Gulf Politics and International Relations Theories

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IR theoretical approaches

In international relations, two theories are mostly employed in analyzing major issues in world politics. Realism and idealism are the two major theories. Idealism is a theory that was first supported by the US president after the Second World War. The theory observes that there are many actors in the international system. The state is not the only actor because other units, such as religious organizations, Multinational Organizations, and supranational organizations exist.

The state does not have massive powers as far as policy formulation is concerned. For instance, Multinational Organizations influence policy formulation among the Less Developed Countries. Moreover, religious organizations are known to influence the behavior of states in several ways. An example is given in Poland during the Cold War when John Paul II influenced leaders to abandon communism in favor of capitalism. In this regard, it can be observed that Catholics played a critical role in influencing leaders to keep off from communism.

In the international system, the United Nations plays an important role in influencing the foreign behavior of states. For instance, the UN Security Council can impose sanctions on a sovereign state. In Libya, the UN Security Council imposed a no-fly zone sanction to the sovereign state because it is the main actor (Lawson, 2009).

On contrary, realists observe that the only actor in the international system is the state. The state has the power to formulate foreign policies without consulting any other entity. For instance, the state should not consult the populace before making foreign policies because the foreign policy formulation process is considered high politics. In this case, other actors exist to temper with the sovereignty of the state because they should not be involved in the process.

Realists claim that states have the power to either support or oppose global decisions. It is the responsibility of the state to decide whether to support a policy or not. Moreover, the state confers nationality for individuals. Without the state, an individual cannot move from one corner of the world to the other. The state has established structures that facilitate world security (Shimko, 2012.

Liberalists observe that there are many actors in the international system. The international system is a community of both states and human beings. The foreign policy should recognize all actors. In this case, the role of other actors must be recognized. As states struggle to accomplish their missions, they must prioritize their goals. Those goals that aim at fulfilling the common interests should be pursued first as opposed to the goals that accomplish individual interests. Foreign policy formulation should be based on morality. Moreover, it must be based on internationally recognized codes and morals.

This is the reason why states intervene militarily whenever human rights are violated. This shows that liberalists value universal interests as opposed to national interests. Hoffman noted that states have a duty beyond their borders. For instance, a state should ensure that the rights of other individuals are not violated, irrespective of whether the individuals are citizens of its citizens. Liberalists emphasize human rights meaning that they must always be taken into consideration whenever foreign policies are formulated. To liberalists, the end does not justify the means because leaders must be held accountable for every decision they make. Liberalists are prescriptive implying that foreign policy should be reflective.

On the other hand, realists observe that the unit of analysis is the state. The international system dictates to the state what should be done. In other words, changes in the international system dictate foreign policies. In this regard, the international system is anarchic meaning that it lacks the central authority. Each state is concerned with its security. States are preoccupied with national interests, not collective security. Therefore, the state will always prioritize its interests. Realists believe that the end will always justify the means.

To liberalists, the international system is characterized by cooperation. This explains why the US could provide aid to its adversaries such as Japan and Russia during calamities. In the international system, the law is respected because it dictates what ought to be done. For instance, states will always cooperate to fight the common enemy. For example, states struggle to achieve peace through nuclear disarmament programs. In the current international system, many states are members of world organizations such as the World Trade Organizations and the Atomic Agency. The main aim is to achieve peace and order.

To realists, the international system is characterized by brutality and mistrust. In this case, the international system is anarchic implying that some states are powerful than others. The less powerful states are usually subjugated and oppressed. The powerful states control policy formulation in the global arena. For instance, the powerful states control important organizations such as the World Trade Organization and the United Nations. The powerful states use world organizations to achieve their national interests. The United Nations and the World Trade Organization exist as far as the US would permit.

Just like in other parts of the world, international relations theories could be used to understand the behavior of states in the Gulf region. This is because the international system is anarchic meaning that it is controlled by the most powerful states. It is the responsibility of the powerful states to ensure that peace and tranquility are maintained in the world. Liberalists would argue that powerful states intervene militarily to restore democracy and safeguard human life.

Regarding the Arab uprisings, the powerful states, such as the US, France, Britain, and Germany sent their experts to facilitate the civil disobedience because it was perceived that dictators in these states were interfering with the world security. Claims were made that personal rulers, such as the heads of states of Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt were funding terrorism. This was considered a major security threat to the world. Liberalists believe that world security should always be preserved because it is the priority of all states (Sasley, 2011).

As for realists, the uprisings in the Gulf region were aimed at fulfilling the national interests of the powerful states, such as the US, France, and Germany. Personal rulers in the Middle East had contributed to the global economic crisis because they hardly traded with the west. Oil is the most important commodity in the global market because it is needed in driving the global economy. Powerful states were experiencing economic turmoil, particularly the US and many states in Europe.

One of the reasons singled out as the cause of the economic crisis was the shortage of oil. The revolts in the Middle East were propagated by powerful states particularly to resolve the economic problems associated with oil. France participated in the murder of the Libyan leader because he was a true African nationalist. He was always against the exploitation perpetuated by the west. The global forces have always shaped the foreign policy of the United Arab Emirates (Khalid, 2012).

Policies made in the United Arab Emirates have always reflected the wishes of the superpower. For instance, the state has never thought of coming up with a nuclear program because it would contradict the wishes of the superpower. It is established through analysis that the nature of the international system influences the foreign policy formulation of any state, including the United Arab Emirates.

Major security threats facing the GCC states

The American invasion of Iraq presented new security challenges to the Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. One of the major threats was the possibility of the spread of terrorism instigated by Sunni and Shi’I communities. Another threat was the sectarian conflicts in the states around the Middle East. After the attack, the attention shifted to Iran, whose major aim was to control the politics of the region since Iraq was no more. Iran became a major threat because it had an ambition of achieving hegemonic powers and developing nuclear power. The major stakeholders forming the Gulf Cooperation Council were unable to come up with appropriate strategies aimed at resolving the security issues.

This was also a major threat because members could not put their heads together to come up with a common policy as regards the security of the region. States could not agree on the major problems facing the region because each state had its priorities and interests. Studies show that the challenges facing the Gulf States after the invasion of Iraq are different from those that faced the region before the 2003 attack.

In the 1990s, the Gulf States never faced a major security threat because the conflicts were instigated by foreign powers. The peace that existed in the region in the 1990s misled the states into believing that they were safe. No state had a foreign policy strategy aimed at strengthening its national interests. From 1990 to 1991, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, but the invasion was not a major threat to the neighboring states. It is established through analysis that the effects of the US invasion of Iraq and the ambitions of Iran before the election of Mahmud Ahmadinejad shaped the security of the region. The invasion of Iraq shaped the security of the Gulf region in three major ways.

One of them is that Saddam was considered the only aggressor in the region. However, the power of Iraq was no more because of the US military presence and the sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council. The sectarian strife was the only remaining threat as far as the influence of Iraq was concerned. Sectarian strife was the major threat to peace and security in the region at the time. Leaders from the region never believed that Iran would rise to be a security threat in the region.

Secondly, the invasion of Iraq forced the Gulf States to reconsider their foreign policies since Iran had emerged as one of the security threats to the whole region. Iran had become a security threat in three major ways. One of them is that it had declared itself the superpower in the region. Iran was very ambitious to dominate the region and impose its policies on all states. Another threat posed by Iran was related to its ambition to develop nuclear power. The Gulf States felt threatened because Iran would use nuclear power to achieve its ambitions. Finally, Iran developed strong links with terrorist organizations after the invasion of Iraq. For instance, terrorist organizations such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas developed strong links with Iran.

The terrorist organizations had the aim of destabilizing the Arab states that had links with the west. Moreover, the organizations had an objective of frustrating Israel due to the conflicts with Palestine. Many states in the Gulf region were forced to restructure their foreign policies due to the new role played by Iran (Ehteshami, 2007).

Thirdly, the US changed its policy towards the Gulf region after the 9/11 attack. Before the attack, the US employed a balanced policy of dual containment and a partial military deployment. The foreign policy of the US changed greatly because it occupied Iraq and ensured that it influenced the security policies of the Gulf region. The American new policies weakened the regional powers, which gave undue advantage to Iran.

In the Gulf region, the US was viewed with contempt because it was believed that Iran was fighting for the rights of Arabs. The public in the Gulf region believed that the US existed to deny Arabs their rights. Many states around the Gulf region were forced to readjust their policies to reflect public opinion. The new challenges forced the Gulf leaders to reevaluate their defense policies. However, the readjustment of policies was meant to lower tension, but not to resolve the security issues that faced the region.

Due to the new threats posed by Iran and other forces in the Gulf region, the Gulf Cooperation Council came up with strategies aimed at restoring peace and tranquility. The first strategy was initiated in 2006 by Saudi Arabia, which called for a conference in Mecca. The meeting brought together the clerics from different leading sects to iron out their differences. However, the details of the decisions arrived at during the meeting were not made public, even though the meeting was fruitful.

The Shi’i and the Sunni sects attended the conference. Most of the sects were from Iraq and other Muslim states around the Gulf region. The main agenda of the conference was related to how the states would end extremism and terrorism. In the conference, it was agreed that the presence of the US troops in Iraq was vital to the maintenance of the region’s security. In this regard, the participants agreed that they would urge the US to maintain its presence in Iraq (Hudson, 1998).

A different strategy was adopted by Kuwait since it viewed Iraq as the major threat to the region’s security, even though Saddam Hussein was no more. Kuwait was still hostile to Iraq even after the formation of the new government led by a democratically elected leader. Kuwait claimed that it had to be compensated for the damages caused by Iraq in 1991 before the uplifting of the UN sanctions. Kuwait urged the world powers to come up with policies aimed at restricting Iraq from acquiring some parts that were initially obtained illegally. Finally, the Gulf Cooperation Council came up with a policy to prevent terrorism. In 2004, the Gulf Cooperation Council leaders came together and formed an anti-terror pact, whose main aim was to stop the funding of the Jihadists (Ulrichsen, 2011).


Ehteshami, A. (2007). Globalization and geopolitics in the Middle East: Old games, new rules. London: Routledge.

Hudson, M. C. (1998). Middle East dilemma: The politics and economics of Arab integration. New York: Columbia University Press.

Khalid, S. (2012). The UAE and Foreign Policy: Foreign Aid, identities, and Interests. London: Routledge.

Lawson, F. H. (2009). Comparative regionalism. Farnham: Ashgate.

Sasley, B. (2011). Studying Middle Eastern International Relations through IR Theory. Ortadoğu Etütleri, 2(2), 9-32.

Shimko, K. (2012). International Relations. New York: Routledge.

Ulrichsen, K. (2011). Insecure Gulf: The end of certainty and the transition to the post-oil era. New York: Columbia University Press.

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