Difficulties Facing Regional Convergence in the Persian Gulf Region

Monday, March 13, 2017

Kamran Karami
Journalist and Persian Gulf Analyst

Political observers believe that the intense diplomatic traffic among Iran, Kuwait and Oman during the past month has been aimed at exchanging messages for the beginning of diplomatic dialogue between the two sides of the Persian Gulf. Of course, the existing developments cannot be simply explained within framework of efforts made to boost bilateral relations, because such exchanges are naturally aimed at conveying to Iran the viewpoints of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council’s member states, topped by Saudi Arabia, in order to resolve some of their differences with the Islamic Republic. However, due to the following reasons, realization of regional convergence between Iran and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf region is currently faced with structural and practical difficulties.

Following World War II, the concept of convergence was first defined within framework of regionalism in Western Europe. The region, for its part, is defined as a combination of geographical propinquity, high degree of interactions, institutional frameworks and common cultural identities. Therefore, regionalism is a move toward increasing cooperation among states, gradual transfer of power to supranational institutions, homogenization of values and emergence of new forms of political society. Within this framework, regional cooperation must be taken into consideration on the basis of the degree of growth in economic, political, social and identity-based interactions. When it comes to international relations, functionalist figures like former French president, François Mitterrand, and such neofunctionalist figures as Ernst Haas believe that convergence is related to overlapping and common interests among countries, starts in a gradual manner, and expands on the basis of logical spread.

If the model of regional convergence is applied to the course of cooperation between Iran and the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council within the Persian Gulf subsystem, it would become clear that there are many shortcomings and problems in this regard. In fact, regardless of numerous differences and deep gaps that exist among its members with regard to their territorial boundaries, the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council is now closer to the model of regional convergence than when it is combined with Iran. This means that due to cultural identities, which are at times in conflict with each other, and as a result of different historical understandings, absence of institutional and organizational frameworks, and low level of political, economic, social and cultural interactions between Iran and those six Arab countries, realization of the idea of regional convergence in the same fashion that has been seen in Western Europe or Southeast Asia does not seem to be possible here.

This issue is, in fact, due to three reasons:

1.    All countries in this region do not enjoy the same conditions in terms of political culture, as well as historical and economic developments;

2.    No political effort has been made by governments in the Persian Gulf to form integrated regional units that would regulate common policies; and

3.    Investment by the private sector companies and transfer of citizens among various units has not been realized.

Therefore, it goes without saying that realization of the idea of regional convergence in the way that some Iranian officials and officials of Arab states of the Persian Gulf have delineated since past years up to the present time is more like a diplomatic pleasantry and its materialization is very difficult due to institutional and practical weaknesses. Perhaps, the most important reason for this situation, regardless of the existing political and ideological differences, is lack of overlap between the two sides’ economic interests. The Persian Gulf countries have oil-based and independent economies, which do not complement each other. This independence can be even seen within individual countries and in relation to their nationals as a result of which supporter-follower networks have come into being and there is no two-way interactive relationship between the government and its people. On a large scale, this issue causes distrust at other levels of economy, that is, the private sector, which could have created more dynamism and invigorated relations as well as interactions among citizens of the member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council.

Of course, this does not mean that the member countries of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council do not want or are not able to move toward the idea of convergence, but there is still a long and difficult way before they can achieve high degrees of convergence. As a result, the mere establishment of contacts and dialogue among governments in this region is both necessary and urgent, especially under the existing chaotic conditions in which the existing trends are turning into critical processes. Limited cooperation between Iran and Saudi Arabia under Iran's former reformist government was a successful experience and helped the two sides to manage some regional issues. A renewed and redefined version of the same model can be useful for breaking the existing deadlock. Therefore, since the regional governments have failed in redefining traditional concepts within new formats, which is a factor that determines the degree of convergence in the region, there is no economic interconnection among them. At the same time, regional institutions are still going through their period of infancy. Therefore, all sides need to set aside diplomatic pleasantries and the existing preconditions, highlight any points of overlap that exist, and organize any possible negotiations around those points as the main axis.


*More by Kamran Karami:
*Role of Saudi Arabia in Supporting West’s Oil Sanctions Policy against Iran:

*Source: Iranian Diplomacy

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.