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Middle East Policy, Vol. XXII, No.

1, Spring 2015

The Foreign-Policy Tools of Small Powers:

Strategic Hedging in the Persian Gulf
Yoel Guzansky

Mr. Guzansky, of the School of Political Sciences, Haifa University, and

the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Tel Aviv University, is
the co-editor of One Year of the Arab Spring: Regional and International
Implications (INSS Publication 2012) and author of The Arab Gulf States
and Reform in the Middle East: Between Iran and the Arab Spring
(Palgrave-Macmillan, 2015).

his article analyzes the foreign- lution and the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War
policy tools that Kuwait, Qatar, increased the anxiety of Saudi Arabia and
Bahrain, the United Arab Emir- the smaller Gulf states. They realized that a
ates (UAE) and Oman use in regional institution including a framework
dealing with Iran. It argues that a policy for security cooperation was needed. The
of strategic hedging reduces the danger of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was the
conflict with Iran in the short term, while result of processes that had started before
preserving contingency plans that address the British withdrawal in 1971. Its goal,
the severity of the threat and the uncer- as declared in its founding charter, was
tainty of the relationship in the long term. to effect coordination, cooperation and
We could have expected that, because of integration in all fields.3 The GCC was
their sense of threat, the small Gulf states also an expression of common interests: the
would adopt a behavior of balancing Irans monarchical character of the regimes, their
power or, alternatively, of bandwagoning religious ties as Muslims and as Sunnis,
with it. However, these states have con- their common Arab origin, and their con-
sciously chosen to adopt a mixed policy cerns about revolutionary, Shia, non-Arab
that includes elements of both methods. Iran. However, the fraternity and public
This stands in contrast to the assumption, solidarity shown by the organizations lead-
widespread in the international-relations ers somewhat obscured their competing
field, that they would choose to either and contradictory interests and differing
balance1 or bandwagon as a way of coping views of the strategic environment.
with threats.2 An examination of the GCC through
the theory of alliances is instructive: the
The GCC and Iran trigger for its establishment was secu-
The undermining of the regional status rity, and there is a security component in
quo in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revo- relations among the states,4 even if the
2015, The Author Middle East Policy 2015, Middle East Policy Council


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Guzansky: Strategic Hedging in the Persian Gulf

organization does not easily conform to activities and Kuwaits considerable Shia
the existing definitions in this field.5 What minority.7
distinguishes alliances (in the case of the Saddam Husseins invasion of Kuwait
GCC, a defensive one) from other associa- awakened nationalist feelings among the
tions, such as alignments and coalitions, Shiites. Following the countrys liberation
is the formal or informal commitment to from Iraqi occupation, they swore alle-
security cooperation that is given over giance to Kuwaits ruling Al Sabah family,
time and is not necessarily dependent on although many continue to have reserva-
a specific event or the alliances security tions about the move. During the Iran-
context. It is also important to examine the Iraq War (1980-1988), Iran had attacked
security frameworks that exist throughout Kuwaiti territory, entering its airspace on
the developing world, as most of the re- several occasions; it was also apparently
search on this subject is based on observa- behind both the terrorist attacks in the
tions made in the western hemisphere. country in the 1980s and later instances
The survey below reflects the ba- of subversion. The Kuwaiti response has
sic concerns of Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, been restrained, as it has sought to contain
the UAE and Bahrain over cooperation the incidents and prevent serious damage
with Iran while attempting to preserve to its relations with Iran. The Iraqi inva-
the framework of the GCC, which was sion in August 1990 led Kuwait, along
established to a large extent because of with its more northern GCC colleagues,
the Iranian threat. The assumption is that which shared a fear of Iraq, to seek close-
contrasting threat perceptions have made ness to Iran, at least temporarily, as a
it difficult to establish a joint institutional- counterweight to the power of Baghdad.
ized security strategy, and that the cracks The move, however, led to criticism by the
in their unity weaken the states ability to more southern GCC states, which per-
act as a united bloc vis--vis Iran. Never- ceived Iran as the greater threat. Kuwait
theless, even when the perception of the still sees Iran-influenced and Shia-domi-
Iranian threat, with its various dimensions nated Iraq as a potential threat greater
of military buildup, nuclear ambitions, now since the American withdrawal in De-
political subversion and terrorism is essen- cember 2011. As a result, its steps toward
tially agreed upon, each state has chosen to normalization with Iraq remain slow.
hedge in relation to the dimension or level Despite Irans alleged negative activ-
of threat that it anticipates. ity, Kuwait continues to try to appease
Kuwait has a long history of hedging, Tehran. It hosted the Iranian president in
dating back to diplomatic maneuvering 2006 and openly supported his ambition
between the British Empire and the Ot- for civil nuclear capabilities. Kuwait has
tomans and between Iraq and Iran. During declared that it will not serve as a base for
these times, Kuwaiti leadership attempted an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities and
to appease the different factions, while that, in principle, it supports Irans right to
preserving local independence and as- obtain nuclear energy for civilian pur-
sets.6 Kuwaits current approach to Iran is poses.8 Furthermore, in June 2014, Kuwaiti
similar to Saudi Arabias, leavened with Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad, 30 percent of
considerable caution due to its geographic whose countrys population is composed
proximity to Iran, Irans subversive of Shiites, made a historic visit to Tehran,


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Middle East Policy, Vol. XXII, No. 1, Spring 2015

the first visit since the Islamic Revolu- Qatar, perhaps more than any other
tion. Kuwait, which more than once has GCC state, perceived the collective-
assumed the role of mediator and compro- security arrangements attempted by the
miser between the belligerents, regarded Arab Gulf states as hollow. Its troubled
the visit as an opportunity to mediate relations with Saudi Arabia also led to its
between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but also only minimal participation in the security
to reduce the tension between it and Iran frameworks that were under Saudi influ-
and to promote Iranian gas exports to the ence. Most of its attention was given to
emirate.9 Kuwaits relations with Iran have balancing the power of its neighbors by
been tense in recent years. As mentioned, strengthening its U.S. backing, particularly
Kuwait recognizes Irans right to nuclear in the field of security. Arguably, the U.S.
energy for peaceful uses, but at the same military presence in Qatar makes it easier
time, cooperates, with a few exceptions, for Doha to adopt an active foreign policy
with the sanctions regime against Iran and because it is confident that its national
even expelled Iranian diplomats from its security will be maintained. Qatar is help-
territory after accusing the Quds Force ing to strengthen its standing in the region
of subversive activity in Kuwait.10 through engagement in diplomatic and
Qatar has not been a target for Iranian other forms of activism. This policy a
subversion and has maintained close rela- combination of opportunism, ambition and
tions with Iran over the years, primarily strategic maneuvering, backed by tremen-
as a sort of insurance policy. The palace dous economic power and a willingness to
coup of 1995 caused a rift between Doha use it for political purposes along with
and Riyadh and encouraged the new Qatari the weakness of former centers of power
ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, inside and outside the region, has en-
to provoke the Saudis on border-dispute abled the emirate to exploit a vacuum and
issues and by supporting anti-Saudi pro- reinforce its political position. By increas-
paganda via the Qatari-based Al Jazeera ing its international profile, Qatar aims to
network (and changing the tone when the protect itself from the perils of small-state
Saudis turned more favorable to Qatari in- vulnerability.11
terests). As tensions built with the Saudis, Qatars adoption of an ambitious
Sheikh Hamad desired Iranian backing international policy has alarmed both tra-
to insure the peaceful development of the ditional adversaries and current allies. The
Qatari natural-gas fields adjacent to Iranian role of political Islam and Dohas attitude
territorial waters, and to break free from toward the Muslim Brotherhood have
Saudi influence. In this sense, hedging also remained stumbling blocks in rela-
with Iran can also be seen as balancing tions among the GCC states. On March 5,
against Saudi Arabia. Iran, for its part, has 2014, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain
viewed its relations with Qatar as a sort recalled their ambassadors from Qatar
of bridge to the other Gulf states to because of its support for the organiza-
help improve its relations in the Gulf and tion, which they see as jeopardizing their
push back the American sphere of influ- security and political stability (Kuwait did
ence while projecting Iranian resolve as a not join the move in order to serve as a
way to try and drive a wedge between the go-between). Eight months later, the sides
smaller Gulf states and Saudi Arabia. seem to have reached a modus vivendi that


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Guzansky: Strategic Hedging in the Persian Gulf

allows them to get past the most recent cri- The UAE position toward Iran has
sis, at least temporarily; they have agreed been influenced over the years by geo-
not to interfere in each others internal graphic proximity, extensive commercial
affairs and not to undermine one anothers ties, the domestic Iranian population and,
interests or security.12 above all, Irans systematic violation of
While Qatar pays lip service to the UAE sovereignty over three strategic
Gulf consensus (for example, on the issues islands in the Gulf. The UAE strategy
of the three UAE islands occupied by Iran has been to draw closer to one of the
and the need to strengthen the joint mili- less-threatening regional powers. During
tary force), its policy on various issues, the Iran-Iraq War, it supported the latter,
particularly but Iraqs
concerning Considered the bad boy of the Gulf, invasion of
Iran, differs Kuwait in
from that of Qatar keeps one goal in mind: to remove 1990 led to a
the other GCC itself as a potential target of Iran. measured rap-
states. This prochement
independent policy stems from Qatars with Iran. The UAE population, mostly
desire to increase its regional importance comprising foreign workers, is exposed to
and protect its natural resources. Its
external subversion alongside escalating
troubled relationship with Saudi Arabia has Iranian rhetoric and increasing capabilities
resulted in Qatars minimal participation and ambitions (including the kidnapping
in every security framework under Saudi and assassination of political dissidents on
influence. Considered the bad boy of UAE soil), which are causes for concern in
the Gulf, Qatar keeps one goal in mind: to Dubai.17
remove itself as a potential target of Iran.14
The UAE favors a diplomatic approach
It thus extended an invitation to the Iranian toward Iran, the common interest of both
president in 2007 to attend the annual GCC sides being to contain their conflict. Iran
summit meeting, held in Doha for the first also does not wish to attract unnecessary
time since the organizations founding. attention: it is already under international
Qatar has also avoided criticizing Iran pressure. The UAE is aware of the limita-
publicly and has even worked to improve tions of its own power and wishes to sepa-
relations, including by means of a security- rate the issue of the disputed islands from
cooperation agreement and reciprocal vis- the other subjects, mainly economic, on
its. The two countries, for example, signed the agenda. The UAE, Irans largest trad-
a comprehensive memorandum of under- ing partner along with China, sees main-
standing in 2010 that includes an expansion taining open commercial ties with Iran as a
of cooperation in the War on Terror, and sort of insurance policy. But Dubai, which
they have held limited joint naval exer- is primarily responsible for trade with Iran,
cises in the Gulf. Qatar continues to play
is host to around 400,000 Iranian nationals,
all sides vying for supremacy in the Gulf. and Abu Dhabi has long asserted that that
Although they are on opposite sides of the large Iranian-origin community could pose
Syrian civil war, Qatar seeks to smooth a fifth column threat to UAE stability.18
things over now with Iran and to reduce Although Abu Dhabi, the strongest and
any tension between the two countries.16 wealthiest of the seven emirates, has taken


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Middle East Policy, Vol. XXII, No. 1, Spring 2015

a harder line toward Iran, there is a desire Bahrain, therefore, is making efforts to
to prevent a rift. The UAE went so far as strengthen its alliance networks with the
to host President Ahmadinejad in Dubai in West (including hosting the headquarters
2007, the first visit of its kind by an Iranian of the U.S. Fifth Fleet) as well as bolster
president since the Islamic Revolution. the GCC joint stance against Iran. Bah-
Despite the economic setback it has rains size, location, delicate sectarian
suffered, the federation supported, with balance and depleted energy resources
few exceptions, the regime of sanctions have turned it into a prominent supporter
against Iran, gave the United States politi- of increased cooperation and integration
cal support (and military support, mainly within the GCC. Bahrains neighbors, fear-
by providing access to bases in its terri- ing similar problems, particularly among
tory) against the Iranian nuclear program. their own Shiite populations, have pro-
It even increased the pace of oil production vided assistance over the years and tend to
in its territory at various times in order perceive its struggle as their own.
to make up for the removal of Iranian oil This is especially true of Saudi Arabia,
from the market. As part of the Iranian with which the House of Khalifa is closest
smile campaign, Foreign Minister Javad geographically and historically, as well as
Zarif visited Abu Dhabi and Dubai in April by ties of intermarriage. It was, therefore,
2014.19 He sought to soothe the federa- unsurprising that, in March 2011, the Sau-
tions anxiety about the agreement between dis dispatched the majority of the joint
the major powers and Iran on the nuclear Peninsula Shield forces along with
question and the reconciliation between some from the UAE and a token naval
Tehran and Washington, which the federa- force from Kuwait to protect Bahrain
tion fears is liable to be at the expense during its encounter with what is common-
of its own relationship with the United ly known as the Arab Spring. These troops
States. UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah were meant not only to prevent Shiite
bin Zayed, who visited Iran in November rebels from threatening the Khalifahs rule,
2013, went so far as to call Iran a strate- but also to signal to Iran that Bahrain is in
gic partner.20 Saudi Arabias sphere of influence. Bah-
Bahrain has been worried about the rain, for its part, recognizes Saudi protec-
Islamic Republics intentions as a result tion and appreciates the fact that the king-
of the ongoing Iranian claim to sover- dom has been supplying it with oil since
eignty over Bahrain as one of its districts. its domestic resources have been depleted.
Bahrains proximity to Iran and its sec- Bahrains behavior, however, more closely
tarian composition a Sunni minority represents a policy of balancing against
ruling over a Shiite majority makes it Iran or, alternatively, bandwagoning with
an attractive target for negative Iranian Saudi Arabia, and is not a true example of
intervention. There have been periods of hedging. Nevertheless, although it follows
tension between the two, especially over a pro-Saudi foreign policy in order to avert
Tehrans support for Shiite opposition Iranian aggression, Bahrain allows Iranian
organizations and attempts at subversion. businesses to operate in its territory, avoids
Bahrain sees Iran as a primary threat to its criticizing Iran publicly, and frequently an-
national security and views domestic and nounces it will not allow its territory to be
Iraqi Shiite subversion as Iranian driven. used for an attack on Irans nuclear facili-


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Guzansky: Strategic Hedging in the Persian Gulf

ties. Bahrain has also signed a substantial million cannot be isolated.25 Unsurprising-
gas deal with the Iranians, investing ap- ly, Omans relations with Iran are relatively
proximately $4 billion over the course of close, with extensive commercial ties and
the next 25 years in the hope of solidifying even security connections that have grown
and normalizing its relations with Iran.21 in recent years. The sultanate generally
This tiny kingdom advocates a more maintains a policy that stands outside the
aggressive line than its fellow Gulf states GCC consensus. It was, for example, the
towards Iran, accusing it (usually not first GCC state to establish commercial ties
explicitly) with Israel
of support- During his visit [to Iran in 2013], Qaboos and enjoys
ing the Shiite again offered the good services of his American
opposition in military
its territory country, this time in secret mediation hardware and
and even of between the United States and Iran on technology.
subversion the nuclear issue. Sultan Qa-
and attempted boos prefers
terrorist attacks.22 These accusations were to sit on the fence while displaying a
supported to some degree by the U.S. State strong sense of cautious pragmatism.26
Department, which cited in an April 2014 Sultan Qabooss unique foreign policy
report Iranian attempts to deliver weapons reflects Omans strategic location, shar-
to Shiite groups in Bahrain.23 Bahrains ing the Strait of Hormuz with Iran, and its
policy towards Iran is affected not only relatively modest economic and military
by the Sunni royal houses problematic capabilities. Another factor is the culture of
relations with the 70 percent Shiite major- conservatism and tolerance represented
ity in the country, but also by the influence by the Ibadi, who identify themselves as
of Saudi Arabia, Bahrains regional patron Muslims but are neither Sunni nor Shia.27
and Tehrans main ideological and geo- In recent years, as Iran has increasingly
political competitor, on Manama. Bahrain projected an image of strength in the Gulf, a
publicly supports Irans right to nuclear trend toward further rapprochement be-
energy for peaceful uses and has expressed tween Oman and Iran has become evident,
support in principle for the interim agree- perhaps a hint of the behavior that can be
ment between Iran and the major powers expected from other states in the Gulf if
on the nuclear issue (November 2013). The and when Iran obtains a nuclear capability.
tiny monarchy has, however, expressed In this context, Sultan Qaboos even made
concern that the agreement signed with an official visit to Iran in August 2009 after
Iran will bolster the latters influence on Ahmadinejad was sworn in for his second
the Shiites in its territory and reduce the term, the first by the Omani sultan since the
American commitment to its security.24 establishment of the Islamic Republic. The
Under Sultan Qaboos, Oman has two parties signed a number of agreements,
managed to maintain cordial and fruitful re- including one regarding security coopera-
lations with seemingly all parties in the re- tion (another was signed in August 2010).
gion. It was the first to accept an American In addition, the sultanate has held joint ma-
military presence in 1980, while refusing to neuvers and exercises with Iran, and Iranian
ostracize Iran, claiming that a nation of 65 ships sometimes dock in Omani ports.28


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Middle East Policy, Vol. XXII, No. 1, Spring 2015

Rouhanis visit to Oman in March mediator in the negotiations between Iran

2014 was his first official visit to an Arab and the West is derived from its conflict-
country since becoming president. In Au- avoidance approach. Its seemingly neutral
gust 2013, the ailing Sultan Qaboos made posture reinforced the importance of the
the first visit of any head of state to Iran sultanate as a unique geopolitical actor and
after Rouhani was elected. During his visit, a bridge between the different aspirations
Qaboos again offered the good services of regional and global powers.30
of his country, this time in secret media- The trust of both sides allows Oman,
tion between the United States and Iran on perhaps more than any other actor in the
the nuclear issue. Oman has maintained arena, to play these decisive roles and pass
closer ties with Iran than its neighbors ever messages between the sides on various
since Iran helped Qaboos consolidate his issues. However, the rest of the GCC states
rule and crush the rebellion against him in may try to interfere with Qabooss will to
Dhofar. Oman home to a small Shiite compromise with the Iranians.31 Further-
community, making it difficult for Iran to more, the Saudi initiative to turn the GCC
intervene there is also exploiting its into a union has come up against resistance,
relations with Tehran as a lever against principally from Oman: We are against a
Saudi Arabia, whose political and reli- union, Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi
gious influence Oman wishes to restrain. said on the eve of the thirty-fourth GCC
Oman and Iran, which jointly hold the summit. We will not prevent a union, but
key to the Persian Gulf and the worlds if it happens we will not be part of it, Bin
most important chokepoint the Strait of Alawi added.32 This rare public refusal,
Hormuz further tightened their politi- as well as the fact that, to date, progress
cal and economic relations after Rouhani has not gotten off the ground, indicates
was elected. In December 2013, a letter the deep divisions among the six states,
of understanding was signed for Omans three-and-a-half decades after the establish-
imports of Iranian gas. Talks about laying ment of the GCC. Moreover, when the last
a gas pipeline between the two countries GCC summit was held, Saudi Arabia was
were restarted, and the possibility of build- already angry at Oman because of its role
ing a bridge connecting the two countries in mediating between the United States and
over the strait was mentioned.29 Iran behind the scenes and in jumpstarting
Oman, like Qatar, is engaging in the the negotiations with Iran.33
highest level of hedging among the smaller
Gulf states. It believes that its ability to ma- External and Internal
neuver diplomatically, its maintenance of Calculations
open channels of communication with all The GCCs security is closely con-
parties, and its close ties with the countries nected to the dependence of the Gulf states
that threaten it, have led to recognition of on outside protection and the necessity for
its regional and international status, thereby foreign actors to have access to the Gulf
reducing the risks to its national security. economy. Since their independence, the
It has been aided in this by its opposition Gulf states have been buyers, rather than
to aggressive measures against Iran and its suppliers, of security. Their lack of strate-
efforts to tone down GCC decisions against gic depth, built-in military weakness and
the Islamic Republic. Omans role as a hostile neighbors have led the Gulf states


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Guzansky: Strategic Hedging in the Persian Gulf

to increasingly rely on British, and later, security situation. Because they cannot be
American military presence for deterrence fully convinced as to the intentions of their
and defense. U.S. involvement in the Gulf allies and because their interests will never
has included regular arms sales, the prepo- overlap entirely, they often use strategic
sitioning of equipment, ongoing training hedging. Less than full cooperation with
and preparation, the establishment of an ally and a certain amount of indepen-
central bases and even direct military inter- dence in foreign relations is likely to be a
vention. Passing the buck to Washington beneficial course for the small power, if it
has made it easier for the Gulf monarchies is seeking to create the impression that it
to adopt a policy of hedging toward Iran. might reconsider its policy toward a state
Four years into the Arab Spring, self- that its ally perceives as a real or potential
interested elites are willing to support each competitor. In the weak players view,
other, believing that this will reinforce the this is enough to create a lever against its
rule of (Sunni) monarchies. The competi- stronger partners and improve its situation.
tion between Iran and Saudi Arabia set the However, in many cases, this is merely an
Gulfs security agenda, with the smaller attempt to manage and contain perceived
Gulf monarchies maneuvering between threats.
them.34 Indeed, this policy reflects these The disadvantages of the hedging
states need to balance their desire to avoid strategy are, nevertheless, considerable. It
direct confrontation with Iran against their is liable to impair the effectiveness of the
fear of Saudi domination. The Gulf states balancing process and, subsequently, that
are concerned that Saudi Arabia is attempt- of alliance management. The states had
ing to increase its influence over the small the intention, even if it was not declared,
sheikdoms and force them to fall into line to enter into a joint security venture. When
with Saudi foreign policy. (Bahrain tends the security of the region and the stability
to side with Saudi Arabia, particularly of the monarchies were endangered, this
because Iran foments tension between was necessary. For more than 33 years, the
Bahrains Shiite majority and the Sunni GCC maintained a considerable degree of
royal house, but also because of histori- coordination. In addition, a certain amount
cal, geographic and familial ties.) As a of cooperation has existed alongside an
result, Saudi Arabia has not yet succeeded almost built-in lack of agreement among
in promoting this or previous initiatives to members who were working to maximize
unite the monarchies such as turning the their individual security, impeding the
GCC into a single entity35 or bringing establishment of an effective collective-
Jordan and Morocco into the GCC 36 security institution on the western side of
due to opposition from the other members, the Gulf.
whether because of the economic burden An important question in this context
involved or because of possible harm to concerns the factors that allow this policy
their status in the organization. of hedging to continue over time. If the
country harmed by such a strategy is a
Pros and Cons of Hedging dominant player, it may force its weaker
Between total defection and full coop- ally to reveal its intentions; that is, it may
eration, a sphere of maneuver exists that insist that it take costly action in order to
states can exploit in order to improve their clearly demonstrate which side it is on. In


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Middle East Policy, Vol. XXII, No. 1, Spring 2015

fact, this strategy is not without a price, institution, has lasted precisely because of
as was demonstrated by relations between this freedom of action given to its mem-
Saudi Arabia and Qatar and Saudi Arabia bers, though it does harm its cohesion and,
and Oman. However, in a situation of high hence, its balancing effectiveness.
uncertainty with a narrow margin for er-
ror, an attempt to avoid harm and survive Refining the Concept
becomes primary, even if it comes at a While the concept of hedging is not
high price and impairs the effectiveness of completely foreign to International Rela-
the alliances. tions (IR) theory, it has yet to be sufficient-
The smaller Gulf states do, to varying ly developed.37 It is a situation in which
extents, hedge in dealing with Iran, some- states seek to strike a middle ground.38 A
times even when the level of external pres- strategy of hedging is suited to an anarchic
sure is high and alliance literature predicts system; it allows a small power, interested
high levels of cooperation. In spite of the in immediate gain, to offset risks and im-
advantages that the monarchies may gain prove its situation in relation to the rising
from this strategy, the desire to maintain power while avoiding a major confronta-
as many options as possible is likely to tion. In the present context, the strategy
be more costly. It requires resources to be makes it possible to maintain significant
sent in opposite directions, both bandwag- ties with the threatening force and, at the
oning with Iran and balancing against it. same time, to form alliances to balance the
Furthermore, the gain may be small; if the impending threat.
inputs are not invested in the best way, the A strategy of hedging is more than sit-
investment can go down the drain. The ting on the fence in order to extort conces-
argument behind the strategy of hedging is sions from allies and maintaining ambas-
that it contributes to the security of states sadors in each others capitals. Qatar and
as individual units, even if indirectly it Oman, which have considerable economic
could actually weaken the effectiveness of and security cooperation with Iran, are
alliances. seen in the eyes of their allies as making
The rationale behind this strategy is active efforts to undermine Saudi Arabias
understandable. As noted, it allows the five position, strength and even security. This
to maintain much of their overall relation- policy includes taking active measures;
ship with the actor most threatening to in this, it is different from a policy of
them. They thereby reduce the danger of mere neutrality, which includes commit-
conflict in the short term (preventing a ments not to help, directly or indirectly,
self-fulfilling prophecy), while maintain- an adversary of an ally in the event of
ing contingency plans that respond to the conflict between them. To the same extent,
level of the threat from this actor and the it is different from pure opportunism. It
uncertainty concerning relations with it in is a systematic strategy that focuses on
the long term. Additional findings also fit the states survival. For a weak state that
with this strategy: an unwillingness to use adopts a policy of hedging, the ability to
military force could be fed by an approach influence its senior partner is secondary to
to security using other means, primarily the security gained against the adversary.
diplomatic and economic, and by other The importance of the Gulf is well
outside actors. The GCC, as a regional known because of the frequency and inten-


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Guzansky: Strategic Hedging in the Persian Gulf

sity of conflicts there, and it can serve as a simple and intuitive, but it must be refined
laboratory for examining IR theories and and adjusted to the accepted terms in the
various assumptions concerning the nature field. This attempt to formulate a conceptu-
of global politics. However, for various alization and impose regularity on the sub-
reasons, the international relations of the ject was intended, therefore, to deal with a
area have not been adequately studied. The certain gap in the theory and to help clarify
rationale behind strategic hedging appears the strategic preferences of small powers.

Stephen Walt, Revolution and War (Cornell University Press, 1996), 33.
Randall Schweller, Bandwagoning for Profit: Bringing the Revisionist State Back In, International Secu-
rity 19, no. 1 (1994): 75-78.
Charter of the GCC, GCC Secretariat General,
Joseph Kechichian, The Gulf Cooperation Council: Search for Security, Third World Quarterly 7, no.
4 (1985); R.K. Ramazani, The Gulf Cooperation Council: Record and Analysis (Virginia University Press
1988); and David Priess, Balance of Threat Theory and the Genesis of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Secu-
rity Studies 5, no. 4 (1996).
Glenn H. Snyder, Alliance Politics (Cornell University Press, 1997), 4; and Stephen Walt, Alliances in a
Unipolar World, World Politics 61, no. 1 (January 2009): 86.
Jill Crystal, Oil and Politics in the Gulf: Rulers and Merchants in Kuwait and Qatar (Cambridge University
Press 1990), 107.
Iran Cell Planned Attacks in Kuwait, Minister Says, Reuters, April 21, 2011,
Gregory Gause, The International Relations of the Persian Gulf (Cambridge University Press, 2010), 36.
Kuwait Discusses Gas Imports with Iran, Kuwait News Agency (KUNA), June 2, 2014. http://www.kuna.
Iran Cell Planned Attacks, Reuters, April 21, 2011.
Lina Khatib, Qatars Foreign Policy: The Limits of Pragmatism, International Affairs 89, no. 2 (2013):
Saudi, UAE and Bahraini Envoys to Return to Qatar, Al Arabiya, November 16, 2014, http://english.
Steven Wright, Qatar, in Christopher Davidson, ed., Power and Politics in the Middle East Monarchies
(Colombia University Press 2011), 127-131; and Allen Fromherz, Qatar: A Modern History (Georgetown
University Press, 2012), 96-100.
Authors interview with a consultant to the emir of Qatar, Doha, May 2012. Also see Yoel Guzansky, The
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