My paper on contemporary Saudi-Jordanian relations ("Friends in Adversity") is available via the LSE's Kuwait Gulf Studies Programme. Click here to access the PDF on the LSE website. The paper was written in June 2013.
"Turkey: Looking East and West", my article on Turkey and its relations with the EU and the Middle East, was published by Open Democracy in June 2013. Clickhereto read the article.
The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee's enquiry into the UK's relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain issued its findings on 22nd November 2013. It includes some quotes from Neil Partrick's oral evidence to the committee. Click here to access the full report.
The enquiry began on January 22nd 2013. Neil Partrick appeared before the committee in the opening session alongside Jane Kinninmont of Chatham House
Clickhere or below for the broadcast version of the appearance, followed by two ex-UK ambassadors to Bahrain, Sir Roger Tomkys and Robin Lamb.
The CORRECTED text version of Neil Partrick's evidence before the committee is available on the enquiry website. Click herefor the site or here for the report.
The BBC published my article on the Saudi succession on June 18 2012
Gulf Union: The Talk Goes on - Neil Partrick, June 18th 2012.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah took his fellow Gulf leaders by surprise at their annual summit last December when he declared that the GCC should move from co-operation to “a union in a single entity”. The results of the ensuing consultative process involving officials and academics was supposed to have enabled the state leaders at their meeting in mid-May in Riyadh to decide what this union should look like. However, the decision was postponed, seemingly until December 2012 (although the Gulf states’ foreign ministers seem set to discuss it again in September).
It is believed that at the May Riyadh meeting the GCC leaders had before them two ideas. The first was a kind of “union of the willing”, consisting of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain but possibly also including Kuwait and Qatar; the second, a proposal that new GCC consultative bodies be founded to advise on practical steps toward union in specific policy areas such as defence and economy. Nobody expected that Oman, the “UK of the GCC”, would be in the first phase of any planned union. The UAE, which has kept out of preparations for a common currency due to a dispute over the location of the proposed central bank and which still has border sensitivities with Saudi Arabia, was not expected to come on board at this stage either.
National sovereignty remains a sensitive issue for all six member countries, especially among the smaller states who fear Saudi dominance, just as in the Euro Zone where German weight feeds resentments in other member states. The GCC already has a workable customs union, despite the complications of different rules applying to two member states’ trade with the US, and the annual spectacle of trucks from Abu Dhabi being held up for days on end at the Saudi border.
However, since its inception the GCC has not been able to agree on how to move beyond ad hoc co-operation on defence and diplomacy. Although largely founded out of fear of Iran, the GCC is still unable to act effectively as a bloc to contain it. Integrated defence and diplomacy could also allow the GCC to deal more effectively with the challenges of upheaval in the Arab world Different GCC member countries sometimes take quite different approaches to regional security and seek to position themselves globally in contradistinction to each other - with the most glaring example of this difference being between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. While they have for the most part successfully presented a common front since the Arab spring, thereby enabling the GCC and the Arab League to take on more diplomatic substance, they are not in any sense bound together, other than on a case by case, bilateral, basis. In both countries there is a strong sense of the other seeking to be the preeminent Arab actor – something that any attempt by the GCC to move beyond trade to a union affecting political sovereignty will need to overcome.
The union idea attracts broad support outside of government, and not just among Saudi elites. Former Arab nationalists throughout the GCC hope that, on the right basis, the notion of Arab unity can still have a practical meaning across today’s Gulf. In Kuwait, which sees itself as the historic builder of Gulf co-operation due to its support for the nascent states of the lower Gulf – pro-Saudi Islamist opinion is in favour. Liberal opinion is more cautious, however, and the importance of safeguards for the autonomy of the Kuwaiti parliament is stressed. In Bahrain the leadership and its political allies seem the most unequivocal in their support for union, beginning perhaps with one forged with Saudi Arabia alone. Talk of a confederation of these two kingdoms, however, must surely be just that because the demographic realities of being one country in law, as well as in rhetoric, would be as uncomfortable for the Saudi leadership as for the Bahraini opposition.
In external defence terms, the GCC’s “Peninsula Shield” has never been a genuinely “joined up” force. Resistance to such a body has been long standing in the GCC, and the form of its intervention in Bahrain does nothing to alter the impression of Gulf defence matters being largely handled by a loose coalition. The increased talk about a regional missile defence shield would, if it materialises, make much more sense than sovereign missile defences on sometimes tiny patches of territory . However, this would integrate the Gulf states’ missile defence with the US and is not therefore a self-reliant, integrated, defence capability of the kind apparently being sought. Joining up defence procurement would go much further to end the established bilateralism of the six Gulf states with western military allies, but this is not a prospect looked upon with relish by Gulf leaders or, it seems, in western capitals.
All of this appears quite far off at present, and sceptics are perhaps justified in wondering exactly what further extended deliberation by advisers, as opposed to government leaders, can achieve. Saudi enthusiasts for a union argue that the UAE itself is a political model readily understood by all Gulf leaders, even if the legal and theoretical niceties of sovereignty are sometimes not.
Given all of this, the question is whether a political union, that mostly continues to elude even the EU, is something that the self-styled cooperation council of the Arabian Gulf states can really conceive of themselves agreeing to. If not, then the agreed limits, as much as the prerequisites, of a union need to be spelled out in order for this project to ever get beyond the drawing board.
The KSA and Syria (and Russia too)
May 31, 2012.
In an Al-Watan interview a few days ago, Mikhail Bogdanov, the deputy foreign minister and special advisor to the Russian President, said that Moscow had no problem with a change at the top in Syria, but not by external military intervention. He also emphasised to the Saudi daily that Russia is on the same page as the GCC re Syria and stressed the value of intra-Syrian talks (as per the Annan Plan). I wonder if the Saudi government might be getting a bit tired of the SNC (which it has always been wary of, it seems to me) and its reluctance to talk to the Syrian regime. Perhaps the KSA might be willing to give some encouragement to the growing sense coming out of Moscow that Assad has to go, possibly along the lines of the GCC's Yemen Plan (which of course IS the GCC Syria Plan too, and in effect is what Annan is supposed to be trying to deliver). None of this means that the Annan Plan isn't in need of desperate life support, if not resuscitation. However Dr Fyodor Luykanov commented to the BBC this morning that the Russian government post Houla seems to be accepting that the game has changed and some kind of Yemen option for Syria is needed. The writer Luykanov is close to the Russian foreign ministry and thus his argument could suggest what Russian official thinking is becoming. Or it might be a bluff to stave of western and Arab pressure for more drastic solutions to deal with Moscow's ally in Damascus. However for the Saudis it does not seem to me that a role in the armed overthrow of a regime already presiding over a nascent civil war is that attractive (even if Qatar sees things differently from its geographical vantage point.)
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