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The evolution of internal and external security in the Arab Gulf States

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This paper examines how the concept of “Gulf security” is evolving as internal political and socioeconomic changes in the Gulf states interact with the processes of globalization and the impact of international events in this volatile region. Starting from the basic assumption of “regime security,” it first outlines the parameters that guide ruling elites in the six memberstates of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in constructing local and regional security agendas. The paper then focuses on a range of current and evolving threats to security to draw the distinction between the “internal” and “external” dimensions of security and how these relate to each other. Determining which individuals or groups hold the power and responsibility for formulating policy is important in delineating the linkages between internal and external security and deciding which issues do — and do not — dominate security agendas. This is a salient characteristic of ruling elites in the Arab oil monarchies, in which the conduct of foreign and security affairs is restricted to a tightly drawn circle of senior members of the ruling family. Our understanding of regional security-policy formulation is consequently enhanced by taking into account the factors that inform regimes’ perceptions of their internal-security matrix. This, in turn, plays a crucial role in shaping their policies towards external issues such as the unfolding post-occupation dynamics in Iraq, the ongoing dispute between Iran and the international community, and the threat posed by radicalism and transnational terrorism. In addition to the securitization of these particular issues, the second half of this paper examines a number of longterm, non-military challenges to security in the Gulf. It argues that the changing political economies of all six GCC states need to be underpinned by a new and broader approach to national and regional security. Ruling elites’ reliance on oil rents and external security guarantees have hitherto provided a powerful insulation from internal problems and demands, while also reflecting the unorthodox nature of “security” in these postcolonial states. Strengthening internal cohesion and creating more inclusive and sustainable polities is vital to overcoming the long-term challenges to security outlined in this paper. The paper consequently builds on the cognitive shift in thinking about global security that has occurred in an era of accelerating complexity in global interconnections and transnational flows of people, capital and ideas. Transnational terrorism, cross-border criminal networks and flows, and global issues such as climate change have led to the emergence of new threats to national and international security. Increasingly, these bypass the state and erode the Cold War-era demarcations between internal and external spheres as states’ monopoly over the legitimate use of force becomes contested by predatory rivals operating within societies and across state boundaries.

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