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Dysfunctions Last Updated: Jun 15, 2021 - 4:39:43 PM

Counterweight to China at the Gulf
By German Foreign Policy 12/6/21
Jun 14, 2021 - 4:48:28 PM

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The strategy center of the German government demands that the EU exert more influence on the Arabian Peninsula - using also so-called security policy.

The EU should take advantage of current turbulences on the Arabian Peninsula to intensify its activities for gaining more influence in the region, according a working paper just published by the Federal Academy for Security Policy (BAKS), the most important military policy strategy center for the German government. As the BAKS notes, the energy transition compels the Arab Gulf states to abandon their economic focus on oil and gas. Moreover, following the change of US administrations, they are cautiously turning away from an openly confrontational policy toward Iran. This offers the opportunity to play a leading role in facilitating a new security dialogue in the Gulf, while enabling the EU to establish "a counterweight to Chinese influence in the region," according to the BAKS. China is gaining strength on the Arabian Peninsula. It is setting up a regional manufacturing plant for Covid-19 vaccines in the United Arab Emirates, while Huawei is rolling out the country's 5G network and is intending to upgrade it to a cyber security hub.

A "Double Shock"

The countries of the Arabian Peninsula are going through important transitions, the Federal Academy for Security Policy (BAKS) concludes in its latest working paper. For decades, their model of rule has been to use the revenues from oil and gas exports to finance comfortable living conditions for their populations, demanding their unconditional loyalty in return. With the beginning of the energy transition and the anticipated long-term decline of oil and gas profits, the end of this model is in sight. "This system is facing a collapse," according to the BAKS. Other economic branches must be developed and workers trained. The numerically strong young generation must be integrated into the labor market. It is becoming networked through digital media and is increasingly demanding more "participatory forms of political co-determination," as the BAKS notes.[1] The oil price, which has dropped in the meantime, and the economic problems created by the Corona crises are increasing the pressure. The BAKS speaks of a "double shock," the Gulf states' economies are confronted with.

Course Corrections

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are reacting to this "double shock" by correcting their foreign policy course, the BAKS writes. During Donald Trump's presidency both had significantly escalated their aggression against Iran. On July 5, 2017, they had begun to block the Emirate Qatar, which did not support their course, continuing its own independent foreign policy of reliance on cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood - despised by both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. However, since Trump's election defeat, the Saudi-Emirati policy of aggression - which has not led to any success - has been without Washington's backing. The willingness to escalate is currently also dampened by the necessity to attract foreign investors for transforming the country's economy. The blockade of Qatar was ended on January 5, 2021. Riyadh is also showing that it is willing to hold talks on the war in Yemen. On April 9, for the first time since they broke off diplomatic relations in 2016, government representatives from Saudi Arabia and Iran held direct talks, mediated by Iraq.[2] In a TV interview in late April, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said, "Iran is a neighboring country, and all we aspire for is a good and special relationship with Iran."[3]

"A Historic Opportunity"

For months already, German government advisors have been pleading for taking advantage of the Arab Gulf States' cautious change of course in their policy toward Iran, to enhance the EU's influence in the Middle East. In December 2020 for example, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) noted that the Trump-to-Biden change of Presidency and the "perception" of US disengagement from the region, offers an opportunity for Europeans to help de-escalate tensions between Gulf States and Iran."[4] "The Europeans" should intensify their foreign and military policy activities in the region and "look to play a leading role in facilitating a new security dialogue in the Gulf." According to BAKS, "the situation of careful détente" offers the opportunity "to provide support "with political and military measures and propositions." "A historic opportunity" is opening up for the EU.[5] Certainly, Brussels' future activities "can only be effective if combined with security policy initiatives." One should "act as unified as possible or in the form of a coalition of the willing." If this can be achieved, the Union would also establish "a counterweight to China's influence in the region."

5G with Huawei

China - Germany and the EU's main rival - has recently expanded its influence on the Arabian Peninsula. It has not only generally expanded its trade and its investments in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but it is intensifying its technological cooperation as well. For example, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are both using Huawei technology to set up their 5G networks. The Emirates are even being developed into a cyber security hub by Huawei.[6] The comprehensive Sino-Emirati technological cooperation and speculations about Abu Dhabi possibly also engaging in closer military policy cooperation with Beijing, has led the United States to seriously put into question the already finalized agreement for the delivery of F-35 fighter planes and Reaper drones to the Emirates.[7] Last but not least, Beijing is providing the Arabian Peninsula with Covid-19 vaccines - and Sinopharm (Shanghai) has permitted Abu Dhabi's Group 42 (G42) company to produce its vaccines under license. Sinopharm is also enabling the Emirates to become the vaccine manufacturer for the entire region.[8]

"A Period of Fragility"

Despite all hopes of gaining ground, BAKS warns of "manifold uncertainties."[9] For example, the EU lacks "the capacity" for an all-out "development of its influence activities." "In the aftermath of Brexit," with "the ongoing conflicts between its member countries" and suffering the "effects of the corona pandemic, the EU finds itself in a period of fragility, that impedes a unified approach." The Union, as well as "single member states" are already "often pursuing conflicting interests." In addition, the EU and its leading powers are bogged down - also militarily - in other regions, particularly the Sahel and are increasingly seeking to exert extensive influence in the Asia and the Pacific region - this also with growing recourse to their armed forces.[10] Should the EU, however, manage to enhance its position in the Middle East, it must "avoid giving the impression of wanting to exert paternalistic influence," and instead "address the interests and needs of the conflict parties," the BAKS strongly recommends. A modicum of flexibility is also important, to be able to adapt one's own ideas to the changing situations." "If this is unsuccessful," warns the BAKS - probably with reference to the EU's frequent immobility - then "there is a risk of a loss of confidence."


[1] Stefan Lukas, Sebastian Sons: Ein historisches Momentum im Nahen Osten. Neue Chancen und Herausforderungen für ein europäisches Engagement in der Golfregion. Bundesakademie für Sicherheitspolitik: Arbeitspapier Sicherheitspolitik 6/2021.

[2] Saudi Arabia, Iran held direct talks in bid to ease tensions. al-monitor.com 19.04.2021.

[3] Saudi Arabia seeks 'good' relationship with Iran, says crown prince. al-monitor.com 28.04.2021.

[4] Cinzia Bianco: Gulf of difference: How Europe can get the Gulf monarchies to pursue peace with Iran. ecfr.eu 10.12.2021.

[5] Stefan Lukas, Sebastian Sons: Ein historisches Momentum im Nahen Osten. Neue Chancen und Herausforderungen für ein europäisches Engagement in der Golfregion. Bundesakademie für Sicherheitspolitik: Arbeitspapier Sicherheitspolitik 6/2021.

[6] Alkesh Sharma: Huawei to help establish UAE as cyber security hub. thenationalnews.com 05.06.2021.

[7] Warren P. Strobel, Nancy A. Youssef: F-35 Sale to U.A.E. Imperiled Over U.S. Concerns About Ties to China. wsj.com 25.05.2021.

[8] Ahmed El Sherif: UAE first country in Arab world to begin manufacturing COVID-19 vaccine. mobihealthnews.com 01.04.2021.

[9] Stefan Lukas, Sebastian Sons: Ein historisches Momentum im Nahen Osten. Neue Chancen und Herausforderungen für ein europäisches Engagement in der Golfregion. Bundesakademie für Sicherheitspolitik: Arbeitspapier Sicherheitspolitik 6/2021.

[10] See also The World's Center of Gravity.

Source:Ocnus.net 2021

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