|17 December, 2019

GCC summit stresses Gulf security through integration

The 14-page joint communique referenced some of the new integration instruments, while stating GCC positions on regional issues

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (C) attends the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) 40th Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 10, 2019.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (C) attends the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) 40th Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 10, 2019.

REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri

The leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) laid out the foundations of Gulf security in their meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, last week. The 40th GCC summit produced two main public documents in addition to dozens of directives, new unified laws, common strategies and streamlined policies covering most aspects of integration. It also produced specific policies and guidelines on regional and international issues. Taken together, they sketch a clear picture of the GCC’s approach to emerging threats, as well as its collective desire to further its integration to better deal with such threats and economic challenges.

The 14-page joint communique referenced some of the new integration instruments, while stating GCC positions on regional issues. Its 90-plus paragraphs sum up the GCC world view, especially its approach to regional security. It provides good guidance about the bloc’s collective approach to security through integration. Having been vetted word by word by representatives from all six states, the communique should also give clarity about the united positions of the GCC membership about regional issues.

The joint communique did not mince words when it came to taking Iran to task for its rogue behavior. Despite speculation by outsiders about differences of opinion about Iran, the summit made it clear that all six states share revulsion at Tehran’s aggression against Saudi Arabia, attacks on international shipping, support for terrorism and ongoing destructive meddling in its neighbors’ affairs. They are also united in supporting US strategy toward Iran. If there were any questions when the strategy was announced in early 2018, Iran removed all doubts when it launched its unprecedented attacks during 2019.

Both the joint communique and the shorter, four-page Riyadh Declaration stressed GCC cohesiveness and unity of purpose, citing the fact that all member states stood in support of Saudi Arabia in the face of recent attacks against its territory, as well as those targeting international shipping in the region. The Riyadh Declaration, however, is more forward-looking, listing five pillars for the GCC’s future work — essentially a prescription to deal with the challenges that the leaders have identified.

The first pillar is the completion of military and security integration. Having appointed a general commander for the GCC in November 2018, the leaders approved recommendations submitted by the Joint Defense Council in October 2019 to enhance the effectiveness of the GCC Unified Military Command in light of recent attacks.

The second pillar is achieving complete GCC economic citizenship and economic unity by 2025. Economic unity was started in 1983 with the GCC Free Trade Area, followed by the GCC Customs Union in 2003 and the GCC Common Market in 2008. To complete that unity, the GCC Economic and Development Commission, established in 2016, proposed a timetable to plug some gaps in economic integration and take the additional steps needed to achieve that goal by 2025.

“GCC citizenship,” akin to EU citizenship, was agreed in principle in December 2001 and brought to life with the establishment of the common market, granting GCC nationals the right to move freely, reside and work in any member country. It also gives national treatment to business entities anywhere in GCC territory. However, there are gaps in its implementation, hence the reference to “complete” citizenship rights by 2025.

The third pillar is enhancing the competitiveness of GCC economies in the global marketplace, identifying five key steps, including improving the business climate and physical and technological infrastructure, as well as focusing on education, the youth, and increased use of artificial intelligence to improve the efficiency of government service delivery.

Fourth is putting greater emphasis on regional and international partnerships, and giving unprecedented public details about those relationships. The GCC documents make it clear that the well-established and comprehensive strategic partnership with the US is key to Gulf security, together with other key partnerships, such as those with the UK, China, the EU and Russia. They also directed GCC institutions to do more for other budding relationships in Asia, Africa and South America through political and security dialogue, trade and investment agreements, and people-to-people engagements.

The fifth pillar focuses on reform of GCC institutions, including the GCC Secretariat and some 30 other institutions, by improving governance, transparency and accountability. The summit clearly stresses that, with the emerging and almost existential challenges that the region faces, business as usual is no longer adequate. King Salman’s vision for the GCC, which was adopted by all the leaders in December 2015, started that process, but the pace has not been fast enough.

It is clear then that the GCC leaders’ view of enhancing regional security is much more comprehensive than usually suggested. It includes military and counterterrorism, but it equally emphasized economic prosperity, social cohesion and cultural renaissance as essential elements for tackling the emerging challenges facing the region.

The summit appointed Dr. Mubarak Al-Hajraf, a former minister of finance in Kuwait, as the new GCC secretary general. When he assumes office on April 1, 2020, he will have his hands full to implement these commands by the bloc’s leadership. He faces a tremendous task given the changed regional landscape, but there are high hopes that he will be able to take the GCC forward according to the vision presented at its 40th summit.

The new secretary general will be aided by the positive atmosphere of last week’s summit. For three days, senior officials and ministers from all six member states debated all issues in a positive and constructive atmosphere. They were able to present a united vision, which was approved by the heads of state.

Another new and constructive element was the debut of the new foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, who displayed diplomatic skills that greatly contributed to the success of the summit.

• Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the GCC’s assistant secretary-general for political affairs and negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal, and do not necessarily represent those of the GCC. Twitter: @abuhamad1

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