Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

New Dimensions of Future Security in the Gulf

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

New Dimensions of Future Security in the Gulf

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The Gulf region has particular significance in international politics. One reason is oil: The region has more than 60% of the world's oil reserves (British Petroleum, Company, 1994). Another reason is its site as a link between the West and the Near East giving it geographical and strategic significance. The Gulf area is a bridge between the Middle East and three continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Events in the 1980s and early 1990s have magnified the region's role at the international level. Although some of the Gulf countries have experienced internecine wars during this time, the area has also seen overt military intervention by the West to maintain the balance of powers. Even after the dramatic end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Communist system, and the protracted role of Western armed forces in directing international politics, the Gulf area is and will be a major subject of interest on the new world order agenda.

No part of the world is as strategically and economically significant as the Gulf region, and it is sensitive to both internal and external changes. Thus, Gulf security is always a pressing issue. The region is susceptible to constant danger regardless of the new world order or the regional balance of power (Cordesman, 1993). Complicating matters even more is the internal structure of the Gulf countries. Within the last two decades, the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have begun to witness changes and waves of modernity. These changes - social, political, and economic - reflect interactions with foreign nations and cultures.

The most critical and complicated period the region has experienced has been the years since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, coupled with the radical changes in the rest of the world. With the advent of the new century, careful attention and planning is required to meet these challenges if the region is to continue to prosper in peace.

Threats and challenges are not new, but the present ones combine traditional as well as novel elements. External threats are constant, though not always from the same source. These may be attempts at expansion from strong but poorer neighbors or attempts by others to compete for investment in regional resources, or regional conflict over hegemonic leadership. These threats existed to some degree before the discovery of oil, due to the region's strategic location, but intensified in the period after World War II as a result of the Cold War between the major world powers and the Arab-Israeli conflict. These changes have managed to polarize the Middle East and the Gulf area into two world camps. As a region that lacked political experience and sophistication until recently, the Gulf used to be controlled from abroad or by greater powers. Moreover, the countries of this region did not surface as independent political entities until recent times.

Most Gulf countries have been independent for only about two decades. The exceptions are Kuwait, which gained independence in 1961, and Saudi Arabia, which was united by King Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud in 1926. The poor economic status and standard of living in these states changed radically after the two oil revolutions in the middle and late 1970s when the people found themselves with enormous wealth. This phenomenon transformed their nomadic and restricted existence into prosperity. These changes have had an impact on the social and political infrastructure of these countries in terms of their openness to the world, globalization, and acquisition of new culture that affected especially their intelligentsia. The wealth of the Gulf countries was among the greatest in the world in terms of savings and social, educational, and health care services.

This halcyon condition is changing, however. The dream of security, prosperity, and stability for all faded with the Iranian Islamic Revolution and the Iraq-Iran war. In the mid-1980s, oil prices began falling. …

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