Abu Dhabi Summit: Maintaining Stability and Confronting Risks

Abdel Wahab Badrakhan: Abu Dhabi Summit: Maintaining Stability and Confronting Risks

  • 13 December 2010

The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) is now in its fourth decade. Just like the first summit in Abu Dhabi in 1981, the 31st summit of Abu Dhabi has initiated a new phase in joint Gulf cooperation. At every annual summit, however, the GCC is reminded that the progress made thus far has fallen short of the expectations and aspirations of the people of the Gulf region. More important, it is also felt that the progress has fallen short of the potential capabilities of the GCC countries.

However, the GCC has been charting a new course in recent years, particularly during the term of Secretary General of the Council Abdurrahman Attiyah, who has played a catalytic role. The Council has been concentrating on the need to spell out its strategies in different areas and on linking the phases by pursuing specific objectives. We have seen this approach in the linking of the electricity grid project as well as in the development of a Common Gulf Market among GCC states. However after 30 years, it can be said that the common Gulf market should have become a living reality or the common electricity grid should have been completed and even expanded to neighboring states like Yemen, or that a monetary union should have paved the way to greater economic integration and social stability in the region. These criticisms are justified and no one in official circles attempts to defend the delay, but reality cannot be ignored and any development can only happen at the proper time, when all elements fall in place.

There is some criticism that the Gulf reality is spurring more competition than cooperation. There are obviously sound explanations to counter this charge—the most important being that the GCC was established at a historic moment when its member states were getting ready to start their development phase. At that time, each country of the GCC had not realized its true potential, and was still trying to define its aspirations and the framework of its specific objectives. Therefore, it was natural for these countries to take time in assessing their contribution to joint projects. Understandably, these specific objectives formed different and unique priorities for each country. In any case, the prevailing idea has been that one cannot help or cooperate unless there is equal readiness among the partners for dealing on equal terms even if the criteria is different. Meanwhile, Gulf citizens have been enthusiastic about the idea of unity and integration hoping to achieve similar standards of living and development and opening up of investment between borders, and a common identity etc. All these steps are possible, if ideas are clearly spelled out and are able to overcome inherited loyalties and sensitivities.

According to these ideas, competition is not necessarily a negative trait unless it leads to the wasting of resources in the building of frail institutions that only promote individuality and exclusivity. As for enhancing cooperation, the focus has to be on sectors like education, health and environment, as this would contributes in formulating common culture, as is the case in European countries that do not have any difficulty in merging new countries into its union, with the only consideration being economic strength of the prospective members. As far as cultural standards are concerned, GCC member states have close affinity to each other that facilitates the process of mergers.

The Gulf Cooperation Council has now realized that there are certain limits to be drawn for achieving specific objectives. For this purpose, one must recognize what each country has been able to achieve through its actions because there are experiences and achievements that have resulted from these efforts. It is natural that different member states would have varying speeds. The country that has accumulated experience in one field becomes eligible to benefit the whole region, and the country that is late or works slowly for private reasons must find a way to bring its experience closer to what others have achieved. This is because one of the most important obstacles to Gulf cooperation is the divergence in legislation and development.

With the exception of the requirements of self-growth, the necessity of awareness of personal capabilities and a yearning to appear on the world map, it must be admitted for the sake of fairness that progress of the GCC has suffered because it has been a continually disturbed region. This disturbance has always interfered with its efforts to focus on development and in actualizing its cooperation projects on a stable path. The first decade of the age of the Council was affected by the fallout of the Iraq–Iran war, the second by the impact of Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and the third with outcome of the US occupation of Iraq. It is not certain whether the fourth decade would be able to evade a possible military confrontation because of Iranian nuclear program and the still unfolding crisis with big powers. Undoubtedly, these wars that were imposed on Gulf countries depleted their resources that should have been used for development. It also forced them to give greater priority to security concerns and defense requirements, instead of planning and accelerating the development of joint Gulf endeavor. Normally, when security is the main concern it slows down the process of internal transformation. Although countries of the region have been affected by regional disturbances, they have still been able to take great strides in development of infrastructure and modernization of oil production. However, necessary transformations at the political level will have to wait while the regional situation becomes clear.

The Abu Dhabi summit has shown that the scope of the GCC is starting to expand and that it is building something for the future, even if it is at a slow pace. It is noteworthy that the “Abu Dhabi Declaration” raised the crucial issue of water, which is becoming critically important by the day. Perhaps, the 15 recommendations included in the declaration provide a comprehensive picture for a collaborative solution in this regard. However, the importance of collective commitment should be emphasized here by implementing what has been agreed upon between them, because the issue cannot be neglected or delayed for long. Strategic experts are certain that water will be the major cause for future wars and conflicts, and that Gulf countries have already had their share of wars over resources. Responsible interaction as regards water resources would certainly initiate a good beginning in formulating wise policies both in energy consumption and in different development sectors.

Gulf summits are important occasions for announcement of common political positions and through them GCC countries could express their stances on all issues at the regional and international levels. The Abu Dhabi summit reiterated the GCC position on Iran’s occupation of the three UAE islands and the call for a resolution either through direct negotiations or through the arbitration of the International Court of Justice. It also put to rest the confusion caused by the Wikileaks website, when it reaffirmed the official Gulf policy over the Iranian nuclear crisis that seeks a peaceful resolution through negotiations with the “P5+1”. However, the final communiqué of the Abu Dhabi summit draws an extended map of Gulf concerns. In addition to Iran, it refers to issues related to Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan as well as the two Koreas. This underscores the need for enhancing greater solidarity among Gulf countries and to strengthen their peaceful approach.