GULF (NON) COOPERATION COUNCIL

The increasingly taut Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) finds itself in a state of crisis, the likes of which haven’t been seen in decades. Political issues between the predominantly Sunni Middle Eastern powers, that have always existed beneath the surface, have now erupted – much like Christopher Hitchens did every time he heard the words, “Intelligent Design”. Of all things good and/or bad (depending upon your view of the rather capricious US President) that have followed Donald Trump’s election to the White House, this most definitely is the development which could have the most enduring consequences on a global level.

So, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain decided a few weeks ago to cut diplomatic ties with their enormously rich neighbour, and fellow member of the GCC, Qatar, for alleged regional meddling. Among the many allegations levelled at Qatar is that, through Al Jazeera – a channel owned and funded by the relatively tiny but deceptively wealthy nation, it has been instigating the people of the region to push for democratic reforms and overthrow authoritarian monarchies. It is widely accepted that Al Jazeera was one of the primary catalysts behind the Arab Spring. It has also been alleged that Qatar funds and supports terrorist groups, such as Al-Nusra, in the Middle East. The Qataris, on the other hand, accuse the opposing side of subverting the terms of the GCC, and the UN Charter, by taking unilateral action against them based on unfounded and malicious claims.

Now, the Qataris can’t be absolved of some of their questionable actions. Even the most loyal viewers of Al Jazeera would concede that some of their journalism is disruptive, and rather slanted. (While encouraging people to overthrow a monarchy and push for democracy is a noble act, it looks abysmally hypocritical when one realizes that Qatar itself is a monarchy.) Additionally, there have been well-documented attacks against free speech in Qatar, such as the imprisonment of poet Mohamed Rashid al-Ajami in 2011 for insulting the emir of Qatar in one of his writings. Furthermore, the Qataris have in the past refused to support international sanctions against certain terrorist organizations. In spite of this, though, one is tempted to side with the Qataris in this political tussle due to several reasons. To begin with, Saudi Arabia, the de-facto leader of the protesting faction, is arguably one of the world’s leading sponsors of terror groups. It is widely believed to have funded many terrorist organizations over the years in an attempt to spread its Wahabi ideology. Add to that its grossly illiberal laws, particularly with regard to women, and its medieval punishments, including beheadings, and Saudi Arabia doesn’t look like a country that can claim to hold the moral high ground in this, or any other type of international dispute.

Ever since a land and air blockade was imposed on Qatar, it has come to be viewed as a country that is being bullied by its relatively more powerful neighbours to submit to unjustified demands – one of which is seen as a direct attack on free speech – the call to shut down the Al Jazeera network. Not only has Qatar been able to subsist during this difficult time (with considerable help from Turkey), it has come closer to Iran – which comes as a big blow to Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni-dominated nations of the region. In the short run, at least, Saudi Arabia’s plan to corner Qatar seems to have backfired. Following the poor decision to get his kingdom involved in the seemingly endless war in Yemen, the new Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, along with his father, seems to have made another mistake in foreign policy. After Donald Trump chose Saudi Arabia as his first international destination as POTUS, and spoke openly against Qatar’s alleged funding to terrorists, King Salman was probably emboldened into taking this harsh step against Qatar. He may have felt that with the Americans on his side, he could get Qatar to submit to his demands. He forgot one little thing though – America’s under-fire President alone does not call the shots on their foreign policy.

Advertisements

INSECURITY – HOW IT SHAPED THE WORLD

Over the last century, the world has seen a number of significant events unfold. Far too many have taken place, for all of them to be listed here. The First World War, the Holocaust, the Second World War, the Cold War, the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, and the invasion of Iraq by Uncle Sam are just a few of the important, and unfortunate events that took place in the 20th century.

All of these events are related to each other. The political intricacies and reasons behind these events can be discussed until the cows come home. However, all of these events can be considered to have been caused by one thing, a deep sense of insecurity among the political leaders of that time. Let’s take a look at each one of them.

Several political, economic and territorial causes led to the commencement of the First World War. The arms race in the preceding years, unresolved territorial disputes, military tension, and colonial rivalry, all played a role. It would not be possible for me to list down and dissect each and every cause of the war. In spite of having differing views on what led to the war, most prominent historians would agree that the misunderstandings that existed among some countries at the time played a key role in bringing about this war of epic proportions. During the 1910’s, due to a number of reasons, some actual and some “perceived”, tensions were running high in Europe. The increasing sense of insecurity among the world powers of the time was palpable. They felt that, in order to protect their ‘Strategic Interests’ (a word that is thrown around even today, each time a country does something inexplicable), they needed to act before their adversaries. The growing opinion among them was that if they did nothing then they would stand to lose to those who did. Things happened, big decisions were made and bam – the First World War had begun. Did the assassination of Franz Ferdinand finally break the camel’s back? It probably did. But the objective of this post is not to discuss such “technicalities”.

The Holocaust is among the most tragic events that the world has ever seen. Adolf Hitler, together with his Nazi allies, tortured and killed millions of Jews in Germany and German-occupied territories. Hitler hated the Jews. He was suffering from a “Superior Race” syndrome. However, Israeli historian and scholar Yehuda Bauer is of the opinion that the Holocaust was triggered because of some Germans living in “an illusionary world of Nazi imagination, where an international Jewish conspiracy to control the world was opposed to a parallel Aryan quest.” Hmm… How can we sum up this view in one word? Oh, I know! Sheer Insecurity! Okay, that’s two words, but you get the point.   

What led to the Second World War? The answer to this question is very simple – a gazillion reasons that can’t be discussed at length here. However, what is certain is that the overly aggressive policy of the Germans, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, made other powerful countries of the time feel “insecure”. They knew that they would need to act in order to keep the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany in check. In his attempt to further the dominance of Germany in the region, Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland. The rest, as they say, is history. The Second World War began, led to a lot of carnage and ultimately, effected changes in the world that can be seen to this day. The most important among them was the formation of the United Nations.

Now, let’s take a moment to look at the Cold War between Uncle Sam and the Soviets. If the Cold War is Major League Baseball, then “Insecurity” is Babe Ruth. Poor analogy? I think so too. What I wanted to convey was that the feeling of “Insecurity” is inseparable from the Cold War. The Americans and the Soviets did all that they could to outdo each other during this war. Why? Primarily because they were insecure of one another. The Americans were the first to reach the Moon, and took great pride in having done so, especially at the expense of the Soviets, who were also doing all that they could to attain superiority in spaceflight capability. Mankind was always bound to reach the Moon someday. However, it happened sooner, rather than later, thanks to the “Space Race” that began between the two world powers due to their own insecurities.

One of the many results of the Cold War was the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. Soviet tanks first rolled into Afghanistan in 1979, in order to protect the idea of Communism in the country. The Soviets could not afford to let another country veer away from the concept of Communism. They felt that if they were to delay making their move then the Americans would seize the opportunity that was created by the growing unrest and instability in Afghanistan. They did not want to allow the Americans to use Afghanistan as a strategic military base for themselves. Basically, they were just “Insecure”. The results of this decision turned out to be disastrous for the Soviets, thanks to the help given to the Mujahideen by the Americans (with Pakistani assistance). When the Soviets finally left Afghanistan, under ignominious circumstances, the Americans had finally avenged the humiliation that they had faced in Vietnam, due to Soviet involvement. The insecurity among the high ranking officials in the Soviet Union had led to an embarrassing defeat in Afghanistan, among other consequences, for the Soviets.

The Americans, with their allies, invaded Iraq in 2003 and overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein. George Bush and Tony Blair claimed that the mission of the coalition forces was to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and bring Saddam’s support of terrorism to an end. Evidently, Bush Jr. was insecure of what Saddam Hussein could do if he were to successfully build weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately for the coalition forces, it later emerged that Iraq was invaded on faulty evidence and apparently, no WMD’s were found in Iraq. There were a number of other reasons too that drove George Bush to invade Iraq. However, what is apparent here is the great sense of “Insecurity” among the Coalition forces towards Saddam Hussein and his regime.

Insecurity among powerful people has had a profound impact on the world in the past. However, it is not over just yet. To this day, the foreign policies of a lot of countries stem more from a sense of insecurity, than coherent logic. Countries that are part of the Indian Subcontinent illustrate this statement. If China were to conduct a joint military exercise with India, then those who call the shots in Pakistan would start working overtime to think of ways to foil such a plan. If the Pakistani Premier were to make a visit to the US, then India would most definitely be wary of such a visit. The insecurity and apprehension between the Israelis, and the Palestinians or the entire Arab World for that matter, is well documented too. This just goes to show how insecurity has always played a major role in World Politics and continues to do so.

Like I mentioned in my previous post though, there are always two sides to a coin. What I call insecurity may also be viewed as preemption. It can be argued that it is essential for a country to be able to anticipate the next move of its adversaries and act proactively, instead of waiting to see what they do and then react to it. Would I disagree with such an opinion completely? Maybe not.

I, for one, believe that far too many decisions have been made by world leaders in the past that were based more on their insecurities, than on concrete evidence. Perhaps, if such decisions were lesser in number, the world would have been slightly different today.