What is GCC?
- The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a political and economic alliance of six countries in the Arabian Peninsula: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
- Established in 1981, the GCC promotes economic, security, cultural and social cooperation between the six states and holds a summit every year to discuss cooperation and regional affairs.
- All current member states are monarchies, including three constitutional monarchies (Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain), two absolute monarchies(Saudi Arabia and Oman), and one federal monarchy (the United Arab Emirates).
The GCC comprises six main branches that carry out various tasks, from the preparation of meetings to the implementation of policies. They are- Supreme Council, Ministerial Council, Secretariat-General, Consultative Commission, Commission for the Settlement of Disputes and the Secretary-General.
Role of GCC today:
Whether the GCC still has a relevant function and role in the region is questionable. Though it was created for the purpose of solidifying union ranks, the blockade imposed on Qatar by its neighbours has largely annulled these principles.
The Gulf states have in the past differed in their views on several issues that have unfolded in the region over the past two decades. The role of the GCC has also been diminishing ever since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, with the six states illustrating various approaches to the war and its consequences. This has been enhanced during the wave of protests that swept the Middle East in 2011, known as the Arab Spring. Saudi Arabia has gained a dominant role within the GCC today.
What is Persian Gulf region and why is it so significant?
The lands around the Persian Gulf are shared by eight countries- Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
- These countries are major producers of crude oil and natural gas, and thereby contribute critically to the global economy and to their own prosperity.
- The area has approximately two-thirds of the world’s estimated proven oil reserves and one- third of the world’s estimated proven natural gas reserves.
- This factor has added to their geopolitical significance.
- A considerable amount of sea trade passes through the gulf, leading to heavy traffic in the region.
Given its significance, the framework for stability and security in the region should have the following:
1. conditions of peace and stability in individual littoral states;
2. freedom to all states of the Gulf littoral to exploit their hydrocarbon and other natural resources and export them;
3. freedom of commercial shipping in international waters of the Persian Gulf;
4. freedom of access to, and outlet from, Gulf waters through the Strait of Hormuz;
5. prevention of conflict that may impinge on the freedom of trade and shipping
6. prevention of emergence of conditions that may impinge on any of these considerations.
Why this is important for India too?
- The Gulf is an integral part of India’s ‘extended neighbourhood’, both by way of geographical proximity and as an area of expanded interests and growing Indian influence.
- India is dependent on the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states for 42 per cent of its overall oil imports; three of the top five oil suppliers to India are Gulf states.
- Indians make up the Gulf states’ largest expatriate community, with an estimated 7.6 million Indian nationals living and working in the region; especially in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
- The GCC is India’s largest regional-bloc trading partner, which accounted for $104 billion of trade in 2017–18, nearly a 7 per cent increase from $97 billion the previous year. This is higher than both India–ASEAN trade ($81 billion) and India–EU trade ($102 billion) in 2017-18.
Irritants in GCC
Qatar is a major point of contention. On 5 June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with the tiny emirate.
Egypt, not part of the GCC, also joined the Saudi-led blockade. Saudi Arabia justified the move by claiming that Qatar was supporting extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and Iranian-sponsored militias in the region.
Now the gulf is widening between GCC Countries:
Oman continues to keep ties open with Qatar and Iran. The blockade made Qatar more independent in foreign policy decisions.
The cold-blooded murder of Jamal Khashoggi created ripples. The blockade last year triggered tensions among the GCC countries.
Qatar also strengthened its alliance with Turkey, which stepped in as provider of security for Doha.
And Turkey checkmated any plans that Saudis and Emiratis might have had to use force to bring the
Qatari emir down on his knees.
Saudi Arabia is upset that Oman and Kuwait did not join the embargo. Kuwait is in fact trying to mediate. Qatar stepped up assistance for Hamas in Gaza strip. It accelerated a plan to allow Turkey to set up military camp in the country.
Qatar also resisted calls to cut ties with Iran.
Level of US influence in the Middle East:
The disarray within the GCC undoubtedly calls attention to the decline of US influence in the Middle East region.
At the end of the day, the Gulf states have not paid heed to repeated US entreaties for GCC unity. Ideally, GCC should have provided today for the US strategy a strong platform for launching the regime change project against Iran.
On the contrary, GCC is split down the middle, with Qatar, Oman and Kuwait getting along just fine with Tehran.
India’s priorities in the Gulf: Energy security and Trade & Investment:
- Securing long term energy supply is of primary importance for India in the region.
- India is currently the fourth largest energy consuming country in the world and it may go up to third position in next couple of decades.
- India’s annual GDP growth at the rate of eight per cent would require further industrial growth which would demand more energy supply for the country.
- The growing energy necessity has undoubtedly dictated India’s initiative of building up a ‘strategic energy partnership’ with the region to secure long-term energy supply for the country.
- The Gulf countries look at India as a fast growing economy which holds the potential to compete with the major world economies.
- Realising the trade potential of the Gulf countries, India has entered into a negotiation with the GCC to finalise a Free Trade Agreement.
- The Gulf countries have huge potential for investing in different sectors in India as FDI for mutual benefit.
Once upon a time, it talked about a common Gulf currency and robust connectivity projects. Now, after the GCC Summit, it merely issued a customary statement. If the GCC disintegrates due to these contradictions, Saudi Arabia will be the big loser, because it will be a reflection on its regional leadership. After the summit, the GCC issued a customary statement, emphasising regional stability and economic challenges. The decision of Qatar to quit OPEC and the absence of Emir at the GCC points to increasingly confident Qatar. Intra-Gulf quarrels dampened hopes for the integration of the region.
While addressing the summit in Riyadh, the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad hit the nail on the head when he said, “The most dangerous obstacle we face is the struggle within the GCC.”