Perspectives on U.S.-Gulf Relations
Remarks by Dr. John Duke Anthony at Al-Hewar Center
On January 29, the Al-Hewar Center in Vienna, Virginia, hosted a presentation by Dr. John Duke Anthony, President and CEO of the National Council on US-Arab Relations. He established the organization in 1983 to work toward enhancing awareness in the US public and private sectors of America's needs, concerns, and interests with respect to the Arab world. At the Al-Hewar Center, Dr. Anthony spoke about relations between the United States and the Gulf region, and particularly the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Dr. Anthony stated that for twenty-five years he has talked with people in the US government, including members of Congress (including the Armed Services, Foreign Relations, Appropriations, Energy and Commerce Committees), people in the State Department, Commerce Department, the Treasury, and when possible, the National Security Council, and even with people in the CIA and Defense, to understand exactly what are America's interests and concerns in terms of the Arabian Gulf region, including Iran, Iraq and the GCC countries.
Basically five different perspectives have emerged from these discussions, he said: (1) strategic; (2) economic; (3) political; (4) commercial; and (5) defense.
With regard to our strategic interests, he said, an overriding concern in the US government is not to have to mobilize and deploy a third time in the Gulf. The US is therefore vigilant about the region, employing all means of surveillance, inspection, intelligence, and analysis in order to monitor the day-to-day situation on the ground and avoid another conflict.
Related to this is the effort to guarantee the territorial integrity, political independence, and national sovereignty structures of the eight countries in the region, which has been a primary concern. This is essentially a status quo argument, he said, because the Gulf region is flawed in terms of defined boundaries and structures, but it is something that policy makers do not want to take risks with. The primary focus is on working to avoid situations that could de-stabilize the region such as the sabotage of oil fields and refineries, cross-border disputes, territorial issues, cross-border forays, and the like.
The strategic policies have been a success, stated Anthony, except for the two aberrations of the Iran-Iraq war of 198088 and the Kuwait crisis of 1990-91. Apart from those, the larger strategic interests have been served or achieved from a stated American perspective, he said.
Our strategic interests are followed immediately by our economic interest in the region, which is viewed solely in terms of access to the region's energy resources, said Anthony. Oil drives our economy and every economy in the world.
The policy makers also differentiate between economic interests and the, to them, less important commercial interests (banking, trade, investment, technology cooperation, joint ventures, partnerships, etc.)
The Gulf has two-thirds of all known proven resources of gas and oil in the world. The United States, out of over two hundred countries in the world, is the single biggest consumer, importer, and waster of oil, said Anthony adding that we are also probably the single biggest complainers about it. Controversy surrounds big oil in the United States because it is highly politicized, whereas Japan and Europe do not debate about it even though they are far more dependent upon it than are we.
This has been a reasonably successful strategy, said Dr. Anthony, since March 13, 1974, when the last Arab oil embargo ceased because the Gulf countries believed Henry Kissinger when he said that the US would discuss the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict if the embargo were lifted.
Moving to America's political interests, Anthony noted that the United States wants to keep the Arab world a community of free and independent states, which it mostly is, except for the bantustans that are left in the Occupied Territories of Palestine (although some would also include southern Morocco and the polisarios of Algeria). But, for some obvious, and other not-so-obvious, reasons America has not been overwhelmingly successful on the political side. Out of 22 Arab states, perhaps twelve are our friends and allies - the twelve who voted on August 3, 1990 and August 10, 1990, first to condemn the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and then, in an unprecedented decision, to mobilize Arab armed forces and deploy them to Saudi Arabia to prevent the invasion from expanding. Somalia, however, has degenerated greatly since then, so the US is down to eleven Arab countries who might agree on a wide number of issues with American policy most or some of the time. "This is pretty close calling," he stated.
Regarding commercial relations, in some respects they are positive, said Anthony. The United States is the number one trading partner with at least half of the GCC countries and in the top three or four in the other countries of the Gulf (with the French, British and Japanese). This may sound like a great success, he said, until you realize that our percentage in that regional market is somewhere in the range of 1723%. If you take a pessimistic view, that means that four out of five decisions are non-American in terms of what people are buying or investing in. If you put another perspective on it, looking at it not bilaterally but in terms of groups of countries, you could say that the European Union has at least twice as much as the United States in the region and theirs has been increasing largely at America's expense.
One of the reasons for this is that the U.S. has instituted three major legislative impediments to trading and investing with the Gulf Arab countries, namely: (1) the boycott legislation, (2) the amendment to the Tax Reform Act of 1978 which makes it punitively and prohibitively high salary-wise to hire American engineers in the region (for example, you can hire two Canadian engineers and perhaps three British engineers, for the price of one American because of our tax system), and (3) the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which precludes even the most innocuous of favors (for example, an American cannot invite the children of the defense people of one of these countries to go to school in America, because that is considered influence, bribery and corruption). The French do not have the technical, legal, moral and political restrictions that we have, and so they can and do employ influencing techniques. The inability to offer other incentives is detrimental to the Americans when the competition is otherwise close on price, technology, and efficiency.
With respect to our defense interests, some military people would put them at the top of the list, said Anthony, but if we look at it objectively, defense is really in fifth place, because it is the last resort.
For the most part, our defensive interests are covered by agreements and
understandings. We have defense cooperation agreements with every GCC country except Saudi
Arabia. The characteristics of these agreements include consultation in times of crisis;
training and exercises; and information and intelligence sharing. Some of the agreements
also allow pre-positioning of heavy equipment. None of the military people think that we
have enough defense capability in the region to fight an international conflagration, but
most would say that what we have is adequate to contain a regional crisis or a subregional
crisis, he said.
Dr. Anthony then described the common characteristics of the six GCC countries. They are all hereditary regimes and constitute six of the eight monarchies left in the Arab world. Since this is a diminishing form of government worldwide, said Anthony, the six GCC countries have chosen to "hang together" politically and to some extent ideologically.
There has been a defensiveness among them from the moment that they grouped together in May 1981, he said, as they have tried to rationalize their adherence to a seemingly arcane, anachronistic, and out-of-sync political system. And yet, there is a resilience among almost all six of them that has stood them through the years. Their demise has been predicted since the 1950s - people have expected them to topple as happened in Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere, but they have not. On the contrary, said Anthony, the case could be made that four of them (UAE, Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait) are stronger now than before, adding that even Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, who are facing some internal unrest, can survive with wise leadership.
Secondly, they are all oil producers, ranging from very large producers to very small. Saudi Arabia produces 8,500,000 barrels a day, which gets from fewer than 900 wells (by contrast, the United States produces a comparable 7,500,000 barrels a day from 650,000 wells; the average production for an American wells is 14 barrels a day, the average production of a Saudi Arabian well is 12,000 barrels a day). Saudi Arabia has 51 oil fields, but it has never pumped from more than 31. It also has 10 gas fields. Bahrain, on the other hand, pumps 40,000 barrels a day, which equals the output of barely three Saudi Arabian wells.
Thirdly, all of the countries have been reasonably comfortable living under a Western strategic umbrella for a very long time, and increasingly under American protection. This is fundamentally different and an exception to the rest of the Arab world in that there have been no independence movements from Kuwait to Oman. Thus, despite the facile generalizations that we make about colonialism and imperialism, the fact remains that for nearly 400 years the norm has been for peace and security in the region to be protected by outside Western countries.
The notion of anti-American or anti-British sentiments, though they certainly exist because of the paltry record of both in a number of areas, is not massive or pervasive. It is coming, but as yet it remains at the margins. The radicals and nationalists have not been overthrown, disestablished or replaced, they've more or less been circumvented. And the vocabulary now of the angry anti-regime people is in the raiment of religion. Whether these regimes will have longer staying power than those who preceded them remains to be seen, but they are the currency of the day. So the Western aspect remains pervasive, the American aspect increasingly so.
By way of example, of the Saudis alone, around 400,000 or more have been
to the United States for a significant portion of their education. In Saudi Arabia's
cabinet, there are more American Ph.D.'s than there are Ph.D.s of any kind in the U.S.
cabinet, Supreme Court, Senate and House of Representatives combined!
Having recently returned from a GCC summit, Dr. Anthony described the purpose of the summits and some of the business they accomplish. He characterized the summits as a way for the GCC members to offset attempts by Iran and Iraq to gain hegemony; however, he said, rarely anything controversial is said at a summit, because they are very careful about the statements that come out of their meetings. The summit rotates from country to country each year and the host country always has a "first among equals" position because the host gives the opening theme, sets the tone for the deliberations and closes the summit. The others defer, knowing that each will have its turn soon enough.
During the meeting, the members review the accomplishments of the past year and set the agenda for the following year. The main focus is on economics, but in the broadest way, because the economic unity agreement of 1981 is the only main agreement they have. It was meant to move them to a customs union, then to a unified external tariff, then to a common market, and then to a free trade agreement with Europe, but they have not been able to get past the first stage.
After the economic overview, they review their political and defense agendas. But they almost never say anything that is revealing in terms of defense because it is a sensitive and controversial issue, and there are great risks if they make a mistake.
On the political side, basically four issues have come up during the last five years:
(1) Iraq. They have taken a hard line position on Iraq because they can all project themselves into Kuwait's shoes, and each country understands that if were to be invaded and occupied, it would automatically expect the support of the other countries - without discussion or debate. Iraq is also the longest and most controversial of unfinished business, and the need to keep a tight reign on the situation, which is why it tops their agenda.
(2) Iran. Iran is less significant than Iraq, because it does not have the same military capacity, but the GCC countries are vigilant about Iranian efforts to foment instability. Additionally the UAE remains concerned about a group of Islands that Iran has occupied since 1971.
(3) The peace process. Although this is an important issue, it is not at the top of the agenda, because the other two are more "on the doorstep" of the Gulf Countries. Relations between the GCC countries and Israel have been frozen due to unanimous disagreement and frustration with the Netanyahu government, and concern as well about Israel's relations with Jordan and Turkey which have edged Israel closer than ever toward the Gulf. Israel now has through Turkey a window on both Iraq and Iran which brings the relationship between the two regions, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf, even closer than before.
(4) The fourth issue discussed at the summit was a combination of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, extremism and the like. In previous years it was Somalia or Bosnia, but those are off the table now.
During the question and answer session, Dr. Anthony and the audience discussed at length a large number of important issues, including American strategic policies in the region, commercial ties to the region, opposition movements, and the peace process, among other things.
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