Nabeel Zafar talks about a
Impending Gulf States-Iran Alliance – International relations are a curiously unpredictable phenomenon keeping the global scenario topsy turvy. It was not so long ago that the world was destabilised by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and its effects were felt far and wide. This conflict brought to fore the fact that the international system is anar¬chic and all bargaining among states takes place in the shadow of the use of force. States that can muster more military force can retain their security and compel concessions from others. States maintain their security by deterring threats against them and successful deterrence requires convincing potential adversaries that pursuing gains at a state’s expense through the use of force would be unsuccessful or prohibitively costly due to the state’s ability to wage a successful war. Russian-Ukrainian conflict was a clear reflection of the propensities of states to resort to military means to settle disputes and at times they do not hesitate to use it with apparent impunity.
It is quite ironical to observe that while Russia and Ukraine are engaged in existential struggle, the other perennial enemies were taking steps to end their conflict. The enmity between Saudi Arabia and Iran was long drawn and had historical background to it as the Arab and non-Arab difference exists since centuries and both these countries are known to be the epitome of this age-old adverse relationship. Both countries have been pursuing opposite course of policies and actions since more than seven decades as Saudi Arabia remains a staunch ally of America while Iran is a diehard enemy of the US since the last half a century. Moreover, both countries tried to become the leader of the Muslim world with the result that both countries fought a number of proxy wars in the Middle East. These efforts have deepened the sectarian divide between the Muslims as the Muslim world is divided between Sunnis and Shi’ites creating problems for both the communities. The mutual antipathy between both the states has also proved to be a consistent geo-strategic issue for the region they are located in. In the process Iran has suffered substantially more though Saudi Arabia has also borne the brunt of the adversity.
Overtime, however, the leadership of both the countries realised the futility of pursuing the exhausting course of animosity and it was noticed that since sometime the decidedly cool relations between the Saudis and Iranians warmed up a bit, with the reports emerging of friendly contacts. It was also reported that both sides were holding talks brokered by Iraq, though there was months-long gap since the last time representatives met. It was widely suggested that the peace process could move forward considerably if both re-established diplomatic ties that were snapped in 2016 when Riyadh executed vocal Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr despite tremendous internal and external pressure for granting him clemency. However, it soon emerged that both the countries realised that they cannot change their status as regional neighbours and need to work out a way of living with each other and respecting each other’s red lines.
The thaw between both the countries pointed out that a Saudi-Iranian détente could bring peace to Yemen along with helping stabilise Lebanon and Iraq, as both countries exercised influence in these countries, while intra-Muslim relations would also benefit greatly from improved ties between the two. After a successful signing of agreement to restore relations and normalising ties, Saudi Arabia and Iran literally galloped towards increasing their interaction. The deal is expected to see Shi’ite-majority Iran and mainly Sunni Saudi Arabia reopen their embassies and missions within two months and implement security and economic cooperation deals signed more than 20 years ago. This development took place just a week after both the regional adversaries agreed to reconciliation in a Chinese-brokered deal.
Now it is reported that the Saudi-Iranian thaw may evolve in something wider, possibly in a form of an alliance that may include most Gulf states including Iran. This opinion is in line with the fact that alliance system is as relevant now as was before and therefore it is imperative to look at various aspects of this practice so that it becomes clear what aspirations and goals such alliance may adhere to. This impending alliance may be used to reduce their individual defence burdens. To the extent that economies of scale exist in the provision of defence Gulf states might find it more efficient to com¬bine their defence preparations with other states rather than bear the full burden of defence provi¬sions on their own.
In the tradition of alliances it is obvious that the impending alliance will be a formal agreement among inde¬pendent states in the international system to coop¬erate in the event of conflict with outside parties. It must be kept in view that alliances are distinguished from informal alignments by their codification in a written document while states that share interests and tend to coordinate behaviour may be termed aligned only states that have made an international legal commitment to assist one another are allied. Alliances involve promises of assistance in the event of military conflict with outside parties. They are distinguishable from other forms of military cooperation such as arms sales agreements and intelligence-sharing agreements.
It is expected that following the traditional pattern most alliances are formed through treaties in which specific promises made in these treaties can vary significantly. Some alliances commit the signato¬ries to assist one another in the event a member state is attacked and these are often referred to as defence pacts. Other alliances provide for states to assist one another in accomplishing offensive goals, usually in addition to defensive promises. Many alliances, however, fall short of guaranteeing active partici¬pation in conflicts that may arise and instead com¬mit the member states to remain neutral and pro¬vide no support for the adversary of an ally in the event the ally becomes involved in conflict or com¬mit the members to consult in the event of threat and make every attempt to produce a coordinated response without any specificity about what that coordinated response might be.
In many cases, alliance treaties also specify the conditions under which the obligations come into force. Rather than applying to any military con¬flict, an alliance may apply only to conflicts with specific adversaries, in specific loca¬tions, or in conjunction with a specific dispute. Alliances also vary in the level of peacetime investment and coordination they require. While some alliance treaties only require action in the event conflict emerges, others provide for the development of organizations and military integra¬tion during peacetime, for one state to place troops on the territory of an ally during peacetime or for shared development of defence and foreign policy. While anticipating that some kind of alliance will emerge out of the ongoing Saudi-Iran parleys it must be kept in view that given the fact that there is no institution to provide external enforcement of contracts in the interna¬tional system it is widely conjectured about the belief of the state system to so heavily rely on it. It is in this context that any impending alliance between the Gulf states and Iran may remain fraught with uncertainties and it may be quite difficult to ensure its efficacy and even survival. It may also be kept in view in order to diffuse conflict the impending alliance may create larger and more severe conflicts. The Weekender