Amid ongoing conflict in the Middle East, collective security arrangements have historically proven elusive. Regional states’ mutual mistrust, the absence of shared perceptions of threats, and competing national interests have contributed to the failure of attempts to create a broad, region-wide security system. In the Gulf, Russia, Iran and the United States have proposed competing mechanisms to foster cooperation, but these proposals have foundered, garnering little support from either Arab Gulf nations or international actors. Longer-term progress towards Gulf security cooperation will remain unlikely unless Saudi–Iranian tensions decrease. This rapprochement would require stronger cooperation between the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council themselves. US efforts to support regional security cooperation should focus on strengthening intra-GCC defence and political relationships, including through confidence-building measures, resolution of the Saudi–Qatari rift and increased interoperability of defence systems, as well as reducing perceptions that a US withdrawal from the region is imminent.
Paper produced in the framework of the FEPS-IAI project “Fostering a New Security Architecture in the Middle East”, April 2020.
1. US interests and policy
2. Security mechanisms in the Gulf
3. Security cooperation in the MENA region: Historical context (1945–1980)
4. GCC security cooperation (1981–present)
5. US, Russian and Iranian security cooperation proposals, 2017–2019
5.1 US Middle East Strategic Alliance (2017–present)
5.2 Russia’s Collective Security Concept for the Persian Gulf area
5.3 Iran’s Hormuz peace endeavour
Conclusion: Is There a Way Forward?