Gulf Security: European Knights or American Cowboys?

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One major challenge to whole Middle East security framework is the problem of establishing a security system in the Gulf region. The three poles that need to be balanced are Iraq, Iran and GCC Countries. The U.S. policies of balancing these actors against each other since 1971 failed after Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990....

One major challenge to whole Middle East security framework is the problem of establishing a security system in the Gulf region. The three poles that need to be balanced are Iraq, Iran and GCC Countries. The U.S. policies of balancing these actors against each other since 1971 failed after Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Indeed, the U.S. policy to harbor Iraq against Iran, not to mention political debt given by the GCC, created the current main problems ahead for having a security regime in the Gulf region. While attempting to balance Iran, the U.S. attacked to Iraq twice, in addition to economic embargo. This is something that Iranian establishment even could have dreamt about it.

The U.S. administration created an impression that the future of Gulf security rests on the U.S. will to a considerable extent. They welcome some European involvement as they fit into the U.S. goals of providing stability and security in the region. Americans try to play wise guy this time and talk much about economic development, political participation and democracy. The Gulf region seems good enough for the U.S. interests to put some investment on it. However, there is no clue that how the U.S. foreign and security policy will achieve these goals in the region.

The troublesome situation in Iraq is getting worse. No clear picture of a future Iraq is on the scene. In addition, regional countries are suspicious about the coming U.S. designs in Iraq and the tough line adopted against Sunnis. In addition, the extreme violence against the civilian population in Fallujah and other regions de-legitimizes the pro-American rules and feeds the anti-American sentiment, which is already on the rise in the region.

Another problem is the declared U.S. will to exclude Iran from any security design for a foreseeable future. This attitude is also reflected to Syria in a milder form. The exclusionary approach creates a security dilemma in between Syria and Iran, and the U.S. Some circles in the former two consider continuation of chaos and instability in Iraq as a God given chance to deter the U.S.

This time, the U.S. administration does not have much chance to establish a balance of power pitting the regional countries against each other. The GCC countries already have a number of serious security concerns over the future of Iraq and increasing regional profile of Iran. Even a democratic, best scenario Iraq is likely to create chronic problems with Kuwait and Iraq and also on a number of other issues, i.e. debt to GCC countries.

The future of region is subject to even more international involvement. There are even rumors about new international division of energy supply, namely Iran for China and India, GCC and Iraq for the U.S. and Europe. Beside these speculations, the EU is a more likely and expected actor in the region. European style of soft security measures and its focus on economic development and democratization seem more preferable than the U.S. short cut methods like military intervention.

The EU approach began to differ from the individual European countries in recent few years. The EU-Iran dialogue exemplifies how the EU can contribute to the regional security. The recent Iranian decision to freeze all uranium enrichment activities is mostly a product of the European long-sighted diplomacy toward Iran. The EU has a number of potential contributions to the region ranging from monitoring elections to restructuring education systems. In addition, the EU’s involvement will clearly provide some relief to the regional countries and international society. However, there are limits due to the weakness of European security and defense capabilities and the U.S. overstretch in the region. In this sense, the EU has not an alternative but complimentary role vis-?-vis the U.S. policies.

There is no near future optimistic scenario for the Gulf security. Interestingly, the recent high of oil prices did not contribute much in this sense. There seems no individual escape from this bleak picture through self-help methods for regional countries. Who will provide security in the region? American cowboys or European knights? If one looks at the development and mechanisms of a number of successful security systems, there may be a long term alternative. It may be Arab horseman depending on the condition that regional actors will put the civil, military, intellectual, economic and intellectual potential of the region into constructive attempt to build internal and regional security of the area.

* He is a project director in TASAM and an independent political consultant on Middle Eastern affairs and Turkey, based in Istanbul and also associate professor of international relations at Fatih University.

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