Gulf expert Kristian Coates Ulrichsen and military scholar Col. David B. Des Roches were speakers at a special symposium convened by the Arab Center, Washington DC to cover the crisis in Gulf relations. "The Future of the GCC: Regional and International Implications" took place on Wednesday, August 30 at the ACW's offices in the US capital. Introduced by Khalil Jahshan, Executive Director of the ACW, the speakers addressed how the 2017 crisis between Gulf powers, which led to the imposition of a total blockade on Qatar by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in concert with Egypt, could affect the future survival of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The meeting comes in advance of a planned September 6 visit by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, to Washington DC. The Emir has been instrumental in efforts to mediate between the Gulf states.
Ulrichsen, speaking first, gave a broad overview of the history and nature of the GCC which he pointed out "is one of the few collections of states which has survived for 36 years". Despite this, Ulrichsen added that the body had never actually been able to act as a cohesive unit on "big ticket issues", including an attempted joint currency. Instead, explained Ulrichsen, the GCC had been at its best facilitating bilateral actions between pairs of members. Ulrichsen suggested that in the past, the GCC had been able to act by seeing itself as a chain "only as strong as its weakest link" and in that way drawing on the solidarity between the various ruling families of the member states. Without offering concrete predictions of what would happen in the coming months, Ulrichsen did say that the unprecedented vitriol aimed against Qatar would be difficult to walk away from for the governments in question.
Col. Des Roches then delivered an address on the role of US weapons sales to the Gulf states as a determinant of relations between the two sides. Pointedly, Des Roches began by playing down the influence of weapons sales to the Gulf countries on the American approach to the region. This is significant to the wider theme given that many observers had viewed the announcement of arms sales to the Gulf states during a visit by US President Donald Trump to Riyadh in the weeks before a coordinated breakoff of relations by four Arab states with Qatar as emboldening Saudi Arabia and the UAE to victimize Qatar. In contrast, Des Roches described the convoluted system for US decision-making at the national level as making "economic determinism" in terms of the sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia and others in bringing Washington to the anti-Qatar side. Des Roches contended that the "diffuse" nature of decision-making in American politics and the political oversight of foreign weapons sales meant was an "irrational" system, effectively incapable of bringing foreign policy initiatives in line with trade deals. Equally, added the high-ranking officer, the Lilliputian attacks against Qatar by the United Arab Emirates and others had served to undo the efforts of the Gulf states to present themselves as reliable, modern states; instead of "little Sparta", a reference to how the Emirates positioned itself as a strong and capable ally in war, the Gulf states now appeared in Washington "like tribes".
To watch a complete video recording of the meeting, please click here or on the link above.
To download a PDF version of the booklet Khalil Jahshan introduced during the talk, please click here.