Dear Friends and Colleagues:
I wish to express my sincere gratitude to the Government of Bahrain and the International Institute for Strategic Studies for providing this timely opportunity to exchange views on such a current and important topic. Any discussion of regional security must be placed in juxtaposition to the strategic significance of the Gulf region. To assert that the Gulf region is of immense strategic importance will be stating the obvious. However, and in the context of security, we ought to remind ourselves of the essential fundamentals that contribute to this strategic vision.
Without being boastful or gleeful let me remind you that all the recent energy estimates and projections from the various international and national agencies agree on three issues regarding the Gulf region:
1. It has the largest proven reserves of oil and natural gas in the world.
2. It has the largest excess capacity for increasing current production levels.
3. Its significance as an energy supplier will actually increase for the foreseeable future.
The Gulf is an integral and crucial part of the Middle East whether it is defined narrowly or broadly. This geo-strategic region is the center of the longest lasting crisis in modern history, the Arab Israeli conflict.
I need not stress the significance of the region in the Islamic world, whose future relations with the west are of vital and critical importance to the world of today.
Add to all of that the undeniable effects of the new world order characterized by uni-polarity, economic globalization, and the emerging powers of Asia and you will appreciate how difficult it is to isolate the Gulf by prismatic view of its security.
Alas .. These various causes for the strategic significance of our region do not guarantee the achievement of security and stability. More often than not, the strategic significance of the Gulf region has caused not only fears, anxieties, and concerns to the people of the region, and even to the world at large , but also has been the stage for actual conflicts and major upheavals. Thus there is an urgent need for a collective effort aimed at developing a new and more solid framework for Gulf security. Allow me to share with you some initial remarks on that subject.
The new framework for Gulf security should realistically be based on three inter-dependent components: 1. A sub-national component; 2. A regional component; and 3. An international component.
The first component of the desired security framework for the Gulf region concerns internal developments in the countries of the region themselves. We in the region fully recognize the urgent need for comprehensive reforms in our countries with some variation in the speed of implementation depending on the individual social conditions. By comprehensive reforms I mean actual and meaningful political, economic, social and educational reforms and not merely cosmetic changes. Plans for reforms need to be prioritized and designed on a country-by-country basis meeting individual requirements. Gradual cumulative internal reforms will indeed enhance our stability and security, while implementing readily available solutions from the outside, with no regard to the particular conditions of each country, may actually threaten the very stability and security we wish to preserve.
A regional security framework that includes all the countries of the regions is the best guarantee for peace and stability in the Gulf. Such a framework should be based on four pillars: the GCC, Yemen, Iraq and Iran.
First, the current levels of political, security, and socio-economic cooperation within the GCC should increase substantially to reach a strategic cumulative mass that insures achieving a strong, coherent and unified front not affected by trivial disputes or minor misunderstandings. The GCC countries need to increase their defensive capabilities and to do so in an integrated manner that facilitates joint command and control functions and compatible operational logistics. Geography dictates that the security of the GCC countries will depend on our collective efforts to achieve these objectives rapidly. It is thus alarming to see some members of the GCC enter into separate bilateral agreements with international powers, on both the security and economic spheres, as precedence over the need to act collectively. These separate arrangements are not compatible with the spirit of the Charter of the GCC. They diminish the collective bargaining power and weaken not only the solidarity of the GCC as a whole but also each of its members in both the intermediate and long terms.
In the economic sphere, the agreements entered into are in clear violation of the GCC's economic accords and decisions. What is more important, these agreements shall impede the progressive steps needed to achieve full Gulf economic integration, such as the Gulf Common Market and the Gulf Fiscal Union. They will ultimately negatively impact the economic sectors in all GCC countries, which in turn will have dire consequences and adversely affect the GCC business community.
In the military sphere, any agreement with a third party cannot compensate or substitute for the necessity of developing the indigenous resources of the GCC.
All GCC countries need to realize that their individual and collective interests are best served by developing a clear and unified economic and security strategy and meeting the requirements of a joint and meaningful military capability as a priority. This should in no way affect any special relationships that some or any of these countries have with others.
Second, Yemen should be included in such a regional security framework for the Gulf. The Gulf cannot be separated from the rest of the Arabian Peninsula. The geographic and demographic size of Yemen should contribute positively to the maintenance of security and stability in the whole region. Yemen has developed substantial and meaningful relationships with the GCC countries which would undoubtedly make it easy to attain full membership in the GCC.
Third, a safe, stable and unified Iraq is a prerequisite if such a security framework for the Gulf is to succeed. Iraq is too vital a component of the Gulf region for us to look with equanimity upon it becoming a field for experimentation. Repeating the past colonial experiences of the early 20th century in Iraq will never work in this 21st century, as indeed they never did then.
The use of force will not guarantee the required levels of security and stability in Iraq. Rather, what is urgently needed is a process of national dialogue leading to national reconciliation and the incorporation of all segments and components of the people of Iraq in building the political future of their own country. The Iraqi-Kuwaiti Accord, which includes international guarantees, could serve as an example for similar accords between the GCC and Iran. In this constructive way Iraq can serve as a regional model.
Fourth, a friendly, prosperous, and secure Iran should play a vital role in maintaining the security of the region. To do so our Iranian friends need to come to terms with the requirements of developing high levels of political, economic, cultural and security cooperation with their neighbors based on common interests and the mutual refrain from interference in the domestic affairs of others. Regional anxieties regarding the hegemonic policies of the Shah regime should become a distant dim memory. An Iranian positive response to the calls of solving the issue of the Emirates' islands through peaceful means will go a long way in this regard. Equally helpful will be a more active participation in the war on terrorism.
I am encouraged by the increasing signs of moderation and realism in Iran's foreign policy including the latest agreement with the EU regarding the issue of enriched uranium. Iran has every right to feel secure and thus no effort should be spared regarding assuring it that no threat to its borders, territorial integrity, domestic security, or political structure will be forthcoming from any of its neighbors. Focusing only on Iran, which is a signatory to the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), while ignoring Israel, which has yet to accept the requirements of such an accord, is both ineffective and hypocritical. A unified GCC, a prosperous Yemen, a stable Iraq, and a friendly Iran would go a long way towards achieving the desired regional pillars of Gulf security.
In today's world, the lines separating internal policies from international relations are becoming increasingly blurred. Internal and external threats to our individual and collective security are often intertwined, as the threat of terrorism amply proves. International help will always be needed in this regard. We fully recognize that the Gulf region is of vital importance to the world at large. Gulf security can not be realistically separated from factors that have bearing on the international system.
In addition, the development of cooperative relations among the countries of the region themselves is dependent on each of them feeling confident and secure in its own borders, which in turn requires international guarantees. These international guarantees can not be provided unilaterally even by the only superpower in the world. They can only be provided by the collective will of the international community through a unanimous declaration by the Security Council guaranteeing the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all the countries of the Gulf and promising to act forcefully against any external threats. Following the example of the Iraqi-Kuwaiti Borders Accord, similar agreements among the countries of the Gulf should also be internationally guaranteed.
Furthermore, the international component of the suggested Gulf security framework should engage positively the emerging Asian powers as well, especially China and India.
Finally, and of equal importance, the effects of the Arab-Israeli conflict on Gulf security can not be overstressed. Any claims to the contrary derive merely from wishful thinking. An effective return to the peace process is an absolute necessity for any successful framework for Gulf security. While we fully support the concept of keeping the Gulf area free from all weapons of mass destruction, such a concept can not be achieved realistically unless it is applied to the whole Middle East region, including Israel.
Thank you for listening.