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Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia by Toby Craig Jones. (Harvard University Press, 2010), 312 pages including index and references. Reviewed by Jaco Stoop

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

     Desert Kingdom deals with the history of modern Saudi Arabia and the role played by oil, water and other resources in the coming about of the Saudi state. Jones pays special attention to internal Saudi geopolitics. He uses geopolitics in its literal sense: the politics of the earth and its resources. As Jones and other authors such as Stuart Elden (The Birth of Territory) and Timothy Mitchell (Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil) argue, geopolitics is about the political implications of the earth and its resources; In other words, political decisions are shaped by geology and the manner in which natural resources are exploited. Looking at the history of Saudi Arabia through the lens of geology enables Jones to highlight previously neglected aspects of the Saudi state such as the very crucial role played by oil and water in the repression of its Shia minority.

The key to controlling the whole of the Arabian Peninsula lies with controlling the Peninsula’s geological resources: its water supply and its oil. However, the Saudi state does not want merely control over these resources, but rather seeks to exploit them for political reasons. Especially in the fourth chapter about the Eastern Province and the al-Hasa oasis, Jones discusses the expansion of Saudi power from the capital of Riyadh to the periphery and the resource-rich east in the light of geopolitics. This expansion and exploitation of resources has implications for the Shia population, mostly located in the Eastern Province, as the author clearly describes.

The first chapter, titled “The Nature of the State” loosely outlines the theoretical assumptions of Jones. He is mostly interested in the internal dynamics of the Saudi state, “the ruling strategies deployed by the state to secure its authority and security domestically, and the challenges to power it faced in the twentieth century.” In subsequent chapters, Jones more or less chronologically discusses the forging of the Saudi state from the end of the nineteenth century until today.

Desert Kingdom begins with the discovery of oil and the founding of the most important oil company, Aramco, and the exploitation of Saudi oil. Jones then describes the implications of the search for water and the unequal distribution of wealth on the population. Regarding the distribution of wealth and access to resources, Jones stresses how the Shia have been marginalized, both for religious reasons (some Saudi clerics do not even recognize Shiites as Muslims) and because their alleged ties with Shiite Iran, by the Sunni rulers of Saudi Arabia. In the later chapters of the book, the author analyzes more recent developments in Saudi society, Saudi agricultural ambitions and the “return to faith” as Jones puts it, meaning that religious arguments became more important for the Saudi government and that the role of the clergy increased in Saudi society. This change in policy was mainly focused on improving the House of Saud’s Islamic credentials in the face of challenges from conservative clergymen to the House’s position as the protector of the two Holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Jones opposes the claims found in many other studies on Saudi Arabia that Saudi rulers and society are traditional and that they are both determined by “a timeless Islam.” Unfortunately, most of his criticism of other works on Saudi Arabia is tucked away in the endnotes. These notes contain quite essential information on Jones’s assumptions and views. His contrarian views that Saudi society and its rulers are essentially not conservative and traditionally Islamic, and his idea that the rulers are at odds with the peninsula’s Bedouin, whom the state seeks to relocate and urbanize, is central to the book’s thesis.. They certainly deserved more attention than a few endnotes and should have been included in the body of the text. Nonetheless, Jones presents his arguments well, and in a clear and straightforward manner.

A recurring theme in Desert Kingdom is the way in which the Saudi government has used science and technology for political gain. The formation of the modern Saudi state has been depoliticized and, in order to fully exploit its oil, the Saudi government has approached many political issues through a perspective of scientific and technological development, as Jones describes in the third chapter. He emphasizes the very crucial role the United States government played in the development of the Saudi state and its ability to gain control over its oil. The American government has been involved in numerous projects ranging from the exploration of Saudi oil resources to anthropological and sociological investigations into the population. In contrast, the British seem wholly absent in these developments.

One downside of Jones’s geopolitical approach to the formation of the Saudi state is that it neglects other important aspects of Saudi society. Jones’s focus on the Eastern Province and dissent of the Shia population causes the reader to be left in the dark on issues such as the internal politics of the House of Saud. For example, Jones discusses the 1979 uprisings in the Eastern Province but only briefly refers to the attack on Mecca’s Great Mosque in November 1979. Jones does consider influences from Iran on the Shia population of eastern Saudi Arabia and rightly rejects conspiracies on Iranian machinations and support for the protests. However, Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy towards Iran and the Middle East in general is largely left untouched.

Desert Kingdom makes clear that geology forged modern Saudi Arabia and Arabia’s natural resources should be the focus of studying Saudi internal politics. Jones has very much succeeded in providing that insightful and original approach, supported by his thorough and well substantiated research of primary sources.

Jaco Stoop is a graduate student of Modern History & International Relations at the University of Groningen (the Netherlands). He holds a bachelor’s degree in Languages and Cultures of the Middle East and has spent over a year in Cairo, Egypt, to study Arabic. Jaco also maintains a blog on Middle Eastern affairs.

The Future of the Arab Gulf Monarchies in the Age of Uncertainties by Mohammed El-Katiria. Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College (June 2013) 38 pages.

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

     The primary audience of the U.S. Army War College is members of the U.S. national security bureaucracy, weighted heavily toward members of the Department of Defense. The college’s web site says its students are officers from all branches of the military plus “senior civilians from key agencies throughout the U.S. Government.”

      With that said, Mohammed El-Katiria’s analysis of the Gulf’s future in the wake of the Arab Spring will add to that growing sense of unease shared among U.S. security managers. While the Gulf monarchies ostensibly appear composed, beneath that calm are deep, unresolved social, ethnic, political, and economic frictions. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are diverse but El-Katiria reminds us that they are all run by small, ruling families that ban authentic political parties. There are no checks and balances to control the powers of the ruling families who appointed themselves to key government positions and accrue many privileges, internal stability is undermined by fighting within the ruling families over plumb positions, and clear rules for leadership successions are lacking.

      The kingdoms’ autocratic dictates once tolerated by a non-politicized populace are no longer tenable. Economic and educational changes, coupled with the internet and social media, has resulted in a politicized youth. A 2011 survey found that 60 percent of the GCC youth considered democracy to be their top priority. El-Katiria argues that the Gulf has entered “a new era” where “socio-economic grievances” have “transformed into a growing political quest for liberties.” Bahrain and Oman has witnessed the most widespread protests and exercised the most brutal government responses in the Gulf, but similar dissent has appeared on a smaller scale in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. The ruling families seem ill suited to make the requisite reforms. Their default response to increase the size of cash handouts to its citizens to quite discontent has its limits. It’s a short term stratagem but not a long term fix for a frustrated youth seeking substantive social change. The “GCC are part and parcel of the Arab World,” El-Katiria notes, and “they cannot escape the influence of the revolutions and political transitions that follow them.”

      Enveloping the kingdoms’ internal tensions is the rise of political Islam. The election of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was correctly portrayed as a “horrifying scenario for the GCC rulers,” making the GCC’s support for the military takeover in Egypt unsurprising. But Egypt’s turmoil and Saudi Arabia’s support for Salafists in Syria poses only to exacerbate the Shia-Sunni split in the Gulf. The systematic discrimination by the state apparatuses against Shia citizens in most GCC countries, particularly in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, El-Katiria observes, “has structurally damaged the political legitimacy of the rulers and the social cohesion.”

       Iran stands as the most significant external threat confronting the GCC. Unceasing fears that the Islamic Republic may be building nuclear weapons has obscured the fact that “tensions between Iran and most GCC countries have historical, ideological, and geostrategic roots, which make their animosity a structural feature.” The monarchies’ immediate anxiety is Iran’s hegemonic regional ambitions. Such concerns are not unfounded: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards echoes the Shah’s ambition to be the “protector” of the Gulf and Ayatollah Khomeini’s aspiration to export a Shia-led revolution resonates among the monarchies today. But a serious lapse on El-Katiria’s part is not noting the dearth of hard evidence substantiating claims that Iran is behind the GCC’s domestic troubles; rather, the evidence shows the discontent arises from legitimate domestic grievances.

      El-Katiria advises that U.S. interests in the Gulf – the supply of oil and freedom of movement for the U.S. military – is best served by preventing the rise of any hegemonic power, meaning Iran but by implication, also Saudi Arabia. He warns the overthrow of any monarchy or a shift in support from the GCC away from the U.S. would severely disrupt U.S. military operations in the region, including Afghanistan. El-Katiria’s recommendations are predictable: increase U.S. military training and armament to the monarchies against Iran and “encourage” them to make substantial changes to their political system.

      El-Katiria is in an untenable bind: his readership needs a realistic assessment of the Gulf’s stability as well as advice on how to advance U. S. interests, as currently defined by U.S. security managers. He can’t – and doesn’t – explain why well entrenched, ruling families, lavishly supplied with U.S. weaponry, would voluntarily give up their wealth, power and privileges in the name of democracy and stability. It’s a quandary that resists a simple explanation. Similarly, his suggestion that Iran poses a seriously offensive threat to the GCC, necessitating the sale of more weapons to the monarchies, is not credible.

     Similar omissions in El-Katiria’s monograph are discussion that the monarchies face pending food and water shortages, dissipation of its oil and gas resources, and environmental degradation. The materialization of such troubles will exacerbate existing social tensions within the monarchies and inexorably will cause further social upheaval. El-Katiria’s critique of the GCC may unnerve his readership but he’s pulled his punches – the situation is worse than he writes.

Dubai; Gilded Cage by Syed Ali (New Haven: Yale University Press: 2010), 240pages, index; Dubai; The City as Corporation by Ahmed Kanna (Minnealpolis: University of Minnesota Press: 2011) 262 pages, index. Reviewed by Kaveh Ehsani

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

In recent years there has been a spate of social science books published about various countries of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) but, understandably, Dubai takes pride of place and the majority of these studies focus on this glittering city-state that has energetically branded itself as the hyper modern and hyper globalized hub of the Persian Gulf. Both these books under review are welcomed and excellent attempts to debunk the celebratory tone of the earlier literature that portrayed Dubai’s transformation in glowing positive light. These books ask the uncomfortable but necessary questions about the social and human costs of the Dubai (and by extension of the GCC) project, by looking at the coercive and often horrifying underbelly of the city-state’s recent development history.  They also tell us much about how Dubai fits within the neoliberal global order: Far from being an exceptional case of Middle Eastern exotic experiment in conspicuous consumption, authoritarian politics, and racial discrimination, Dubai comes across as the epitome of a market driven global order. The experiment that is present day Dubai links tourism, hyper capitalism, unabashed consumerism, and spectacular architecture, that are built on the back of exploitative labor practices and a hollowing out of social and cultural norms that end up leaving everyone involved in the Dubai project with more money in their pocket (unless they are hit by the global economic downturn), but also significantly degraded and alienated, be they powerless construction workers, East European prostitutes, mercenary western professionals, predatory real estate developers, or indigenous citizens living off of unearned commissions from greedy international investors.

Both books are ethnographic in structure, and aim to give voice to the experiences and the existence of the multitudes of temporary expatriates who make up 90% of Dubai’s population. These expatriates range from casual workers to merchants, professionals, speculating investors, maids, prostitutes, camel jockeys, and university professors, whose experiences and contributions are differentiated and made part of the story of Dubai Inc. They come from all over the world, but their diversity does not make Dubai a cosmopolitan haven of collaborative modernity. In fact, both books demonstrate through carefully constructed and nuanced analysis how keeping the expatriate population segregated and ghettoized from each other and from the indigenous population is the prerequisite of making the Dubai project work. This systematic system of social, cultural, and geographic segregation takes place through administrative, economic, as well as coercive means. Work visas and residence permits are issued on strictly temporary basis (2-6 years), virtually no one can become an immigrant, even those born and raised in the Sheykhdom of expat parents, hence the state of “permanent impermanence” (Ali) experienced by all expatriates who service and maintain the 10% of the indigenous citizens and the corporate city state that is virtually the property of the al Makhtoum dynasty.

These books are very similar in some aspects, but also different. They complement each other very well. Syed Ali is a sociologist who was deported from Dubai when his research on South Asian workers got too uncomfortable for the authorities. His book is written in a very readable style, intended for a cross section of academic as well as interested general public (even the fonts are bigger and easier to read). He does not mince words when discussing Dubai’s ‘plastic culture’ and vapid consumerism. But this is not a polemical exercise since Ali shows how and why this cultural vapidity is structural and a byproduct of the deliberate impermanence that shapes everyone’s life in Dubai: If you are there only to make money, are afforded no serious legal protection, or the possibility of forging personal attachment to the place and people, you cannot weave a fabric of meanings and emotions that take the form of meaningful art or substantive cultural representations.  This is true of the citizens also, who come across as distant and often hidden behind the walls of their family compounds, an alien minority in their own country. Ali’s most provocative topic is how work and labor shape social life in Dubai. He studies the subaltern classes (workers, maids, prostitutes, camel jockeys) who service the Sheykhdom (Chapter 3, aptly titled “Iron Chains”) and what motivates those who come mostly from Asia (the Subcontinent, Iran, Phillipines) or Eastern Europe, to subject themselves to such degrading conditions. His answer is complex: not only the pull factors (money, jobs) but also the push factors (expectations at home, a culture of neoliberal entrepreneurship, regardless of the human consequences) keeps the wheels turning. Ali also discusses the institutional means by which the labor system is maintained: The kefala/sponsorship system keeps workers dependent on contractors at home, and employees and bureaucrats in Dubai. It also acts in similar way regarding corporate investors and expatriate professionals who are obligated by law to forge relations of dependency and partnerships with Dubai natives (Ali, pp. 26-31, Chapter 7). In short, while professional expatriates (mostly from the west) and Dubai citizens live in the privileged bubble of a  “gilded cage” (Chs 4, 5) where all they do is make easy money or shop and drink, those who work for them make do with a precarious existence in vast and filthy labor camps like Sonapur (91), or are at the mercy of precarious laws and volatile housing markets.

Ahmed Kanna is an anthropologist who is interested in analyzing the social and political life of Dubai through its built environment. In other words, he is more focused in investigating how the social and political processes that shape the city-state can be analyzed through its architecture and spatial forms. This is a more strictly academic book, but it is also well written, although it suffers a bit from the ‘dissertation syndrome’, where the book is not quite free from the often unnecessary entanglement with the outlining of various theoretical positions and academic jargon that are a requisite part of dissertations but do not necessarily contribute to a more insightful analysis of the topic at hand. Despite this shortcoming the book is an original and excellent analysis of how, as the book’s title puts it, the city was reshaped as a corporation. This process involved a number of historical shifts that the book’s initial historical chapters outline. Lacking substantial oil reserves, compared to its better-endowed sister confederate states of UAE, Dubai sought early on to diversify its economy and to carve out a more boldly visible role for itself on the international stage. The advent of oil, the end of cold war, and the changing geopolitics of the Persian Gulf witnessed the turning of Dubai into a conspicuous center of global shipping and transport, tourism and entertainment, conspicuous consumption, and speculative construction and real estate development. Kanna does an excellent job of outlining how this globalization of Dubai undid the ruling bargain between (mostly Iranian and south Asian) merchants and the al Makhtoum rulers, and left the ruling dynasty the virtual Sultanist/patrimonial (to use Weberian terminology) owner/rulers of the city sate. The ruling family and their parastatal corporations enjoy virtually total territorial monopoly, as well as a monopoly of defining the modernity that defines Dubai’s ongoing trajectory, and that has uprooted any meaningful connection to history and local social relations. This disembedded commercial modernity is not a standalone, it enjoys active international support and approval by what Kanna calls ‘orientalism in reverse’, or the celebratory glorification of the entrepreneurial genius of the al Makhtoum ruling dynasty by western (as well as Middle Eastern) journalists, policy makers, and global professionals. This support was considated when the search for reliable Arab allies amidst what was seen as a sea of hostile Muslims became part of the ongoing pathology of the mainstream Western public sphere, especially after 9/11 and the ongoing fiascos of Iraqi and Afghan invasions and the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

The most exciting segments of Kanna’s book are his analysis of the role of ‘starchitects”, big name architects accompanied by speculative real estate developers, who undertake enormous (in terms of costs, commissions, and prices) prestige projects in Dubai. The real estate ponzi schemes that follow these projects are an important part of what has shaped the city scape of present day Dubai. Kanna then looks at the other spaces (the vanished villages, the work camps and workers’ quarters, the spaces of conspicuous consumption, etc.) that have grown in the shadow of these architectural wonders. Paraphrasing Kanna’s words, the social and cultural reality of Dubai Inc. is etched in its built environment.

Together these books offer an outstanding understanding of Dubai, not as an exception and exotic oddity, but as an integral component of the neo liberal global order which has nurtured and sustains the corporate city state. I highly recommend both these books. They are wonderful sources for undergraduate and graduate classrooms, as well as the interested critical reader.


 Kaveh Ehsani is an assistant professor of International Studies Department at DePaul University, Chicago


The Arab Gulf States: Beyond Oil and Islam by Sean Foley. (Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. 2010) 315 pages. Reviewed by Courtney Erwin.

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

Since December 2010, when Tunisia kicked off the string of uprisings currently reorienting the political landscape in the Arab World, I have repeatedly been asked, “Will that happen in Qatar (where I live) or other countries in the Gulf?” While researched and written prior to the Arab Spring, Sean Foley’s book about the Arab Gulf States – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman – offers information and insights helpful in understanding how the Arab Gulf may accommodate its new regional environment.

Foley examines the Gulf’s socio-economic and political backdrop by starting in the 1930s and taking us through “the emergence of the modern Gulf” and into the present. He makes the point that today’s challenges in the Gulf predate the discovery of oil (in commercial quantities) in 1932, and that these states have been dealing with tough issues relating to foreign workers, gender, and a welfare system long before they became the focus of international media and politics.

The Arab Gulf States dashes many Western stereotypes of life and society in the Gulf.  In the field of education and gender, Foley shows the past decades having witnessed a radical increase in the number of educated Gulf Arab women, who have gone on to assume leadership positions throughout society. This phenomenon cuts across all states in the region; educational attainment and social progress have advanced in Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait. Oman has seen the largest gains in female students, where more women than men now attend school. In Saudi Arabia, between 1960 and 2000, female participation in the workforce grew as much as 691 percent.

Foley notes that the role of women in the Gulf continues to face cultural obstacles, but his depiction of the experience and quality of life for women in the region is appropriately nuanced and thoughtful. He points out that the Gulf’s social conservatives will increasingly face daunting challenges to traditional ways of life as a highly educated professional class of women overtakes men in professional advancement.

Foreign workers, who often are the majority of the population in some Gulf states, frequently are viewed as a threat to stability. But Foley shows that their presence is not new. The Gulf has never been homogenous but has always, since the time of the Prophet Muhammad, been host to diverse peoples including Jewish silversmiths, Catholic priests, Protestant missionaries, Hindu engineers, and Arab and Persian Shi’a Muslims. The influx of foreigners has always necessitated a healthy discussion among the Gulf countries about “inclusion, tolerance, and accommodation.”

Foley argues that the large presence of foreign residents forms an essential component of Gulf society and must continue for at least two reasons: their labor is critical to the region’s sustained economic growth and they significantly contribute to the area’s cultural enrichment. Unfortunately, the recent rise in nationalism has seen some Gulf states become less inclusive and accommodating to their foreign guests, either through the “disappearance” of certain groups, such as the Jews in Saudi, or by creating barriers to integration by restricting residency and citizenship. There are now sharper distinctions and inequalities between indigenous and expatriate populations. What remains unanswered is whether these tensions will intensify and, if so, how Gulf states will manage the divide between their huge foreign resident communities and their indigenous citizenries.

According to Foley, the Arab Gulf states have traditionally defused social and political tensions through establishing welfare states that have kept their citizenries financially comfortable. Ibn Saud, the founder of modern-day Saudi Arabia, initiated this strategy in 1915 and it continues today. Over the past year, I have often heard Qataris say, “There is no need for uprisings in Qatar like those in Egypt or Libya because we have more rights than we deserve.” Those rights are interpreted as socio-economic rights. Many Qataris appear satisfied with lesser civil and political freedoms so long as they are guaranteed a living standard that includes a salary, housing, healthcare, and education. However, such largess does not extend to the majority foreign-born population, which creates uncomfortable societal tensions. Similar difficulties exist for other states, which have not been unequivocally generous to all their residents (examples being the Shi’a in Saudi and Bahrain). Just how long this welfare state strategy will successfully last for the Arab Gulf states is an open question.

Foley ends his book by highlighting the chief question for Gulf Arabs: for almost a century they have balanced government dependence on Western security guarantees and financial ties with a citizenry that rejects many other Western policies, particularly those policies implicating the Israel/Palestine conflict. The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and the view that U.S. power in the Middle East is declining, coupled with region-wide radical political change, is pushing the Arab Gulf into new territory. Foley predicts that the Gulf states will meet such changes by staying the course. Governments will continue to support a welfare state, encouraging their indigenous populations to fill the workplace while remaining dependent on foreign workers, and accepting women into prominent positions in business and politics. The states will seek to reshape their societies and economies from one based on a single modern industry—oil—to one that is diversified and based on education, science, and technology. In Foley’s eyes, the Arab Gulf is a work in progress; where it will go remains to be seen.

Courtney Erwin has an M.A. in Islamic law and J.D. in international law. From 2007 to 2010, she was chief of staff at the Cordoba Initiative, an advocacy group that promotes improved relations between Islam and the West. She now lives in Doha, Qatar, working on issues related to legal protection for education during situations of insecurity and conflict. 

The East Moves West; India, China, and Asia’s Growing Presence in the Middle East by Geoffrey Kemp (Brookings Institution Press, 2010) Reviewed by John W. Garver

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Kemp provides a solid and comprehensive survey of relations between China, India, and Japan and the countries of the Middle East.  Greatest attention is given to the three major East Asian powers (with Indian being included here in “east”), but summaries  are also provided for policies of South Korea, Indonesia, Pakistan. The strength of Kemp’s analysis is that he considers the policies of the three Asian giants (China, India, Japan) side-by-side rather than in isolation.  Kemp provides an encyclopedic account of the elements of this East Asia-West Asia interaction:  China-Saudi Arabian relations;  Japan-Indian ties;  China-Israeli and India-Israeli ties,  South Korean-Iran links;  Iran-Pakistan-India interactions; China’s ties to the small Persian Gulf states; etc. Virtually every conceivable aspect of the East-West Asia relation is at least adumbrated.  Current efforts to develop railways, roads, and pipelines to tie various regions together are also surveyed and placed in the strategic context of efforts by various countries to claim a share of the wealth to be had by bringing Central Asian energy resources to global markets.  Security links of China, India, and Japan with the Middle East countries are surveyed, as is the security policies of each of those three countries toward the Indian Ocean.  The book would work well as a text in a course on Asian international relations.

It will be no surprise that Kemp finds demand and supply of oil and gas to be the key driver of the emerging East Asia-West Asia relation.  The current and projected future energy relation is analyzed in considerable detail, as are the efforts of China, Japan, and India to secure energy from the Persian Gulf region.

The organizing theme of the book is that, driven by the energy imperative, the relation between West and East Asia is growing more important, diverse, and thick, with all three East Asian powers seeking to expand ties with oil rich West Asia.  Kemp’s major analytical concern is prognostication about the future evolution of the China, Japan, India relation toward West Asia/ the Middle East in their mounting struggle for energy.  A premise of Kemp’s argument is that Western influence in the Middle East is declining and will continue to decline as the energy-hungry East Asian powers struggle to meet their energy needs from the Middle East.

A major sub-theme is whether the three East Asian powers will be able to individually or collectively fill a vacuum left by possible U.S. withdrawal from the Persian Gulf.  Kemp argues that the United States is currently in the midst of a debate similar to Britain’s in the late 1960s that led ultimately to withdraw from “east of Suez.”  Now the United States, confronted with lengthy, costly, bloody, and seemingly unwinnable wars and nation-building projects in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with mounting domestic demands and fiscal problems, may well decide to withdraw and leave the Persian Gulf region to its own devices.  Kemp does not predict this outcome, but rather speculates about its consequence.

Kemp considers unlikely some sort of China-Japan-Indian concert to maintain peace and stability in the Persian Gulf.  Historical memories and current conflict of interests are too great for that.  An “Asian balance of power” between the three with the East Asian powers choosing regional partners and building up positions and capabilities in the regions, is a possibility.

Kemp considers India to be the most likely winner to supplant the United States as a provider of security assistance to the Persian Gulf countries.  India (unlike China) has a long and rich history of security involvement in the Middle East, has historically been viewed as a benevolent and non-interventionist power, and currently is rapidly developing military and security ties with the smaller Persian Gulf states. It is building the force structure and multilateral organizations to give it a preeminent role in the Indian Ocean.  India also enjoys the great advantages of proximity and “expatriate” dominance in the Persian Gulf economies.  If and when the U.S. decides to withdraw from “east of Suez,” Washington (and perhaps Tokyo too) could support India as the new cop on the block, rather like Nixon supported Iran in that role during an earlier era.  Kemp does not discuss this, but one wonders if China’s advocates of multi-polarity would prefer Indian to U.S. domination of the Gulf.  Kemp’s discussion also casts a new and interesting light on the India-Iran-China relation.  In maneuvering for influence in a post-U.S. Gulf, Beijing and New Delhi would recognize Tehran as a major player.  In fact, Beijing’s current policies are probably intended, in part, to build capital in Tehran against that future day.

John Garver is professor of International Relations at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology and the author of China and Iran: Ancient Partners in a Post-Imperial World (Univ. of Washington Press: 2006)

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