CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Gulf Cooperation Council Defense Agreement
Gordon S. Brown
Research Associate
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs
A summit meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), held in Bahrain at the
end of 2000, saw the attending heads of state and government take a number of modest
measures in the areas of economic and security cooperation which are the organization’s
objectives. The most important of those measures, in terms of U.S. interest, was the
signing of a mutual defense treaty which would, if ratified, formally commit the members
of the organization to consider an external aggression against one member as an attack
on all. The United States currently provides the security umbrella for those states as part
of its Persian Gulf deployment, and has an interest in the defense agreement, to the
degree that its mutual defense provisions might enable the GCC states to shoulder more
of their future defense burden. This is a one-time report.
The Gulf Cooperation Council, founded in 1981 during the Iran-Iraq war, is a slowly
maturing organization of six oil-producing Persian Gulf states – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,
Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates – which has the stated goal of
increasing economic and administrative cooperation between these wealthy and
conservative Arab regimes. The governments have made incremental progress in a number
of fields over the years, and GCC coordination at the level of Foreign Ministers and
Ministers of Petroleum is now routine before major international meetings. But the GCC
governments have, in general, moved deliberately and cautiously, and increased
coordination has not led uniformly to increased cooperation, much less integration. Labor,
capital, and investment barriers among the states are gradually being whittled away, but
a common customs regime, one of the organization’s primary stated tasks, will not be in
place until 2005, even on the present timetable.1

1 See “US-Gulf Cooperation Council, Trade and Investment: Trends and Implications”, CRS
Report RL30383, December 3, 1999.
Congressional Research Service The Library of Congress

A defense agreement approved at the December 2000 summit meeting is something
of a new departure for an organization whose members have so far been careful to cede
very little of their sovereignty, and cautious on defense coordination. In an effort not to
irritate Iraq and Iran, their more powerful neighbors, the GCC members never made
mutual defense a major stated goal of the organization. Nevertheless, it has always been
a background objective and has, over the years, increasingly moved to the forefront with
scheduled meetings of Defense Ministers regularly complementing other ministerial-level
sectoral meetings.
The Agreement
The December 2000 summit participants agreed, according to press reports, to make
a formal commitment by which they would consider any outside aggression against one
GCC member as aggression against all members.2 The treaty obligation, which has been
described as necessary in order to give appropriate legal status to an existing informal
commitment, is unlikely to include automatic triggers for mobilization in the event of an
attack. It still has to be ratified by the member governments before going into effect; so
far, only Bahrain has done so, and there is no timetable for completion of the process.
The pact, which has been under discussion by the GCC Defense Ministers for over a year,
appears to have been approved as a condition for agreement on a package of measures
which would move the countries somewhat further down the road toward common
defense. Those include agreement to expand the existing joint defense force, called
Peninsula Shield and stationed in Saudi Arabia near the Iraqi border, from its present 5000
man strength up to 22,000 men, and agreements to move forward on a common secure
communications network and an early warning system.
Status of GCC Defense Cooperation
The members of the GCC have moved very slowly toward meaningful defense
cooperation. The joint Peninsula Shield force, technically in existence since 1986, played
virtually no role in the 1990-91 Gulf crisis and has rarely been manned at even its presently
authorized strength. The increase to a mechanized infantry division strength of 22,000
was authorized prior to the recent summit, and it is not clear whether the members will
now be more prepared than they have been in the past to permanently earmark or assign
their scarce manpower to the joint force. Even the newly funded measures, the $70
million early warning system and the $80 million secure communications network, have
been under development for over two years. By linking the operations rooms of the
national commands, and their radar and early warning systems, those projects will offer
improved capacity for cooperation, but not necessarily a joint or common defense
Each GCC member has preferred to assure its primary defense against external
aggression through unilateral measures: strengthening its own armed forces to the degree
possible, and accepting defense cooperation agreements with outside powers. The United
States, through the Central Command or CENTCOM, has signed defense cooperation

2 The text of the pact has not been published. Kuwaiti Minister of Defense Salem al Sabah
described a draft in these terms in 1999. Mideast Mirror, Nov 18, 1999.

agreements with all the members, except Saudi Arabia, and is seen by the GCC states as
the primary guarantor of their external security. Most of the states have signed additional
defense cooperation agreements with the United Kingdom and France, while Kuwait also
has agreements with Russia and China. Immediately after the Gulf War, the GCC states
also signed an agreement with Egypt and Syria, in Damascus, that provided a framework
for military and economic cooperation but that has largely been ignored since that time
and is considered to be moribund by its participants.3
Hurdles to Increased Defense Cooperation
The GCC is an association of like-minded, conservative Arab states which have come
together to cooperate in facing the challenges of the times and of their strategically
important region, but which are still heavily influenced by a long tradition of mutual
competition and conflict. One of the states, the United Arab Emirates, is itself a
confederation whose members have widely differing views as to domestic, foreign and
defense policy. Long standing disputes between the ruling families are diminishing slowly
as border agreements are reached and a new generation of rulers comes to the fore, but
history casts a long shadow in the region and one border dispute, between Bahrain and
Qatar, continues to impact negatively on the GCC as an organization.
In addition to the historical competition which has caused the ruling families to move
slowly toward measures which would limit their sovereignty, the GCC states do not fully
share a consensus on defense priorities. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are focused on the
threat from Saddam’s Iraq, and are prepared in the circumstances to envisage a closer
relationship with Iran than are their colleagues down the Gulf. Saudi Arabia has
responded favorably to signs of moderation in Iranian policy over the past few years, and
is expected to sign an agreement on police and border security cooperation with Tehran.
The southern Gulf states on the other hand, farther from Iraq and very conscious of the
potential threat from their powerful Iranian neighbor, resist having the preponderant
Saudis set the organization’s priorities and insist that any common defense measures also
encompass the Iranian threat. The U.A.E., in particular, wants stronger support from its
GCC colleagues in its dispute with Iran over Iranian occupation of the mid-Gulf islands
of Abu Musa and the Tunbs, and might try to use the new defense pact, if it is ratified, to
define Iranian occupation of those islands as an aggression against it. Finally, two states,
Oman and Qatar, tend to espouse accommodation with both Iran and Iraq.
GCC caution in mutual defense measures is reinforced by a desire to avoid polemics
with neighboring states. Iran has long insisted that a viable security regime in the Gulf can
only be developed by the states of the region, free of outside powers’ involvement; as the
GCC’s limited common effort has so far been in the opposite direction, they have moved
hesitantly and with limited visibility so as not to aggravate their relations with the regional
power. The GCC members are also sensitive to charges leveled at them from other Arab
countries, and Arab nationalists, that GCC defense cooperation undercuts the mutual
defense commitments of the Arab League. As Saudi Arabia and Kuwait based their call
for Arab military help in 1990 on the Arab League’s defense pact, they cannot ignore

3 Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Mousa to Cairo MENA, December 12, 2000; quoted by the
Foreign Broadcast Information Service 12/20/2000.

these arguments and their public statements insist that GCC cooperation is within the
framework of the Arab League pact.
Finally, each GCC state gives absolute priority to its own national defense efforts.
Their thin manpower pool precludes any meaningful force buildup and limits enthusiasm
for a major commitment to a joint defense force stationed in, and commanded by, Saudi
Arabia.4 More importantly, each state has jealously guarded its defense procurement
capabilities. Given the governments’ reliance on expensive, high-tech and manpower-
saving defense mechanisms, defense procurement has been subjected to intense political
scrutiny and control in each capital, and no government has shown a readiness to
subordinate its national interest to GCC-wide efforts toward joint procurement, or even
interoperability among different national systems. The GCC has even emphasized that it
has no objective for common defense procurement.5
U.S. Policy
The United States has consistently encouraged GCC defense cooperation, within a
framework of cooperation with U.S. forces. CENTCOM has been in the forefront in
pushing for policies such as common procurement planning to assure the greatest possible
interoperability, and has had some success in planning joint exercises with multiple GCC
partners. To the degree that there is a growing GCC common defense mechanism, it is
in large measure due to CENTCOM’s efforts. Indeed, the secure defense communications
and early warning networks are scaled-down versions of a CENTCOM proposal of two
years ago, namely that the GCC countries develop a theater missile defense system with
U.S. help. That proposal, which was actively pushed by former Secretary of Defense
Cohen, was not accepted at the time by the GCC members, in large degree because of its
high visibility, cost, and accusations that it was designed to benefit American defense
contractors above all. That the GCC is now moving forward, quietly and in a more
modest fashion, with some key elements of the “Cooperative Defense Initiative” (in
particular, those elements that deal with planning for chemical/biological attacks) shows
that they recognize the necessity for greater multilateral cooperation, even if they are
unwilling to accord it a high priority. Bilateral defense cooperation will continue to be the
key to their efforts, coordinated to some degree through the GCC but more commonly,
in a de facto manner, through their respective relationships with CENTCOM.
The U.S. military presence in the Gulf continues to provide for international access
to the region’s energy supplies, containment of Iraq, and the security of the GCC states.
Our defense cooperation agreements (or, in the case of Saudi Arabia, less formal
agreements), provide for facilities, prepositioning of supples, training, and substantial host
nation support; at any given time around 20,000 American servicemen and women are
present in the area, ashore and afloat.6 The agreements provide for American assistance

4 For comparative military strengths of the Gulf states, see CRS Report “The Persian Gulf, Issues
for U.S. Policy, 2000,” November 3, 2000 (RL 30728),.
5 “Official Rules Out Common GCC Arms Deals,” Financial Times Information, October 17,


6 Testimony of Principal Assistant Secretary of Defense Alina L. Romanowski, House Committee

to the individual GCC states after mutual consultation, with no automatic trigger and no
consideration of assistance to the GCC as an entity. But, taken together with the regular
consultations, exercises, and contacts between CENTCOM and the local military
establishments, the United States in effect provides the basic elements of a GCC-wide
mutual defense system.
The GCC pact appears to add little to the mutual defense capability of the
organization. The ratification process, moreover, is likely to take time and is not assured
of success. The issues which have slowed meaningful GCC defense cooperation – from
historical differences to unwillingness to coordinate defense acquisitions – will continue
to militate against dramatic progress in mutual defense. The U.S. military presence in the
Persian Gulf, on which the individual GCC states rely, will most likely continue to provide
the major de facto defense coordinating mechanisms for the GCC for the foreseeable

6 (...continued)
on International Relations, March 23,2000. See also CRS Report “The Persian Gulf, Issues for
U.S. Policy, 2000,” November 3, 2000 (RL 30728).

Gulf Cooperation Council States
and Persian Gulf Region
Map adapted by CRS from Magellan Geographix

M e d it e r r an e an S y r i aL e b a n o n A fg ha n is ta nB a kh ta ra n K as h a nD a m a s c u sB e i r u t
Se aI s r a e l K h o rra ma ba dH a ifa B irj a n dB a g h d a d
EsfahanDezfulAl HillahKarbalaTel AvivYafoAmman
IranAn NajafAl AmarahYazdJerusalemTurayf
Dead SeaAhvazKaf
IraqJordanAl BasrahBandar-eKhomeyniKermanAr'ar
A b a da n Z a he d a nEl a t A lA q a b a h R a fhaS a k a ka h
KuwaitShirazSa'idabadAl Bi'rHaqlKuwait
B an da r-eB us h e h rH a fa rTa bu k
Gulf ofAqabaKing KhalidMilitary Cityal BatinBaq'aJubbahTaymaDubaRa's al Khafji
PersianBandar-e AbbasAl Jubayl
BahrainOmanBuraydahAl WajhUnayzahAd DammamDharhanManama
Ra's al KhaymahDubayyRumah
GulfGulf ofQatarAl FujayrahUmm LajjAlHufufDoha
OmanEgyptMinaSuharAlYanbual BahrAl MadinahAd DawadimiAs SalwaAfifAbu DhabiMuscatRiyadh
United ArabEmiratesBereniceBuraymiAl KharjHaradHalabanBadrHunayn
S u rZ a l im
O m a nM ec c aJi d d a h
Saudi ArabiaAt Ta'ifRanyah
SudanAs SulayyilAl Lidam
Port SudanQal'atBishah
Al Qunfudhah
AbhaKhamis Mushayt
NajranAsh Sharawrah
S a la l a hJi z a n
E r i t r e a
M i ts'i w aA k 'o rd at S a yw u nK a ss a l a
YemenAl HudaydahAl MukallaSayhutSanaaAsmera
A r a b i a nZ ab i dIb b Ta 'i z z
SeaEthiopiaLahijAl MukhaGonderAseb
A d e n
Gulf of AdenDjibouti
DeseDjibouti0300 km
SomaliaBerbera0200 mi