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Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC]

The Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] was established in an agreement concluded on 25 May 1981 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia between: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE. These countries declared that the GCC is established in view of the special relations between them, their similar political systems based on Islamic beliefs, joint destiny and common objectives. The GCC is a regional common market with a defense planning council as well. The geographic proximity of the these countries and their general adoption of free trade economic policies are factors that encouraged them to establish the GCC.

Based on their conviction about the connected nature of their security and that an aggression against any one of them is deemed an aggression against all of them, cooperation in the military field has received the attention of the GCC states. Such conviction stems from the facts of geopolitics and faith in one destiny. Moreover, the security challenges in an unstable regional environment, like the Gulf area, imposes on the GCC States coordination of their policies and mobilization of their capabilities.

The Gulf Cooperation Council was formed in 1981 to confront their security challenges collectively. The immediate objective was to protect themselves from the threat posed by the Iran-Iraq War and Iranian-inspired activist Islamism (also seen as fundamentalism). In a series of meetings, chiefs of staff and defense ministers of the gulf states developed plans for mutual defense and launched efforts to form a joint command and a joint defense network.

All GCC states seek to manage complex relationships with Riyadh and deploy multiple tools to maintain a degree of independence of action, he noted. Saudi Arabia is a dominant actor, but none of the five other GCC member states can afford to have Riyadh being too dominant and overbearing. This necessitates strategies of hedging, bandwagoning, and balancing.

RankStateGDP [PPP]
24Saudi Arabia$ 687,700,000,000
50United Arab Emirates$ 256,500,000,000
58Qatar$ 174,900,000,000
60Kuwait$ 153,500,000,000
77Oman$ 85,000,000,000
109Bahrain$ 31,300,000,000
While rulers refer to each other as "brothers", the UAE-Saudi divergence has political repercussions from Yemen to Israel, Iran to Qatar and even Turkey. By 2020 the dynamic between Abu Dhabi's crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, and his Saudi counterpart, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was central to Middle East events. They intervened in Yemen, but the UAE's withdrawal in 2019 left the Saudi-led coalition battling the Iran-backed fighters that targeted the kingdom. Abu Dhabi increasingly advanced an independent foreign policy, forging ties with old foes like Israel and on economic recovery at home. Saudi Arabia took aim at Dubai as the Middle East's business and tourism capital with an ultimatum for international companies to move their regional headquarters to Riyadh.

Ground and air units of the six member states carried out several multilateral exercises between 1983 and 1987 under the code name of Peninsula Shield. Military assistance, funded mainly by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, was extended to Bahrain for up-to- date fighter aircraft and a modern air base, and to Oman to improve its defensive capability at the Strait of Hormuz. The GCC planned to integrate naval and ground radar systems and to create a combined air control and warning system based on Saudi AWACS aircraft. Problems of compatibility with different communication and electronic systems, however, delayed the introduction of these programs.

In 1984 the GCC defense ministers agreed on the creation of a two-brigade (10,000-man) Peninsula Shield Force. This joint intervention force was based in Saudi Arabia near King Khalid Military City at Hafar al Batin under the command of a Saudi officer. In addition to a headquarters staff, the force consisted of one infantry brigade of about 5,000 men with elements from all GCC states in 1992. Its mission, however, had not been publicly defined. It was not clear, for example, whether the joint force would have authority to intervene in a domestic emergency. The force could be enlarged at a time of threat; it was apparently reinforced prior to the Persian Gulf War in 1991 but did not take part in the war as a distinct unit.

Under a 1984 agreement within the GCC, Bahrain and Oman were to receive $ 1.8 billion in aid from richer members of the six-nation group, to build up their armed forces. But some of the states did not keep this commitment. Saudi Arabia was the only country that kept its commitment to this program. After leading Bahrain to sign agreements with the United States and European suppliers, the others then backed out of the commitment because of their own financial problems in the wake of the Gulf War and with the drop in oil prices.

StatenationalsTCN% TCN
United Arab Emirates0.98.190%
Saudi Arabia22.95.620%

In March 1991, after the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War, the six members of the GCC, together with Egypt and Syria, declared their intention to establish a deterrent force to protect Kuwait, with Egypt and Syria to provide the bulk of the troops and the GCC states to provide the financing. The plan subsequently encountered a series of setbacks. At year's end, there appeared little chance that the Arab deterrent force would be installed. In the meantime, Kuwait had succeeded in obtaining security commitments from the United States and Britain and arranged for the prepositioning of United States military equipment.

The GCC States seek to build up their defence forces according to a common conception. In this context, they have unified operational procedures, training, and military curricula. They also endeavour to accomplish compatibility of their military systems. Moreover the armed forces of the GCC States carry out joint military exercises with the Peninsula Shield Force, as well as joint air and sea manuvers.

Among the important achievements in the military field is the creation of the Peninsula Shield Force in 1982, which incorporates the credibility of the GCC will. Another important achievement was the resolution taken during Kuwait summit in 1997, which entailed to link the GCC Member States with a military communication network for early warning.

Bahrain’s Supreme Commander in Chief His Majesty King Hamad issued Royal Decree Number 18 for the year 2011 on 15 March 2011 announcing a State of National Safety in accordance with Article 36/b of Bahrain’s Constitution of 2002, which will cover all areas of Bahrain as of Tuesday March 15h 2011 for a period of three months. The commander in Chief of the Bahrain Defense force has been mandated to take the measures and procedures necessary to preserve the safety of the nation and its people; these measures will be implemented by the Bahrain Defense Force, public security forces, National Guard and any other forces if necessay.

As protests escalated in March 2011, Bahrain’s government, contrary to the advice of the Obama Administration, invited security assistance from other neighboring Gulf Cooperation Council countries. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s (BICI) report found that there was a general breakdown and deterioration in the state of safety, security, and law and order during the events in Bahrain in 2011 as elements of the protest movement crossed the threshold from peaceful protest to full blown riots It also found that groups of vandals and gangs of individuals armed with knives, swords, and other weapons were reported in many of Bahrain’s cities and villages where specific groups were targeted and were seriously assaulted.

Due to the country’s vulnerability at that point, the Peninsula Shield Force, part of the mutual agreement signed 10 October 1982 among Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC), were activated to insure the integrity of Bahrain’s territorial borders. Their operations were limited to preparing to assist the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF) against any confrontation by any foreign armed intervention and in protecting and securing vital locations in the country. Peninsula Shield Forces did not participate in any operations involving confrontations with Bahraini civilians or engage in any form of riot control. Furthermore, The Commission did not find any evidence of human rights violations committed by these units deployed in Bahrain starting on 14 March 2011.

Regarding reforms, HRH the Crown Prince’s initiative for dialogue was extended 3 days after the protest movement started, one that could have led to “significant constitutional, political and socio- economic reforms and precluded the ensuing negative consequences”. The initiative was rejected by the opposition primarily in their belief that they could achieve greater political gains from the streets. Still, the Government have always maintained and continuously reaffirmed that the door for dialogue is and will remain open for anyone genuinely seeking to move Bahrain forward.

On March 05, 2014 Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar, accusing their Gulf neighbor of interfering in their internal affairs and jeopardizing regional security. In a joint statement released on Wednesday, the three nations, which along with Qatar, Kuwait and Oman make up the Gulf Cooperation Council - or GCC - said the removals followed Doha’s failure to commit to a security agreement signed in 2013 in Riyadh. By endorsing the pact, nations vowed not to support entities that threatened the stability of the GCC. Gulf Arab states have been increasingly wary and critical of Qatar’s backing of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group accused by some of plotting to overthrow the region’s ruling monarchies.

After their competition accelerated in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, once close allies, were experiencing a very public falling out. After supporting conflicting factions in Egypt and Syria, as well as vying for dominance over the Arabic news waves, both countries seemed on the verge of plunging the Arab Peninsula into a Cold War. This has upset the allied regional dynamics that the US so carefully constructed after 2003. The security dilemma between them has become pronounced, and Saudi Arabia now looked at Qatar as a threat to its national security, just as it did Iraq over 10 years earlier. Both countries support different anti-government proxies, with Qatar supporting the Brotherhood-affiliated factions of the Syrian National Coalition while Riyadh sided with fundamentalist Salafi groups such as Jaysh al-Islam.

Qatar controls the globally recognized Al-Jazeera, while Al-Arabiya, although based in the UAE, was founded by and is funded by Saudi Arabia. These news channels are in direct competition with one another and support the policies of their protectors. The stakes are increased because each organization is very popular within the region and can influence the hearts and minds of millions.

US President Barack Obama held a summit of Gulf Cooperation Council members in May 2015. Gulf partners coming to the summit said they want to upgrade their security relationship with the United States. GCC leaders came with high hopes, but low expectations. Yousef al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador the United States, at a panel discussion in Washington, called for a stronger security relationship. "We are looking for some form of security guarantee, given the behavior of Iran in the region; given the rise of the extremist threat." He said that threat warrants formalized commitments. "In the past, we have survived with a gentleman's agreement with the United States about security. I think today, we need something in writing. We need something institutionalized."

The United States was not initiating mutual defense treaties with Gulf partners, as such agreements are a “complicated piece of business.” Any treaty or other firm legal commitment would have to be approved by a Congress wary of being legally sucked into any future conflicts in the region.

Instead, the United States would expedite its ability to provide assistance to Gulf countries to build their capacity to deal with “asymmetric threats” related to terrorism, as well as cyber, maritime and border security. The US administration said it was open to the idea of granting its GCC partners major non-NATO ally status, which would make them eligible for certain kinds of military assistance.

After meeting at Camp David on 14 May 2015, President Obama assured members of the Gulf Cooperation Council that the US will assist in the development of an early warning system for missile defense. "The United States will help conduct a study of GCC ballistic missile defense architecture and offered technical assistance in the development of a GCC-wide Ballistic Missile Early Warning system," reads a statement released by the White House.

As part of the agreement, Gulf states will consult with the US before taking military actions abroad. In return, the US will assist in the creation of a region-wide ballistic missile defense system. In this effort, Washington will fast-track arms transfers to the Gulf nations, and will send a team to the region in the coming weeks to work out the details.

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Page last modified: 19-07-2021 18:28:28 ZULU