The EU’s new security doctrine in the Gulf
During a visit to Brussels last week, it was clear to see that the EU’s most important institutions and constituencies are determined to enhance the bloc’s security architecture. Awakened by the Ukraine war, the EU is shoring up its defenses at home and abroad, including in the Gulf region.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen this month spelled out elements of the new security doctrine and the EU’s new approach to Gulf security. At the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain on Nov. 18, she said that the EU and GCC “face a historic opportunity to build new ties between our regions. For our mutual benefit. For today and for the long run.”
Her remarks chart a robust new approach, which promises to contribute significantly to the region’s peace, security and prosperity, and put the EU’s relations with regional powers on a stronger footing.
While the Ukraine war likely provided the impetus for this shift, it has been some time in the making, as the EU has sought over the past few years to increase its security and political footprint in the region. Iran’s intransigence over reviving the nuclear deal and its meddling in Ukraine have finally persuaded the EU leadership of the destabilizing role Tehran has been playing regionally and globally. Equally important, the widespread killings of peaceful protesters demonstrated the Iranian government’s penchant for repression, including repeated attacks on European soil against the regime’s opponents.
The EU chief articulated what might be considered six important principles of the new security doctrine.
First, Gulf security matters to Europe, as Europe’s security matters to the Gulf. Von der Leyen stressed that there is the need for a stronger security architecture “against the spread of chaos.” She said that the EU wants to strengthen its engagement with the GCC and that “Europe is willing to do its part.” That includes closer cooperation on maritime security to ensure safe shipping lanes and working on a coordinated approach to Iran, “with a broader focus than nuclear.”
Second, the need to restore the international order and how to defend it. She cited the war in Ukraine and how it demonstrated the links between Europe’s security and the region’s, referring to the fact that, in January, a month before the Russian invasion, civilians in Abu Dhabi came under fire of Iranian-made drones and, earlier this month, an oil tanker was attacked off the coast of Oman by the same Iranian drones. These drones are also used “time and again, against civilian targets in Ukraine’s cities,” she added.
In a candid admission, Von der Leyen recalled that GCC countries have been warning for years about the risks posed by Iran’s missile and drone proliferation, but “it took us too long to understand a very simple fact that, while we work to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, we must also focus on other forms of weapons proliferation, from drones to ballistic missiles. It is a security risk, not just for the Middle East but for us all.”
Von der Leyen called for greater cooperation between the two blocs to help ensure energy security and stability.
Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg
Third, Von der Leyen stressed the need to cooperate on the Ukraine war, working to bring it to an end both as a security threat and as a humanitarian catastrophe. EU officials have expressed their exasperation that non-Europeans, including in the Gulf, have not appreciated that the enormity of the war has effects not only on Europe but on the international order as a whole.
Fourth, energy security. Von der Leyen acknowledged the important role GCC countries have played for decades in supplying energy to the world and supporting global economic and social development. In light of the great instability in energy markets, she called for greater cooperation between the two blocs to help ensure energy security and stability, especially for vulnerable economies.
Fifth, food security. The Ukraine war has had devastating effects on global food security. Much of the world is facing an energy crunch and food insecurity together, contributing to soaring inflation and an unsustainable debt crisis. The two blocs could work together to help individual countries.
Sixth, climate change. Von der Leyen referred to desertification, which is “rapidly swallowing fertile land,” devastating floods and forest fires as effects of climate change. The EU and GCC could together play a leading role in the clean energy transformation.
As outlined by Von der Leyen, the EU’s new approach to Gulf security is very much in line with the GCC’s, meaning the two blocs will be able to enhance their four decades of dialogue with a renewed emphasis on security. The new GCC-EU Strategic Partnership, which was announced by the joint ministerial council in February, aims precisely to enhance security and political engagement between the two groupings. The council endorsed the GCC-EU Joint Action Program (2022-2027) to carry out this joint desire.
In addition, the EU issued a detailed “Joint Communication” in May, laying out the priorities of this newly established partnership. The two sides are in agreement on prioritizing a regular and robust regional security dialogue and dealing with weapons of mass destruction proliferation and nuclear safety. They both support greater cooperation on maritime and cyber security, as well as on combating terrorism financing, human trafficking, illegal migration and organized crime.
While the EU and GCC have long been cooperating on energy, their engagement has been limited to technical issues and there is an urgent need to expand that dialogue to a strategic level by including energy cooperation in the GCC-EU Political Committee.
Von der Leyen’s powerful message in Bahrain provides a strong push for these efforts. The Joint Action Program provides a useful and already-approved tool to enhance GCC-EU cooperation in the political-security area, in addition to sectoral cooperation on economic issues. The two sides have established over the years enough bodies, which can be tweaked and upgraded to handle the new security dimensions.
• Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the GCC assistant secretary-general for political affairs and negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not necessarily represent GCC views.