In light of the new political realities affecting the Gulf today, mainly with regard to the relationship between the United States and Iran, it is vital to think of new and different mechanisms to repair the security situation in the Gulf. In so doing, it is worthwhile taking into consideration the experience of Europe with the Helsinki process.
The Helsinki Final Act was adopted at the conclusion of the Conference on Security Cooperation in Europe on August 1, 1975. Thirty-five states from the western and socialist camps committed to the Conference’s declaration, including the United States and the Soviet Union. The Conference’s meetings had begun in September 1973 and continued throughout July 1975 and were attended by the secretary-general of the United Nations, the director-general of UNESCO, and the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.
In light of the new political realities affecting the Gulf today, mainly with regard to the relationship between the United States and Iran, it is vital to think of new and different mechanisms to repair the security situation in the Gulf.
The most important section of the Final Act concerned security assurances in Europe. European states agreed to respect each other’s autonomy, rights, and borders and to refrain from threatening others with use force, opting instead to settle disputes peacefully. They also promised not to interfere in each other’s domestic affairs. The Helsinki Final Act also called for respect for all human rights and liberties, including the freedoms of thought, conscience, religion, or belief. In addition, the Helsinki Final Act stressed the importance of cooperation among nations and the building of mutual trust, underlining the importance of dialogue among civilizations and encouraging the teaching of foreign languages in order to promote better understanding.
An analysis of the articles of the 34 year-old Helsinki Accords show the potential that creative diplomacy has in laying the foundation for a new world order. The signing of the declaration saw a world ready to handle the challenges of globalization with transparency at a time when suspicion and conspiracy theories abounded. Moreover, the participating nations managed to overcome Cold War attitudes and ideological differences and laid the foundations for a new era of mutual cooperation and joint security that remains a standard for all nations. The “new spirit” that President Obama is trying to embody in his current policies is not too far from the Helsinki’s Act principles.
The people of the Gulf have suffered through multiple wars in the last few decades. These wars not only exhausted the resources of many countries but also affected public attitudes. With regard to the Iran issue, two factors shape the relations between the United States and Iran today. First are the strategic gains Iran clearly accrued as a result of the American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. Second is the soft language of diplomacy that President Obama has adopted towards Muslims in general and toward the region’s states in particular―although this language has yet to be translated into actions.
Before all parties sit at one table and attempt to overcome hatred and mistrust, they need to confront a series of obstacles that, if left unaddressed, risk increasing mutual suspicion. The first issue that must be discussed openly is whether or not all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), particularly the smaller nations, consider themselves to be a single actor that reflects the joint hopes of their peoples. Can GCC states effectively participate in establishing the wanted security structure in the Gulf that includes Iran as well as the six GCC members led by Saudi Arabia? The second issue that must be addressed is Iraq’s emergence from its current position and the building of a strong Iraqi state that aims to have a positive influence over joint security and prosperity in the region.
Can GCC states effectively participate in establishing the wanted security structure in the Gulf that includes Iran as well as the six GCC members led by Saudi Arabia?
The third and most important issue is Iran, and how it can become a positive contributor to the Gulf’s development and stability, which is in the Iranian people’s ultimate interest. There is no doubt that some of Iran’s positions concerning resistance to Israel have been viewed positively by many in the region. However, in reality, Iran’s positive influence, especially in the Gulf, has been limited because of the existing internal divisions in the country, particularly between officials who act with the interest of the state in mind and those who act in the name of the revolution. This polarization leads to contradictory statements and policies that raise suspicion in the Gulf and the Arab world about Iranian aspirations. In the final analysis, however, Iran has not caused the Arab world harm in the same way that the Saddam Hussein regime had done.
An organization for regional security and cooperation in the Gulf cannot handle such complex issues directly on its own, as there are other influential parties that must also participate. A Gulf security organization will have to cooperate with the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the three Asian powers: Japan, China, and India. In addition, the Arab League must play a role—under Egypt’s leadership, Yemen’s and Jordan’s participation, and Syria’s renewed positive role. Equally important is the participation of the Organization of the Islamic Conference with Turkey’s growing strategic role, in addition to Pakistan and Afghanistan, given the influence their situations have on the region. The United Nations and its specialized agencies can help prepare for this conference as it did for the Conference on Security Cooperation in Europe.
It is important to note that attempting to exclude Egypt from any equation in the Middle East―in this case the Gulf equation―will not lead to balance. Perhaps the new Arab generation does not realize, based on its superficial and limited experiences, the depth of Egypt’s leading role in the Arab world. This leading role will continue—if anything, history’s facts and geography will preserve Egypt’s importance. Arabs’ and Muslims’ appreciation for Egypt’s sacrifices is a matter of principle and loyalty before anything else.
It is time to think about the mechanism for establishing an Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Gulf, to contribute positively to the anticipated American–Iranian thaw, and to participate in the dialogue.
It is time to think about the mechanism for establishing an Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Gulf, to contribute positively to the anticipated American–Iranian thaw, and to participate in the dialogue. It is necessary to know the dialogue’s conditions, and to not be afraid of a U.S.–Iranian deal, as long as such a deal is not made behind closed doors. Such a deal would be a grave strategic mistake.
In the Gulf, Bahrain has already taken the initiative in exploring a collective security arrangement through the series of conferences known as the “Manama Dialogues,” which are attended by the various stakeholders. This series offers a good basis for launching this vital project.
Dr. Mohammed Jabber Al-Ansari is a writer from Bahrain and dean of the College of Higher Studies, Arab Gulf University, Bahrain.