Turkey-GCC Relations: Is There a Future?

By Baskan, Birol | Insight Turkey, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Turkey-GCC Relations: Is There a Future?


Baskan, Birol, Insight Turkey


According to different estimates, between 36 and 40 percent of the world oil reserves and between 22 and 23 percent of the world natural gas reserves are under the control of six states comprising the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and UAE (Table 1). While only less than 0.6 percent of the world population, around 36 million, live in these countries in conditions above world standards, more than 20 percent of the world population, around 1.6 billion, live in their immediate geographical vicinity -India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and Yemenin conditions below world standards (Table 2). For example, GDP per capita levels among the GCC countries range from the lowest 14,031 $ in Oman to the highest 64,193 $ in Qatar, in terms of purchasing power parity. However, in the latter group, GDP per capita levels range from 284 $ in Eritrea to 4,028 $ in Iran, in terms of purchasing power parity.

The extreme concentration of wealth in a few hands in the middle of an area heavily populated and marked by poverty constitutes the essence of the Gulf's security problems. In such an environment the neighboring states may develop strong predatory incentives, as the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait made it painfully clear. Furthermore, five smaller GCC states, -Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE,--also have to guard their independence in the face of a much more populous Saudi Arabia.

Complicating the situation further, the GCC countries are not well endowed with necessary state capacities to combat these threats. The Gulf state institutions are often paralyzed by various factors, such as tribalism, widespread nepotism and corruption, as well as the lack of human capital. Hence, they are heavily dependent on expatriates in staffing state institutions. As a result, the GCC countries rely on domestic and international patronage, diplomacy, and more importantly, the protection of a super power in order to solve their security problem.

The literature on the issue of security in the Gulf is ever-growing. (1) This paper aims to contribute to this literature by addressing a question, largely neglected by both international and regional analysts. Can Turkey play a role in the Gulf's future security architecture? (2) I argue that Turkey can make critical contributions to security in the Gulf. As the most likely regional hegemonic power in the near future, Turkey can help build institutional mechanisms to solve potential crises, thus alleviating the security dilemma of the GCC states vis-a-vis Iraq and Iran. Under the present government, Turkey is signaling its intention to serve such a role. However, I argue, Turkey still lacks the necessary resources to play that role. To do so, Turkey needs to develop a numerically and technologically superior military power, form an effective international intelligence gathering system, and turn itself into a major energy transit road connecting the GCC states, Iraq and Iran with the European energy market.

In the next section, I take a look at the security problem in the Gulf and discuss how Turkey can help the GCC states address it. In the final section I will present Qatar as a typical case among the GCC states to illustrate the Gulf's general security problem and the ways the GCC states tackle it.

Gulf Security Architecture

Security in the Gulf almost exclusively and heavily depends on the willingness of the United States to keep a strong military presence in the Gulf and wage, if necessary, costly wars against the aggressors. The problem with this situation is at least four-fold. First, the uni-polar world dominated by the US is slowly, but recognizably, giving way to a multi-polar world, which will possibly be dominated by, in addition to the US, China, Russia, India, and probably the EU. It is thus more advisable for the GCC states to keep a healthy distance from all sides in this global shift of power. …

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