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United Arab Emirates

Collective Security under the Gulf Cooperation Council


Rulers of the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council pose for a photograph.
Courtesy Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman, Washington

The six Persian Gulf states of the Arabian Peninsula-- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE--formed the GCC in May 1981 with the aim of "co-ordination, integration, and co-operation among the member-states in all fields." Although none of the committees initially established dealt with security, the final communiqué of the first meeting affirmed the will and the intention of the signatories to defend their security and independence and to keep the region free of international conflicts. Four months later, the chiefs of staff of the armed forces of the six member states met to discuss regional military cooperation. The immediate objective was to protect themselves from the dangers posed by the Iran-Iraq War and the political violence associated with revolutionary Islamism. In a series of meetings over the years, the defense ministers and chiefs of staff devoted numerous sessions to the improvement of military cooperation and the creation of a joint command and joint air defense mechanisms. Managing their common security challenges collectively has made progress in some areas, but little in others. Creation of a fully integrated air defense system was far from a reality as of early 1993. The GCC states have not realized plans to develop an arms production capacity, although they have launched a new effort to revive an earlier arrangement with Egypt to create a pan-Arab weapons industry.

Political differences among GCC members have been the main obstacles to placing gulf defense on a collective rather than on a bilateral basis, even in such matters as achieving interoperability of equipment and cooperating in training, logistics, and infrastructure. The GCC experienced delays in reaching agreement to cooperate in internal security matters because Kuwait, the chief target of terrorism, feared that its relatively liberal domestic security regime might be impaired. Until Kuwait agreed to a GCC agreement in late 1987, Saudi Arabia and several other members of the GCC coordinated their efforts bilaterally, including the exchange of equipment, expertise, and training; the extradition of criminals; and the interception of border infiltrators. GCC members have adopted parallel policies on deportation and travel restrictions and share information on suspected terrorists and plots.

Ground and air units of the six member states have carried out small-scale combined training exercises. Military assistance, provided mainly by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait under GCC auspices, has enabled Bahrain to modernize its stock of combat aircraft and Oman to improve its air and sea defenses around the Strait of Hormuz. In 1984 GCC defense ministers agreed to create the Peninsula Shield force and base it at Hafar al Batin in Saudi Arabia, about sixty kilometers south of the Kuwaiti border. Under the command of a Saudi general, the unit consists of one Saudi brigade and a composite brigade with token personnel from the other states.

The limited reaction of the GCC to the August 2 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait exposed its weakness when faced with direct aggression against a member of the alliance by a much stronger power. The GCC immediately condemned the Iraqi action, but when GCC defense ministers met three weeks later, they could only agree on strengthening the Peninsula Shield force. During the Persian Gulf War, national contingents deployed separately as units of Arab task forces.

At the conclusion of the war on March 3, 1991, the six members of the GCC, along with Syria and Egypt, met in Damascus to agree on the establishment of a permanent security force to protect Kuwait against future aggression. Syria and Egypt were to contribute troop contingents on a reimbursable basis. The Damascus Agreement soon unraveled when differences emerged over the desirability of a long-term Egyptian and Syrian presence in the gulf. However, Egypt and Syria remain committed under the agreement to send military aid to Kuwait and the other gulf states if a threat arises.

Kuwait subsequently negotiated defense cooperation agreements with the United States, Britain, and France as an additional form of security if its borders were again threatened (see Kuwait: Background , this ch.). At a GCC meeting in late 1991, Oman proposed that the six GCC members develop a 100,000-strong joint security force under a unified military command. The Omani plan was set aside after other defense ministers questioned whether the manpower target was attainable and whether administrative and procedural problems could be overcome. The consensus of the ministers was that the Peninsula Shield force should be the nucleus of a unified army, the realization of which might be many years in the future.

Data as of January 1993

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