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The GCC: Gulf state integration or leadership cooperation?

LSE IDEAS, The London School of Economics and Political Science
Publication Date
  • Ja Political Science (General)
  • Jz International Relations
  • Economics
  • Political Science


The GCC was forged as an alliance of politically like-minded states which sought to cooperate in the face of perceptibly increasing security threats. The conflict between Iraq and Iran presented security threats to the different Gulf Arab regimes. Saudi Arabia was concerned that the war could encourage some of the smaller states to bandwagon with one of the two adversaries. The smaller Gulf states were prepared to work with Saudi Arabia in preference to the greater threat of Iraq and Iran. The Gulf Arab hereditary regimes formed an association whose launch reflected Arab and national norms by not defining itself in opposition to others and by emphasizing economic cooperation, not common security interests. The ideational construct of Gulf cooperation proved insufficient to overcome the statecentric rationale of maximizing national sovereignty through loose regional political cooperation and bilateral defence pacts with Washington. The increased economic weight of some of the GCC states has seen a competitive search for international prestige that has sometimes been expressed through the construct of ‘regional’ interests but is fundamentally state-leadership focused. These leaderships remain pivotal in polities largely defined by a ruling family where there is little tradition or practical capacity for devolving authority. As such a major transfer of political authority to supra-state GCC institutions also remains a far-off prospect.

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