GCC foreign policy

The struggle for consensus

Authored by: Kristian Coates Ulrichsen

Routledge Handbook of International Relations in the Middle East

Print publication date:  April  2019
Online publication date:  March  2019

Print ISBN: 9780415317283
eBook ISBN: 9781315229591
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter examines the drivers of foreign policy in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and analyzes the points of convergence and divergence in regional approaches to major external issues. It opens with a brief history of the GCC that documents how the six member states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) have frequently failed to reach consensus on key regional issues such as policies toward Iraq, Iran, and Yemen; region-wide security and defense cooperation; or progress toward monetary union and a single currency. Section two explores the reasons behind the difficulties in unifying foreign policies, including the highly personalized nature of decision-making in each individual state, persistent bilateralism in national policy-making approaches, and lingering mistrust of Saudi intentions by the smaller members. Episodes of cooperation that have occurred largely have done so in technocratic areas that do not impinge on matters of national sovereignty or pooling of resources; clearly, regional and foreign policies do not fall into this “safe” category. The chapter ends with the impact of the post-2011 regional upheaval on prospects for regional coordination as individual GCC states emerged as assertive and interventionist regional actors, albeit in significantly different ways, as the visceral diplomatic standoff between Qatar and its neighbors has illustrated.

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