Workshop 11 / GRM 2023
The Future of the GCC as an Institution

Regional security as a concept finds its legal basis in Chapter VIII of the Charter of the United Nations entitled “Regional Arrangements” and it included three articles “52, 53, 54”, where Article 52 stipulates that “nothing in the present Charter precludes the existence of regional arrangements or agencies for dealing with such matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security as are appropriate for regional actio ...

Regional security as a concept finds its legal basis in Chapter VIII of the Charter of the United Nations entitled “Regional Arrangements” and it included three articles “52, 53, 54”, where Article 52 stipulates that “nothing in the present Charter precludes the existence of regional arrangements or agencies for dealing with such matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security as are appropriate for regional action provided that such arrangements or agencies and their activities are consistent with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations.” According to this legal basis, many regional security organizations were established in the world, including the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), as a comprehensive regional organization that includes 6 homogeneous countries and prevents other countries from joining it. Like other regional organizations, the Cooperation Council has faced many challenges throughout its journey, including the diverging visions of academics about the Council. For instance, there are opinions that see the existence of the Council and the holding of its meetings, whether at the summit or ministerial level, does reflect the will and the necessity for the member states of the continuation of the Council as a collective self-umbrella to preserve the security of the Arabian Gulf. Another set of opinions believe that the Council has not witnessed a significant development in line with the internal transformations witnessed by the Arab Gulf states, in addition to regional and global developments. This requires a scientific discussion to answer several questions, including how to evaluate the experience of the GCC according to the criteria of the emergence and functioning of regional / sub-regional security organizations? How has the GCC responded to changes in the regional environment over four decades? Has the GCC witnessed an institutional development similar to the European Union? How was this reflected in the Council's performance on various issues? What are the priorities that the GCC has had an interest in since its inception until now? What is the impact of proposals to establish regional security formulas on the existence of the Council itself? Does the GCC have integrated strategies to confront the new security threats to the Arab Gulf states, especially cyber and maritime security threats? What is the impact of the escalation of conflict and international competition on the regional role of the GCC?

The Gulf Cooperation Council was established on May 25, 1981 and includes 6 countries: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, State of Kuwait, Sultanate of Oman, Kingdom of Bahrain, and State of Qatar. Although geographical proximity is one of the foundations for the establishment of the Council, the six countries are similar in their political, economic, and social systems, as well as share a common history. The emergence of the Cooperation Council was linked to several security threats faced by the Arab Gulf states, which motivated the common conviction of the leaders of those countries that each country alone is not able to confront these threats. Some of these threats were the success of the 1979 Iranian revolution and its principles which include exporting the revolution and the Gulf states were its first target. Another major threat was the outbreak of the Iraq-Iran war in 1980, in the desire of both sides to change the balance of power in the Arab Gulf region, which was an unprecedented challenge for the Arab Gulf states. Moreover, there was a division amongst the Arab states following the signing of the Camp David agreement between Egypt and Israel 1978. Additionally, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 at the height of the Cold War, posed a challenge to the Arab Gulf states, with the United States calling for the establishment of a military deployment force to protect oil sources and confront the influence of the Soviet Union.

Despite these threats, which reflects that security environment was the basis for the establishment of the Cooperation Council, this was not significantly reflected in the charter establishing the Council, which includes 22 articles, none of which stipulates security and defense cooperation. Article 4 of the charter stipulated the goal of coordination and integration, leading to unity in the economic and social fields. Perhaps the drafters of the charter wanted cooperation between the Arab Gulf states to adopt a gradual formula like the establishment of the European Union (the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951), starting with the economic goals up to security and defense issues.

This does not mean that security and defense cooperation was not a priority for the Arab Gulf states, but rather found its way through two mechanisms, the first: approval of the establishment of the Peninsula Shield Force in 1982, which witnessed many developments, the last of which was the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Unified Military Command to include the Peninsula Shield Force, GCC Unified Command and Control Unified Air Defense Operations Center, and the Unified Maritime Operations Center. The second: the Joint Gulf Defense agreement signed by the Arab Gulf states in 2000. It consists of 12 articles that reflect the vision of the Gulf states that the security of the Gulf is indivisible, especially the second article of that agreement entitled “Aggression and Threat,” which stipulates that “Member States consider that any attack on any of them is an attack on all of them and any threat to one of them is a threat to all of them.” It is comparable to Article 5 of the charter establishing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and Article 3 of the Gulf Agreement completes the ways to respond to the aggression against one of the Gulf states.

Military cooperation between the Gulf states has witnessed other developments, including the establishment of the Unified Maritime Operations Center in 2014, the approval of the Communications security project in 1995 and the start of its official operation in 2000, the establishment of the Cooperation Belt project in 1995 to link the operations centers of the air force and air defense in the armed forces in the GCC countries, and the first phase started at the end of 2001. Moreover, the joint military training programs were implemented periodically among the GCC states, and cooperation in the economic and social fields had a large share of that cooperation, including the Unified Economic Agreement in 1981 and the Economic Agreement in 2001.

On the institutional level, the Gulf Cooperation Council witnessed several important developments, in which the most important are two mechanisms. The first: is to provide an opportunity for the citizens of the Arab Gulf states to participate in the decision-making of the Council through the establishment of the advisory body in 1997. It consists of 30 members, 5 from each country, and specializes in providing its views on issues referred to it by the Supreme Council. The second: the establishment of a consultative summit in 1999, that is not linked to the official agenda or protocols of the annual Supreme Council summit and is a quick mechanism to discuss any developments that require an urgent meeting at the summit level for the Arab Gulf states. 

Like other regional organizations, the Gulf Cooperation Council faced many challenges, including security crises, whether faced by one of its members, such as the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the events of the Kingdom of Bahrain in 2011. There are also regional crises in which the Arab Gulf states found themselves a party to, such as the Iraq-Iran war 1980-1988 or the Yemen crisis which required a Gulf military intervention in 2015, and the Council was able to manage those crises in a way that achieves maintaining the security of its member states. These crises were a real test for the main three defense goals for any small state which are maintaining their own security, regional and international alliances, and the policy of neutrality.

At the global level, despite the establishment of the GCC, member states whether individually or on the institutional level were seeking several international partnerships aimed to achieve regional security and global security. The transformations in the international system undoubtedly have an impact on the positions of the Arab Gulf states. Moreover, there is no doubt that the Qatar crisis in 2017 was a major turning point in the course of the Gulf Cooperation Council as a regional organization. In terms of the emergence of new regional security systems, there are important variables to be taken into consideration, such as the change in the concept of the region itself, or rather the emergence of new regions with which members of the Council interact with and either influence or are influenced by them namely the conflicts in the eastern Mediterranean, and the competition in the Horn of Africa. Another important variable to be considered is the emergence of several collective mechanisms aimed at confronting threats to regional security such as the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, as well as some regional groupings such as the Council of Arab and African States bordering the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden and the Djibouti Code of Conduct to Combat Maritime Piracy. These mechanisms and alliances include some of the Arab Gulf states that are members of the Council, which raises questions about the impact of these systems on the council's endeavors as a regional security organization. 



Dr. Haila


Professor of Political Science -
Kuwait University - College of Social Sciences

Dr. Ashraf Mohamed


Director of the Strategic and International Studies Program
Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies

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