The six nations that formed the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981—Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman—are all oil-producing monarchies. Until a few decades ago, they were among the poorest countries in the world. Since the discovery of oil and particularly the oil price revolution of the early 1970s, the six have been able to carry out massive programs of socioeconomic development that have dramatically increased the per capita income of their citizens, resulted in a huge immigration of foreign workers, strengthened the control of ruling families over the states, and thrust the members into the international spotlight. Saudi Arabia is by far the largest of the group with a population estimated at 27 million. The other five range in size between 700,000 and 3 million.
Saudi Arabia has emerged as a major actor in Middle Eastern affairs. It has provided aid to and supported various Arab governments, even those with which it is at ideological odds. It has valued its “special relationship” with the United States and has supported U.S. policy aims in various parts of the world, despite fundamental differences over U.S. policy regarding Israel. The smaller five states have also sought to follow a neutral path in regional differences, although they were all alarmed by the Iranian revolution of 1979 and supported Iraq in its 1980–1988 war against Iran. But Iraq also proved to be an aggressor when Saddam Hussein’s troops invaded Kuwait in 1990, requiring a U.S.-led international coalition to dislodge him. The GCC states also opened up their military facilities to provide assistance to the U.S.-led coalition attacking Iraq in 2003, although many of their citizens disagreed with the action.
A principal impetus for the creation of the GCC was to assure the security of its members in a volatile region. A small joint force was established near the Iraqi/Kuwaiti border and the six states have engaged in numerous joint exercises. However, the GCC members continue to depend heavily on Western assistance and their national armed forces have not been coordinated either in terms of equipment (purchased from a wide variety of countries) or doctrine and training.
But there were other legitimate purposes for the formation of the GCC as well, in which the GCC has succeeded relatively better than in security. Politically, the GCC has seen considerable coordination between the individual states, and many issues are thrashed out in advance of the six rulers’ annual summit. The majority of differences between members have been settled, although some remain. A GCC headquarters and secretariat has been established in Riyadh and the position of secretary-general is rotated between the members.
In the economic sphere, the body has succeeded in standardizing weights and measures, creating a common tariff, assuring the free movement of (indigenous) labor and capital throughout the GCC, and taking steps toward a common currency. The members also have created cultural organizations to exchange information and ideas in such areas as education, professional disciplines, and the arts.
SEE ALSO Alliances; Customs Union; Developing Countries; Development; Development Economics; Economic Growth; Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC); Petroleum Industry
Aarts, Paul, and Gerd Nonneman, eds. 2005. Saudi Arabia in the Balance: Political Economy, Society, Foreign Affairs. London: Hurst & Company.
Alkim, Hassan Hamdan al-. 1994. The GCC States in an Unstable World: Foreign-Policy Dilemmas of Small States. London: Al Saqi Books.
Crystal, Jill. 1990. Oil and Politics in the Gulf: Rulers and Merchants in Kuwait and Qatar. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Dresch, Paul, and James Piscatori, eds. 2005. Monarchies and Nations: Globalisation and Identity in the Arab States of the Gulf. London: I. B. Tauris.
Gause, F. Gregory, III. 1994. Oil Monarchies: Domestic and Security Challenges in the Arab Gulf States. New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press.
Naqeeb, Khaldoun Hasan al-. 1990. Society and State in the Gulf and Arab Peninsula: A Different Perspective. Trans. L. M. Kenny. London and New York: Routledge; Beirut: Center for Arab Unity Studies.
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Said Zahlan, Rosemarie. 1998. The Making of the Modern Gulf States: Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. Rev. ed. Reading, U.K.: Ithaca Press.
J. E. Peterson
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