Archive Page 2

Saudi Arabia’s oil: essential, but how vulnerable?

By Torgeir Fjærtoft

Saudi Aramco is a main sponsor of this year’s Norwegian oil, gas and off- shore fair, ONS, in Stavanger. When the Norwegian organizers accord such a role to the Saudi Arabian oil company, it is probably in recognition of the essential role of Saudi Arabia in the global oil supply , and therefore in the shaky global economic stability. To manage this role Saudi Arabia maintains spare capacity to adjust its volume of oil production to maintain supply and price stability.

How vulnerable is this role?

Currently two main factors bear on the Saudi ability to maintain its oil exports: the technology available to recover oil from the fields, a main topic at this year’s ONS, and the political stability in the region, essential to stable shipping lanes. The shipping lanes in the Gulf would be highly vulnerable in case of hostilities with Iran. To reduce this vulnerability Saudi Arabia maintains spare capacity in a cross country pipeline to divert oil exports to Red Sea ports. Skeptics point out that the Saudi surge capacity in production and contingency plans for shipping have yet to be proven viable and may not be dependable. Also, a new, emerging risk is the looming disintegration of Yemen which could turn into a new Somalia, lining both sides of the alternative shipping lanes with pirates and terrorists. The vulnerabilities are aggravated by the nerves of market actors and the calculations of speculators.

Beyond the current crisis over Iran, both regional political stability and global economic stability will hardly be viable without a degree of Iranian Saudi cooperation. There are even unconfirmed reports about nascent projects

In the longer-term, the relationship between oil and gas is the central issue in the future of the whole region as global energy supplier. To escape the current trend of increasing domestic energy consumptions over exports, at the expense of both export earnings and the global oil supply, Saudi Arabia needs to replace as much as possible of its current domestic oil use with gas, in power production, desalination and manufacturing.  Since Saudi Arabia is not a gas producer, at least not yet, such substitution takes regional cooperation.  Iran holds the second largest gas reserves in the world, and shares its huge South Pars field under the Gulf with Qatar.

In an even longer-term, the global dependence on fossil fuels from Saudi Arabia is not sustainable. Oil is a finite resource inflicting serious climate damage. In this perspective the Saudi oil minister is reportedly concerned about what the optimal oil price would be to provide effective incentives to several compelling policy goals: make marginal fields profitable in the interest of global oil supply, and at the same time encourage conservation of this essential, but finite resource. The price of oil should also be high enough to make alternative energy sources profitable and provide necessary incentives for research and development.

Saudi Arabia may tap the power of the burning sun for solar power, but drifting sand and dust in the desert makes this difficult with the current state of technology. Saudis are concerned that sand and dust are increasing due to climate change: less rain, more wind.  At ONS Saudi Aramco engineers told about their program to inject the climate gas CO2 to recover more oil, rather than water, a scarce, precious resource.

The ONS will hopefully continue to be a venue for discussions with Saudis on solutions to pressing global problems. Saudi Arabia will either be part of the solution or part of the problem. It will be their decision, but we can influence them by dialogue.

Live from Kuwait: …democratization?

By: Jon Nordenson

There’s never a dull moment in Kuwaiti politics, but the last few days have been exceptional. In an unprecedented verdict, the constitutional court last week deemed the dissolution of the previous parliament unconstitutional, and reinstated it. Thus; the 2012 elections were declared null and void, and the oppositional parliament it produced is to be replaced by the less oppositional 2009-parliament. However, last night, thousands of protesters begged to differ; they even demanded a full parliamentary system. Are we witnessing a transition towards a more democratic system in Kuwait?

As I have written earlier, Kuwaiti politics have been in a state of constant crisis since Sheykh Nasir al-Muhammad’s ascendance to the premiership in 2006. A campaign (or rather several campaigns) to oust him eventually succeeded last winter, and Sheykh Jabir al-Mubarak replaced him. Then the parliament was dissolved, and new elections called for. These elections produced a clear oppositional majority in the new parliament, which now has been dissolved. The term “oppositional majority” might sound somewhat strange, but this stems from the fact that the government in Kuwait is appointed, not formed based on a parliamentary majority. Thus, the situation was that the majority of the parliament was seen as oppositional towards the government.

This parliamentary majority did, not surprisingly, continue to question government ministers, though not in such a harsh way as before. This may not be surprising either; if they had gone too far, the Emir might have dissolved parliament (as has happened many times before when the opposition question ministers), and all their electoral gains would have been lost. Nevertheless, the government seems to have viewed the situation as quite problematic; before the ruling of the constitutional court, the Emir issued a decree suspending parliamentary activities for a month (which would have lasted until their summer holiday, effectively suspending parliamentary activities until October).

Then came the ruling of the constitutional court, which is final. Their argument was that the Emir dissolved the 2009-parliament following Sheykh Nasir al-Muhammad’s resignation, but before Sheykh Jabir al-Mubarak had formed a new Government. Thus, the dissolution took place without a Government, which is unconstitutional. What is supposed to happen next is as follows; the current Government resigns (which it did yesterday), a new Government corresponding to the 2009 parliament is formed, former speaker of parliament Jasim al-Khurafi resumes his work, reconvenes the 2009 parliament, and they continue until their term expires in 2013. However, this is not likely to happen, as a majority of the 2009 parliament protest the court’s verdict and refuses to reconvene. Thus, as described by al-Qabas newspaper today, the most likely scenario is as follows; a new government is formed, the old parliament is reconvened but unable to perform its duties, the government asks the Emir to dissolve it, and new elections are held. Again.

The oppositional majority of the 2012 parliament has staunchly opposed the court’s verdict, deeming it political and unconstitutional. As mentioned, a rally was held outside parliament last night, under the heading “we won’t surrender”, drawing thousands of people (estimates vary, but most place the number at between 30 000 and 40 000). A new movement has also been launched; the “return of the majority”-movement. However, the most remarkable thing about last night’s rally was not the protest against the verdict or the rather impressive turnout; it was the demands put forward by the MPs (demands that have also been launched in the media by the same MPs): a full parliamentary system, with an elected Government, and Kuwait as a constitutional monarchy. These demands have been raised by youth movements for well over a year, but now a majority of the (ousted) MPs support them as well. Seemingly, the struggle for democratization in Kuwait has taken a big leap forward. There are, however, several factors at play one should bear in mind:

–          The Hadar/Badu split: Kuwait has been described as a divided society, and one split is between the Hadar (city-dwellers) and Badu (tribal) parts of the population. The Hadar have traditionally held on to the lion’s share of both money and power, whereas the Badu, in spite on constituting a majority of the electorate, are underprivileged in both arenas (which is part of the reason why many demand one electoral district). Not surprisingly, the Badu have been at the forefront of both the campaign against Nasir al-Muhammad, the opposition in parliament, and the campaigns for democratization. Thus, some have deemed the ouster of al-Muhammad and the opposition’s success in the last elections a “tribal revolution”, antagonizing many Hadar. (now) Former MP Muhammad al-Juwaihil has made a career out of this division, constantly making derogatory remarks about the tribes, and questioned their rights in Kuwait under the less than charming heading “Kuwait for Kuwaitis”. The tribes have taken the bait and lashed out against al-Juwaihil, on one occasion burning down his campaign tent. In other words; we might be witnessing an increased polarization of Kuwaiti society.

–          This also goes for sectarianism: about one third of Kuwaitis are Shias, and sectarian tension is a very sensitive subject in Kuwait. Following the “Arab Spring”, the issue has come to the fore. Whereas Kuwaiti Shias generally support the democratic movement in Bahrain, many Sunni politicians and activists have branded it as Iranian interference. Some Sunni politicians – who are part of the opposition – have also accused Shia politicians of lying in Parliament. It should be noted here that most of the Shia MPs were among Nasir al-Muhammad’s closest allies.

–          The Democratic credentials of the opposition: though the demands put forward now seems as important steps towards a more democratic Kuwait, not all parts of the opposition’s track record are equally persuasive. With regards to Bahrain, they have generally not supported the (Shia) democratic movement, whereas they have taken the opposite stance towards the (Sunni) uprising in Syria. Many of the oppositional MPs have supported tougher laws on blasphemy, even advocating death penalty for insults to the prophet. Not all support female MPs and ministers, and one has made negative remarks towards Kuwait allowing churches to be built in the country. The opposition is complex and consists of different groups and ideologies, but many would find it difficult to call it an unambiguously democratic opposition as such.

–          Disagreements within the royal family: there are differences within the ruling family as to which direction Kuwait should take for the future. One persistent rumor has it that some parts of the family are fed up with political bickering hindering any economic development, and are enviously looking to Qatar and the Emirates. Another point is the fight for power; many ambitious members of the ruling family seek their share of power, and try to position themselves. Often, they have allies in parliament and otherwise, giving the infighting wider effects. This has gone so far that the leading newspaper al-Qabas took the unprecedented step and spoke of it on their front page.

There are of course other important factors in play as well. For instance, the fight against corruption, an ever present phenomenon in Kuwait, is at once both very real and the favored accusation used by the opposition as well as pro-government forces. The tribes’ demand for democratic reform may of course be interpreted both as a step towards a more democratic Kuwait, or as the tribes using it for their own benefit, as they stand to win from more proportional representation. Kuwaiti politics is chaotic at the moment, and sometimes quite messy, and certainly unpredictable. But this might be just what democratization looks like. Many different forces with different motives are involved, some probably less noble than others. Yet; if more power is to be moved to democratically elected institutions, others have to give up said powers, which naturally will be a contested process. There is hardly any surprise in a process of democratization being a messy and unpredictable one, and these are adjectives that fit well with Kuwaiti politics at the moment. But one thing is, at least, certain: the question of a full parliamentary system has been raised by MPs, and many will probably feature this in their programs in the next elections (which, I expect, will happen shortly). Given the populist nature of Kuwait’s electoral campaigns, the proposal might very well gain considerable support should the electorate respond positively to it.


The importance of eating

Tora Systad Tyssen

When Abdulhadi al-Khawaja on May 28th announced that his 110 days long hunger strike was over and that he now would start eating again, several sighs of relief were probably heard across Bahrain. Obviously, from his family and his loved ones who had feared that the hunger strike would eventually kill the Bahraini-Danish activist. But certainly also from the regime, which since the start of the strike seemed unable to decide how to handle the defiant prisoner.
After being arrested and convicted of trying to overthrow the regime last year, al-Khawaja has been one of the more high profiled political prisoners in Bahrain. Ever since he returned from political exile in Denmark in 1999, al-Khawaja has been challenging what he calls systematic human rights abuses from the Bahraini government, and has as a consequence of it been in and out of prison ever since. When he in 2004 was arrested for criticising the Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa ibn Salman Al Khalifa for the country’s current economic problems and past human rights abuses, he was released shortly after by a royal pardon by the King. However, such a royal pardon was not given when he April 9th last year was arrested and charged for “organizing and managing a terrorist organisation”, “attempt to overthrow the Government by force and in liaison with a terrorist organisation working for a foreign country” and the “collection of money for a terrorist group”, the terrorist organization referred to being Bahrain Centre for Human Rights where al-Khawaja is one of the founders. After almost a year in prison, in February this year, he decided to stop eating.
Fuelled by writings of social media activists (including al-Khawajas close family members) and human rights organizations the hunger strike shortly received attention, also from the international media. Having the tragic personal situation of al-Khawaja to centre their articles around seemed to make it easier to cover the ongoing unrest in the Gulf kingdom. As al-Khawajas situation in the beginning was not life threatening, the government seemed to be on the fence about how to handle the issues. When I visited Bahrain in March a young politically active Sunni Muslim supporting the government commented on the situation saying that Abdulhadi al-Khawaja has been on a hunger strike for 29 days and he did not die yet. For Gods sake. Indicating that everyone would be better off if the activist would just, well, die. However, it seems now that everyone is better off by al-Khawaja eating.
As the 29 days doubled and the start date of the annual Formula 1 race in Bahrain was approaching quickly, the international media and political pressure on the Bahraini government was growing. The International Automobile Federation was contemplating cancelling the race in Bahrain for the second year in a row due to the political unrest and the uncertainty of the security situation. The Bahraini government and royal family were apparently doing all they could to calm the situation and ensure the international racers that their country was a safe destination. As the decision to go ahead with the race came, the top priority of the Bahraini regime was to minimize negative international media coverage in relation to it. For months international journalists had been refused access to the kingdom, but with the major sporting event coming up, media visas again had to be issued and protesters eyed the opportunity for extensive international attention.
One of the immediate issues that the government needed to handle was the al-Khawaja situation as negative media coverage of it was mounting, but a split within the government made that difficult. The foreign minister, a close ally of the king, was trying to reach a compromise where al-Khawaja would be sent abroad, most probably Denmark, for medical treatment (The Danish Foreign Minister Willy Søvndal had requested the prisoners transfer, citing his Danish co-citizenship. The Bahraini Supreme Judiciary Council dismissed the request). The foreign minister probably eyed the opportunity for some international diplomatic goodwill and more positive press coverage, but also seemed concerned with avoiding al-Khawaja becoming a martyr. The Prime Minister however, who was the object of al-Khawajas criticism back in 2004, used his influence to nullify the transfer order. Instead al-Khawaja was sent to another hospital under the control of the defence minister, and eventually, according to reports, force-fed.
Had al-Khawaja however been sent to Denmark and retrieved medical care there, it is difficult to say how that would have affected the activists still operating in Bahrain. Certainly, his strong demonstration of human will and stance against the regime was strengthened by the fact that he was within the borders of the country. Criticising from without is easy, but from within not necessarily so, hence the effect of it would not have been so strong. It is difficult inspiring a revolution in Bahrain from hospital facilities in Copenhagen. al-Khawaja has stated the fact that he was force-fed as one of the reasons why he now has decided to end his hunger strike, but more importantly he and the political unrest had received the wanted attention. So in a way everyone now wins some. The regime avoids having made al-Khawaja a martyr, whereas the protesters still have one of their strongest leaders close by, alive and ready to inspire further demonstrations. al-Khawajas imprisonment and life sentence however remains, and it will be interesting to see how long that sentence will withstand international diplomatic pressure for its sanctioning.

Coping with crisis: intervention versus regional cooperation

By Torgeir E. Færtoft


The perceived success of the NATO bombing to prevent mass murder by Gadaffi has revived the idea of humanitarian intervention, as set out in my previous blog input.  Humanitarian intervention now emerges as an option in Syria as violence persists and destabilization and disintegration looms.

But humanitarian intervention is still an intervention, with the risks and unintended consequences now especially evident in Iraq and Afghanistan, both failed attempts at social engineering by invasion.

Are there alternative policy options to the fatalism of non-intervention and the impotence of social engineering by force?

There are now some encouraging signs that regional political frameworks may be emerging to stem the threatening chaos in the practically contiguous belt of looming social and political breakdown from Somalia, over Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Somalia the AlQaida affiliate AlShabaab, who exploited the political vacuum left by the failed state, is forced on the defensive by a combination of Kenyan, Ethiopian and an African Union troops. As a result, there is now the prospect of a first functioning central government since it broke down in 1991. Across the narrow stretch of sea and pirate infested waters, in Yemen, where a Somalia like scenario has loomed for some time, the regional organization of the Gulf Arab states, the Gulf Cooperation Council, has engineered a political solution, which, if imperfect, is still a step in the opposite direction from chaos, violence and a heaven for organized crime and terrorism.  The GCC countries will now at an upcoming summit consider further integration steps.  In the case of Syria, Turkey holds the key to a regional framework for a political solution. In Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, now backing different sectarian factions, would need to cooperate. In the case of Afghanistan, a regional political solution needs Iran, who supported the anti-Taliban Northern alliance before it became the vehicle for the Western invasion, and then supported the Pashtu-based current regime. Iran must be joined by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which must keep the rivalry with India over Kashmir from spilling over to Afghanistan.

Why would the regional powers cooperate rather than undermine each other by proxies?   Greg Gause points out the temptation to exploit politically trans-boundary identities, ethnic and religious, with potentially backfiring effects. Often the temptation to undermine the adversaries outweigh the concerns about the destabilizing effect, but perhaps not now.  Both Somalia and Afghanistan, and to some extent Yemen, are victims of superpower rivalries during the Cold War. Today their instability has repercussions beyond their borders. Such repercussions, inevitable in all internal conflict leading to social and political breakdown, create incentives for the regional cooperation necessary for stability. Without stability development is not possible and human misery will persist.

Utsikter til et gass-kartell?

Ådne Cappelen og Knut Einar Rosendahl

Siden 1973 har OPEC vært en svært viktig aktør i oljemarkedet. Organisasjonen ble stiftet i 1960, men det tok 13 år før den tok grep som påvirket markedet i vesentlig grad. Kan noe lignende skje i gassmarkedet – bør markedet være forberedt på et gass-OPEC? Det eksisterer allerede en organisasjon av gasseksporterende land (GECF – Gas Exporting Countries Forum; som minner om 1960-årenes OPEC. GECF ble stiftet i 2001, og inkluderer blant annet de tre største landene målt i gassreserver, Russland, Qatar og Iran.[1] Så langt har GECF vært mer et diskusjonsforum (jf. navnet) enn en slagkraftig organisasjon. Vil GECF utvikle seg til et slags gasskartell i årene som kommer?

Det har vært flere spekulasjoner omkring et gasskartell etter at GECF ble stiftet (se for eksempel Hallouche (2006) og Jaffe and Soligo (2006)). Det er både likhetstrekk og forskjeller når man sammenligner med OPEC. Begge organisasjonene har viktige medlemsland i Gulfen, men i GECF er det bare Qatar som er medlem av Gulf-statene. OPEC består som kjent av flere viktige Gulf-land. Det gjelder ikke minst Saudi Arabia, som også har betydelige gassreserver. Hittil har landet valgt å stå utenfor GECF.

En viktig forskjell mellom olje og gass er at olje er mye billigere å transportere enn gass. Det har medført at mens man gjerne har referert til et verdensmarked for olje, refereres det til regionale markeder for gass. Selv om LNG-teknologien gjør det mulig å frakte gass over store sjødistanser, er transporten forholdsvis kostbar. Prisene på gass i ulike deler av verden er derfor fortsatt lite integrerte og viser store regionale variasjoner. Det betyr blant annet at effektene av kutt i gasseksporten vil avhenge av hvilket land som kutter og hvilken destinasjon som berøres. Det kan gjøre det vanskeligere å få til optimale koordinerte kutt i gassproduksjon i et gasskartell, sammenlignet med et oljekartell. Selv om ulik fordeling av produksjonskutt i prinsippet kan ordnes via sidebetalinger (slik at et medlem av kartellet får kompensert for kuttet fra andre medlemmer), er det tvilsomt om dette vil la seg gjøre i praksis.

Både OPEC og GECF har ett medlemsland som er spesielt dominerende – i GECF er dette Russland som har 24% av verdens gassreserver (BP, 2011). Russland er verdens klart største eksportør av gass, og har verdens nest største gassproduksjon og -konsum (etter USA). Det er derfor rimelig å anta at GECF vil ha begrenset innflytelse uten at Russland er interessert i å bremse eksporten. Russland har ved flere anledninger vist at landet er villig til å kutte gasseksporten for å oppnå bedre betingelser (jf. konfliktene med Ukraina i 2006 og 2009). Det er likevel lite som i dag tyder på at landet er villig til å gå med på koordinerte begrensninger i gasseksporten for å oppnå høyere gasspriser. Russiske myndigheter har flere ganger benektet at de ønsker et gasskartell, og de er trolig skeptiske til å overlate noe av kontrollen over sine eksportbeslutninger til et organ som GECF. På den annen side kan det tenkes at Russland kan være interessert i å koordinere store infrastrukturinvesteringer med andre medlemsland, for å unngå for stort tilbud av gass med påfølgende prisfall (se Gabriel m.fl. (2012a) for en nærmere diskusjon av Russlands rolle i GECF).

Selv om det er lite som tyder på at GECF er på vei til å bli et gasskartell i nærmeste framtid, kan situasjonen endre seg lengre fram i tid. Et relevant spørsmål er da hvor mye medlemslandene vil kunne tjene på koordinerte produksjonskutt. I Gabriel m.fl. (2012b) blir dette spørsmålet analysert ved hjelp av en detaljert numerisk modell for gassmarkedene i verden. Resultatene derfra tyder på at gevinsten er heller beskjeden. I perioden 2010-2030 øker GECF-landenes samlede profitt med maksimalt 15% når de reduserer produksjonen av gass for å maksimere samlet profitt. I noen år faller profitten. Noen av GECF-landene kommer dårligere ut enn før med mindre sidebetalinger lar seg gjennomføre. Alt i alt tyder disse resultatene på at det er lite å tjene for GECF-landene, sammenlignet med kostnadene og utfordringene knyttet til koordinerte produksjonskutt.

Gabriel m.fl. (2012) tester også effekten av at GECF utvides til å inkludere hele Midtøsten (ikke minst Saudi Arabia og de Forente arabiske emirater) og de kaspiske landene. Da blir effekten klart større – samlet profitt for kartellet kan da øke med mer enn en tredel. Spesielt gassmarkedet i Europa vil da bli påvirket, med klart høyere gasspriser. Resultatene tyder dermed på at et gasskartell er lite sannsynlig med mindre GECF klarer å få med seg de aller fleste viktige gassprodusentene i Midtøsten og Sentral-Asia.


BP (2011): BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2011.

Gabriel, S., A. Moe, K.E. Rosendahl og M. Tsygankova (2012a): The Likelihood and Potential Implications of a Natural Gas Cartel, kommer i R. Fouquet (red.): Handbook on Energy and Climate Change, Edward Elgar Publishing.

Gabriel, S.A., K.E. Rosendahl, R.G. Egging, H. Avetisyan og S. Siddiqui (2012b): Cartelization in Gas Markets: Studying the Potential for a “Gas OPEC”, Energy Economics 34, 137-152.

Hallouche, H. (2006): The Gas Exporting Countries Forum: Is it really a Gas OPEC in the Making, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, NG 13, Oxford.

Jaffe, A.M. og R. Soligo (2006): Market Structure in the New Gas Economy: Is Cartelization Possible? I Victor, D.G., Jaffe, A.M., Hayes, M. H. (red.), Natural Gas and Geopolitics: From 1970 to 2040, kapittel 11, Cambridge University Press.

[1] De øvrige GECF-landene er Nigeria, Venezuela, Algerie, Egypt, Libya, Bolivia, Trinidad og Tobago og Ekvatorial Guinea. Norge er observatør, i likhet med Nederland og Kasakhstan.

Humanitarian intervention: after Libya what about Syria?

By Torgeir E. Fjærtoft

After the air campaign in Libya to protect civilians against the murderous intent of Ghadafi, what about protecting Syrians against Assad?
This question involves the difficult trade-off between two competing principles: national sovereignty versus individual human rights.  When the special envoy, the former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan, now is charged with the daunting task of restraining the violence in Syria, he brings with him the discussion he initiated as UN Secretary General in the 1990’s on humanitarian intervention. He then urged that when a state fails to protect the human rights of its citizens, the regime forfeits its right to sovereignty and the international community must intervene.
This discussion is as old as the United Nations. An important principle at its founding after World War II was decolonization, or anti-imperialism, in other words the right to self-determination and respect for national sovereignty. This principle is even visibly embodied in the lay-out of the UN building in New York when you ascend the escalator and face the three chambers symbolizing the ideas upon which the UN was conceived: The Security Council, the Economic and Social Council – and the Trusteeship Chamber, envisaged dealing with decolonization.
This principle of national sovereignty, with the ensuing principle of non-interference, suited old and new dictatorships. But at the same time a campaign was launched by activists in the democratic member states for a competing principle, individual human rights, leading to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The end of the Cold War created a freedom of manoeuvre in which the competition between these to principles surfaced in the 1990’s. The impotence to prevent genocide in Rwanda spurred the discussion of international humanitarian responsibility, leading to military interventions in Yugoslavia and Somalia.  The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, by calling for humanitarian intervention, then called into question the very concept of national sovereignty upon which the UN was built. But he went even further. When the Security Council was deadlocked by superpower veto, he called upon regional organizations, such as NATO, to assume the responsibility to protect.
The principle of humanitarian intervention was discredited by the 2003 invasion of Iraq when the British Prime Minister Tony Blair explicitly and the US President George Bush implicitly invoked it. The invasion was widely seen as illegitimate and the consequences as disaster. (The invasion of Afghanistan is a more complicated case and beyond the scope of this input.)
Then the 2011 aerial campaign in Libya, an archetypal humanitarian intervention in the spirit of Kofi Anan, was seen as successful (even if the long-term effects remain uncertain), revindicating the principle set forth in the 1990’s.
But as mediator in the case of Syria Kofi Anan does not yet call for humanitarian military intervention. In addition to the obvious political risks and inevitable collateral damage of bombing like in Libya, there are other considerations. The principle of humanitarian intervention works most effectively when kept as an option of ultimate recourse, a threat if the ruler fails to show restraint in violence. Also, short of war, the international community, for practical purposes the West, has other effective tools of pressure, as Kofi Annan himself pointed out while UN Secretary General.  Sanctions have a bad record of effectiveness, but targeting individual power-holders with freezing their funds abroad and restricting their right to travel has proven effective and should be applied at a much earlier stage. After all, by accepting assets and allowing travel governments can become accessories to abuse considered criminal in the countries where the Ghadaffies and Assads keep their money and go to relax or – ultimately – escape.

Towards a Gulf union

By: Tora Systad Tyssen

When hundreds of Saudi troops and 500 police from UAE entered Bahrain in mid-March 2011 the deputy chairman of Bahrain`s parliament, Abdel al-Mowada, said it was a showing of solidarity among the GCC. It was also a showing of the strong Saudi security stamp on the region, an influence bound to grow stronger as steps are taken towards a more united GCC with Saudi Arabia as a main guardian.  

At the opening of the annual Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh in December Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz called for the formation of a Gulf union in response to what he called “growing threats”, saying that “you must realize that our security and stability are threatened and we need to live up to our responsibilities”. The proposal to coordinate defense affairs and other policies among the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council is seen as the natural extension of the already existing GCC military cooperation, which was formed in 1981 as a security alliance to counter post-revolution Iran. Given the unrest in Bahrain the leaders of the GCC seems willing to take significant steps to secure Sunni leadership in the region and counter any Iranian attempt to extend their influence.

The first steps towards unity seems to be taken by King Abdullah and the Bahraini king Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, not surprising in light of the unrest in Bahrain. They have already met to discuss “union plans”, but few details of what they contain are known and about how deeply Bahrain and Saudi Arabia will attempt to merge. Another hint of the plans was given when the preacher Sheik Fareed Al-Meftah of the grand Sunni Mosque Al-Fatih in Manama at the end of February mentioned the union in his speech indicating that the first step towards stronger unity in the GCC would be a closer relation between Bahrain and Saudi-Arabia, calling a Gulf union a “long-awaited dream“ that will “be for the advantages and benefits to the citizens of the GCC countries in all social, cultural, economic, security and military aspects”.

How soon any real steps towards a sort of confederacy will be taken is not known, but Saudi King Abdullah and Bahraini King Hamad are expected to outline their plans further in May. According to Muhammad Abdul Ghaffar, a diplomatic adviser to Bahrain`s king the idea becomes more realistic as the political will to establish such a union is growing stronger. And one can only presume the political will is gaining ground as the unrest continues.

Not suprisingly, several prominent Shiite politcal figures in Bahrain have opposed the idea of stronger GCC unity. One of the more diplomatic statements came from Sheik Ali Salman, leader of al-Wifaq, stating that: “We welcome the idea of closer Gulf union if the people of nations approve it, but if the purpose is just to turn Bahrain into an emirate of Saudi Arabia, then it will not be accepted and it will be disastrous.”