that were sometimes founded on, and often sustained and fed by, ongoing military sales. But, for some monarchies at least, this is changing. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are now deploying their own forces in hitherto unseen kinetic ways, as in Yemen, indicating that they genuinely seek their own fighting power. In the midst of the Gulf crisis, Qatar has doubled down on defense procurement both to boost its military and to increase its international entanglements. Meanwhile, Oman and Kuwait continue their methodical military procurement, as is Bahrain, in addition to assiduously following Saudi Arabia’s regional policies to boost relations with Riyadh.
  • Topic: Defense Policy, Regional Cooperation, Governance, Armed Forces, Military Affairs, Weapons , Military Spending
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Kuwait, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Bilal Y. Saab
  • Publication Date: 05-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: An Iran-Saudi Arabia war is unlikely, but it is now more likely than ever before. A military confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran should command respect and inspire concern because it could cause tremendous harm to an already volatile Middle East and possibly to the global economy. Iran seems to have an upper hand in a direct military confrontation with Saudi Arabia because of its combat experience, geography, manpower, strategic depth, and greater cost tolerance. However, none of these attributes give Iran any decisive advantages in a contest with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is neither helpless nor without military options. While it is easy to start a war with Iran, it is anything but to finish it. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would have to think hard about the capabilities of the Saudi military and the resilience of Saudi society before embarking on such a risky course. In any war dynamic between Iran and Saudi Arabia, U.S. military intervention or support would be the most decisive exogenous factor for both Riyadh and Tehran. The United States has a security commitment to Saudi Arabia, but the extent to which Washington can tolerate subtle Iranian aggression against the kingdom that falls below the threshold of conventional warfare, while potentially upending Saudi stability, is unclear.
  • Topic: Security, Military Affairs, Conflict, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Melissa Hathaway
  • Publication Date: 09-2017
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Cyber Readiness at a Glance is the ninth study in a series of country reports assessing national-level preparedness for cyber risks based on the Cyber Readiness Index (CRI) 2.0 methodology. This report provides the most in-depth analysis to date of Saudi Arabia's current cyber security posture and its efforts to strengthen the country's security and resilience in the wake of significant cyber threats to the nation.
  • Topic: International Security, Cybersecurity
  • Political Geography: Saudi Arabia
  • Author: Wael Abdul-Shafi
  • Publication Date: 04-2017
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: EastWest Institute
  • Abstract: Falling oil and gas prices and shrinking demand across global energy markets pose enormous challenges for energy exporting countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia and lead to decreasing revenues from this sector. Despite differences in the structures of their respective national economies, both countries share common challenges in adapting to this new situation. High youth unemployment rates, an underrepresentation of women in the workforce, a public sector unable to absorb the high numbers of university graduates as well as environmental degradation and pollution, all constitute major problems for both countries and their economies. But, while solving many of these issues would ideally demand bilateral cooperation, a political climate of mutual mistrust and enmity currently inhibits such a process.
  • Topic: International Political Economy, International Affairs
  • Political Geography: Iran, Saudi Arabia