Finding Persian Gulf Security Alternatives

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WASHINGTON, March 7, 2006 (UPI) — Energy concerns, the War on Terror, the destabilization of Iraq and worries over nuclear proliferation in Iran have made discussions about the need for a regional strategic framework in the Persian Gulf all the more complicated and prescient.

Taking these issues into account, a policy brief just published by the Stanley Foundation, a non-partisan think tank focusing on peace and security issues, details discussions undertaken at a September 2005 conference in Dubai. Meeting to formulate 21st Century alternatives to Persian Gulf security frameworks were analysts and government officials from the Arab Gulf states, Iran, Iraq, Japan, China, the European Union and the United States.

The participants, who were only identified by country and not by name, collectively recognized two catalysts for change that could cause a reconsideration of security interests in the region: the fact that regional and external powers “are recognizing the importance of Gulf security for the continued growth of the economic system” and that energy concerns could lead growing economic powers to compete with, and “dilute” the United States’ hegemony in the region.

Secondly, developments in the war on terror have made regional and global cooperation on security issues not only necessary but unavoidable. Participants recognized that cooperation on these issues was not possible from “a balance of power, state-centric perspective.”

Several scenarios for regional security were put forward over the course of the conference: among them, a Persian Gulf security arrangement modeled on arrangements in Northeast and Southeast Asia. In this scenario, the United States would reverse several decades of foreign policy and initiate a dialogue with Iran, just as American leaders chose to engage with China 30 years ago, and thereby encourage economic partnerships among smaller, surrounding countries in Asia.

“Iran is a country of 75 million people,” Christopher A. Preble, director of foreign policy studies at Cato Institute said of the conference findings. “It’s unrealistic to expect that we can exclude them from any conceptions of Middle East security.”

Just as U.S. policy of 30 years ago focused on Iran as one of the security partners in the “Twin Pillars” strategy, Persian Gulf security discussions of today now focus on Iran in a negative sense, questioning how any security framework can be built while the country seeks to assert a position of regional leader. Participant recommendations focused on “socioeconomic confidence-building measures” and the evolution of the Gulf region away from a “military zone of competition” and into a zone of “economic cooperation.”


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