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When it comes to discussing a particular geopolitical issue, it represents the matter of crucial importance to be able to understand the concerned issue’s discursive aspects. In my paper, I will aim to explore the validity of this statement, in regards to what accounts for the qualitative significance of GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries’ reaction to the Iranian Nuclear Program, as such that that is being capable of undermining the strategic balance of powers in the Persian Gulf region.
I will also elaborate on the significance of an ongoing confrontation between GCC and Iran, as such, that illustrates the legitimacy of the assumption that in today’s world, the actual meaning of geopolitical developments is best discussed within the context of ‘civilization’ vs. ‘barbarianism’.
Even a glance at the GCC spokespersons’ public statements, in regards to the Iranian Nuclear Program, suggests that the attitude of the Gulf States towards this program can be best defined as being rather ambivalent. For example, according to the Saudi crown prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, “Iran must be wise in the way it develops its nuclear program so that it would remain for peaceful purposes” (Kahwaji, 2006, p. 1).
This, of course, implies that GCC members are indeed worried over the growth of Iranian nuclear capacities. As Lippman, Vatanka, and Mattair (2011) noted, “GCC leaders are concerned to various degrees that Iran poses a serious offensive conventional military threat, and they all take note of Iran’s regular military exercises in and around the Gulf” (p. 10). On the other hand, however, many high-ranking officials, representing the Gulf States, find it fully appropriate to come up with statements that seemingly support Iran’s nuclear aspirations, as such that reflect the political will of the Iranian people.
A particularly good example, which confirms the legitimacy of this suggestion, is Shaikh Khalid’s (GCC ministerial committee chairman) most recent reaction to the Iranian Nuclear Program, “Iran’s nuclear plans are high risk to the whole region at the moment, but we have nothing against them possessing this energy for peaceful uses… We don’t see Iran’s nuclear program necessarily as a military threat” (Kerr, 2012, p. 11). This, of course, poses many political observers with the challenge of identifying the GCC’s actual stance on the subject matter.
Yet, there is nothing too incomprehensible in how GCC states position themselves, in regards to the Iranian Nuclear Program, as the specifics of their positioning, in this respect, reflect today’s demographic, cultural, religious and economic dynamics in the region, and also the fact that, as of today, America’s role in the arena of international politics becomes progressively weakened. First, it is important to understand that the significance of the Iranian Nuclear Program (whatever peaceful it may be) cannot be discussed outside of Iran’s aspirations to promote the concept of an ‘Islamic statehood’ in just about every Arab country with a considerable share of Shiites in its population.
This, of course, naturally causes GCC states to regard Iran with suspicion because according to the statistical data, there are many citizens in these countries, capable of acting as Iran’s ‘agents of influence’. As Oktav (2011) pointed out, “Currently, the world Shiite population is estimated at 160-200 million. The estimate for the Arab Shiite population is around 14 million in the Persian Gulf littoral states. Around 50 percent of the area’s oil reserves are located in the Shiite regions” (p. 138).
This, of course, creates objective preconditions for the Gulf States to perceive Iran in terms of a geopolitical enemy. In its turn, this also explains why during recent years, the relationship between Israel and GCC members was brought to a qualitatively new level, reflected by the fact that, as of today, many governmental officials from the Gulf States have grown to regard the continual existence of Israel, as being crucial to ensuring these states’ security.
After all, there can be few doubts that, in case Iran does decide in favor of attacking any of its neighbors, Israel will be willing to promptly retaliate. In this respect, the GCC’s current attitude towards Israel can be well outlined alongside the famous saying ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ – quite contrary to what appears to be the attitude towards this country, on the part of the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world.
Essentially the same can be said about the GCC’s relationship with the US. This is because this country’s military presence in the Persian Gulf (in Saudi Arabia alone, there are twelve American military bases) is probably the most important factor, which contributes to the maintenance of a status quo in the region. Therefore, there is nothing particularly odd about the fact that contrary to the GCC’s officially proclaimed ‘neutrality’, in regards to the present conflict between the US and Iran, concerned with the Iranian Nuclear Program, the Gulf States de facto agenda, in this respect, appears to be even more radical than that of the US.
According to Esfandiary, Fakhro, and Wasser (2011), “In a 2008 cable published by WikiLeaks in late 2010, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia exhorted U.S. diplomats to ‘cut off the head of the snake’ – a reference to U.S. military strikes against Iran” (p. 124). The apparent irony of this situation is the fact that, while being objectively interested in supporting Western powers in just about all of their geopolitical undertakings in the Gulf, as the actual key to ensuring the stability of their regimes, GCC rulers have no choice but to formally affiliate themselves with the ‘Muslim cause’. For example, the Gulf States never ceased calling for the withdrawal of Israeli troops out of the occupied Palestinian territories.
The reason for this is apparent – even though that ordinary citizens in the Gulf States do enjoy very high standards of living (as for this part of the world), the overwhelming majority of them nevertheless remains critical of the Gulf rulers’ continual association with the West. This, of course, provides Iran with yet another tool of a ‘political leverage’ in the Gulf States, which this country perceives to be only formally independent geopolitical entities.
This explains the earlier mentioned ‘ambivalence’ of the GCC’s attitudes towards the Iranian Nuclear Program. On the one hand, the Gulf States are being objectively interested in having Iran subjected to military intervention, but on the other, they continue calling for a ‘peaceful’ solution of the situation, while trying not to alienate the Muslim world even further. Can this be seen as proof of the GCC’s ‘double-facades’? In the formal sense of this word – yes.
However, if we take a closer look at the issue, it will appear that the GCC’s stance, in regards to the Iranian Nuclear Program, is being thoroughly justified. The rationale for such our suggestion can be outlined as follows:
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Just as is being the case with Iran, GCC countries are oil-rich. Yet, whereas, the population of Iran accounts for 75 million, the combined population of GCC countries accounts for only 50 million. What it means is that that there are objective prerequisites for the living standards in GCC countries to be considerably higher, as compared to the living standards in Iran. The reason for this is apparent – the lesser is the number of a particular country’s citizens, the greater are their chances to benefit from what happened to be this country’s GNP. And, according to the laws of history, the higher is the quality of people’s lives, the lesser is their likelihood to remain strongly religious.
The validity of this statement can be illustrated in regards to the fact that, as of today, in European countries that feature the world’s highest standards of living (Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Norway), the estimated number of committed Christian believers accounts for only 1%-2% (Barber, 2001). Thus, it can be well be suggested that the notion of a secularized/high-quality living is being synonymous with the notion of civilized living. Because, as of today, GCC countries (except Saudi Arabia) are being considered the most secularized in the whole Muslim world, it will not be much of an exaggeration to suggest that, in the Gulf, these countries (along with Israel) represent ‘civilization’.
In its turn, Iran (where the law of Sharia defines just about every aspect of public life) represents ‘barbarianism’. Because the proper functioning of GCC countries’ economies almost completely depends upon the continuous exploitation of natural resources (oil and natural gas), it implies that these countries’ rulers are being objectively interested in preventing an uncontrolled growth of populations.
The lesser is the number of citizens, the greater is their share of the national wealth and consequently – the higher is the extent of their loyalty to those in charge of distributing this wealth. Therefore, there is nothing particularly odd about the fact that, for example, in UAE only 25% out of all the people that reside in this country are being endowed with citizenship, with the rest of them being nothing but just temporal workers or tourists/investors.
However, there is also a downside to this – because of their small populations, GCC countries simply cannot afford to play a de facto independent role in the region’s geopolitical arena. According to Cordesman (2009), “Iran’s army has a total manpower of more than 540,000, compared to a combined GCC total of 176,500” (p. 15). Hence, the earlier mentioned ‘ambivalence’ of the GCC countries’ official stance on the Iranian Nuclear Program – these countries simply strive to ensure that they do not sink in the sea of ‘barbarianism’, which surrounds them.
Adopting a strongly defined negative stance towards the Iranian Nuclear Program would hardly prove beneficial, in this respect, as it may provoke Iran to decide in favor of GCC countries, as the primary targets of its nuclear attacks. However, turning a blind eye on this Program would prove just as counterproductive, for the above-specified reasons. Therefore, it will only be logical to expect that the GCC states’ reaction to the Iranian Nuclear Program will continue to remain just as ‘ambivalent’ in the future.
I believe that the deployed line of argumentation, in regards to what should be considered the discursive significance of the GCC officials’ public statements, concerned with the Iranian Nuclear Program, is fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis.
Barber, N. (2011). A cross-national test of the uncertainty hypothesis of religious belief. Cross-Cultural Research, 45 (3), 318-333.
Cordesman, A. (2009). Iranian weapons of mass destruction: The broader strategic context. Washington: Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Esfandiary, D., Fakhro, E. & Wasser, B. (2001). Obstacles for the Gulf States. Arms Control Today, 41 (7), 22-25.
Kahwaji, R. (2006). GCC states fear Iranian nuke, regional war. Defense News, p. 1.
Kerr, S. (2012). Practical challenges before noble aims for Gulf states. Financial Times, p. 11.
Lippman, T., Vatanka, A. & Mattair, T. (2001). A reawakened rivalry: The GCC vs. Iran. Middle East Policy, 18 (4), 1-24.
Oktav, O. (2011). The Gulf States and Iran: A Turkish perspective. Middle East Policy, 18 (2), 136-147.