Looking West

At the annual year-end GCC summit last year, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia asked the region "to move from a stage of cooperation to a stage of union into a single entity". The ambitious Saudi call for a Gulf union came in the wake of the political disturbances in Bahrain and the collective GCC military intervention there in March 2011.

The Saudis are nervous about rising Iranian power and occasionally accuse Tehran of encouraging fellow Shia to revolt against Sunni Arab monarchies. Saudi Arabia and Qatar from the GCC have backed Sunni opposition to the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. There has been talk of inviting the Sunni monarchs from Jordan and Morocco to join the GCC.

But not all countries in the GCC are enthusiastic about limiting their national sovereignty and establishing a Gulf political Union. It is unlikely that any progress will be made towards the union at this week's GCC summit in Bahrain. A separate special GCC summit is likely to be called next year to bring the political debate on the union to a close. As Iran and Syria dominate this year's summit level discussion, there is no denying that the GCC, established in 1981 following the Islamic revolution in Iran, has arrived at a fork on the road.

India's role

Even if they succeed in generating greater unity, the weak and vulnerable regimes of the GCC will continue to depend on great power support for peace and stability in the region. Through the modern period it was the British Raj that was the principal provider of security to the Arab Gulf kingdoms. After the Partition of India, and

the withdrawal of Great Britain from east of Suez, the United States has been the main guarantor of

Gulf security.

Although the US is likely to remain the dominant power in the Gulf for the foreseeable future, the region is increasingly concerned about the constancy of American policies and is looking towards a diversification of its security partnerships. No wonder the GCC countries want a stronger political dialogue, deeper economic engagement and substantive defence cooperation with India. It is entirely up to India, then, to craft a purposeful Look West policy.

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