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The Gulf Cooperation Council Turns 31 – Part 4 – A Question of Union
Published: May 31, 2012
Today we present part four from the “Gulf Cooperation Council at 31: Implications of Trends and Indications for GCC and US Interests,” a symposium presented last week in Washington, DC, by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations.
In his presentation Mr. Joshua Yaphe, Arabian Peninsula analyst of the U.S. State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research, examines questions around the current push within the GCC to establish a single, “EU like” entity following last December’s proposal by King Abdullah. He looks at the conditions surrounding the creation of the GCC 31 years ago and compares them to the current situation facing the member states.
Additional reports from the symposium are at the links below with the remainder of the presentations appearing separately over the course of this week.
The Gulf Cooperation Council at 31: Implications of Trends and Indications for GCC and US Interests (Part 4 – Joshua Yaphe) – A Question of Union
Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
May 24, 2012
[Mr. Joshua Yaphe] Thank you very much, Dr. Anthony. It’s an honor to be up here on stage with you and these wonderful speakers who did an excellent job so far. And I would agree with everything they’ve said.
At the GCC summit a little less than two weeks ago, as you may have read in the newspapers, there was an announcement that they may at some point explore the idea this year of a union. It’s not clear quite what that means. The idea that gets tossed around is some sort of a confederation that would involve greater integration than currently exists in the GCC.
A lot of newspapers and commentators expected that there would be an announcement of a sort of preliminary confederation of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and maybe exploration of greater integration down the road, but that’s not exactly what happened. What happened was Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal, Prince Saud Al-Faisal made the announcement that they’ll continue to study the idea of a GCC union and perhaps at the next summit they will revisit the idea once they have had more time to consider this.
He made a number of other statements and what you had, though, in spite of this measured and tempered approach to such a concept, what you had was a very vocal reaction on the streets, the streets in Iran and certainly among some protestors in Bahrain and some Iraqi Shia politicians all certainly felt that this was a slight to the public in Bahrain. Although if you read the Bahraini newspapers you find there are multiple opinions that this is not entirely viewed upon negatively by the Bahraini people or certainly not the Bahraini government which supported this idea. So there are mixed opinions on different sides regarding that matter. But it was certainly a heated debate and a heated issue and there were enough differing viewpoints in the newspapers about what this means, where this leads to that it’s worth exploring. I think it’s worth mentioning and discussing even if nothing comes of it in the foreseeable future.
It prompted a couple of questions from colleagues of mine in the [State Department] building as to what were the conditions 31 years ago that created the GCC the first time around? What is similar and what is different today. So I thought it would be interesting to go back to some of the analysis and commentaries from 1980-1981 when this was first being discussed and what you find is a very nuanced version of events. As Molly [Williamson] said earlier Iran, and the Iran-Iraq war, was certainly a primary concern on everyone’s minds. Iran then as now posed a number of dangers and threats to the region and the war was certainly a problem for everyone in the Gulf.
Mr. Joshua Yaphe serves as the Arabian Peninsula analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the U.S. Department of State. He is responsible for research and analysis of political, economic, military and cultural issues related to the Arabian Peninsula with a special emphasis on Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. He also serves as the State Department’s liaison with the intelligence community on these countries, and contributes to the work of the Department by providing an institutional memory on these issues.
Before assuming this position in 2009, Mr. Yaphe served as the Strategic Planning Officer in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Ms. Yaphe has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Cincinnati, and Master’s Degrees in a variety of subjects from the University of Oxford, Harvard University, and the George Washington University.