The lofty objective of a collective security arrangement in the Persian Gulf
received a major boost when a representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei unveiled a 10-point proposal that, if followed, will definitely boost stability in the the volatile, crisis-ridden region.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Doha, Qatar, Hassan Rowhani, a powerful clergyman who was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator during the era of president Mohammad Khatami, offered the most comprehensive vision yet by Iran on the thorny issue of Persian Gulf security, linking it to the subject of civilian nuclear cooperation.
The 10-point proposal is as follows:
1. Establishment of a Persian Gulf Security and Cooperation Organization comprising the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as well as Iran and Iraq in accordance with Clause 8 of Resolution 598 of the United Nations Security
2. Preparing common security grounds for fighting terrorism, organized crime and drug smuggling, as well as other joint security concerns.
3. Gradual removal of all restrictions in political, security, economic and cultural fields.
4. Development of trade ties by taking the countries’ potentials into consideration and conducting joint investment in economic projects to achieve a regional free-trade mechanism.
5. Guaranteeing the security and energy export of regional countries to secure their interests and achieving a sustainable mechanism for energy needed by the world.
6. Building confidence among regional countries in the nuclear field.
7. Setting up a joint consortium for uranium enrichment among regional countries to procure nuclear fuel and other peaceful nuclear activities under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
8. Forging serious cooperation among regional countries for having a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.
9. Putting an end to arms races in the region by providing resources for the purpose of economic development and fighting poverty.
10. Making foreign military personnel exit the region and establishing full security by the regional countries.
Unfortunately, there is only a dim prospect for this proposal’s acceptance by the Arab states of the GCC, which have devised their own version of "collective security" that does not include the region’s two most populous states, Iran and Iraq, and which have traditionally relied on US protectorate power and are therefore averse to any security plan that might actually increase their sense of vulnerability vis-a-vis their assertive non-Arab neighbor, Iran. The GCC comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Still, what matters about Iran’s pitch is less the immediacy of its adoption in the region and more the sense of confidence-building it generates regarding Iran’s non-hostile, good-neighborly intentions. Iran’s stated willingness to forge close bonds with the GCC on fighting terrorism is an excellent example of how the Persian Gulf intelligence community can pool resources to combat the scourge of terrorism, as well as narcotics traffic, which has a security component.
But as seen from the prism of the Arab world, Iran’s willingness to share nuclear technology, and the proposal to set up a joint regional consortium, may be even more important, particularly since Rowhani has linked that to the effort to create a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East.
While some Arab pundits may dismiss such ideas as a propaganda ploy, the response of their governments is likely to be more nuanced, with some smaller GCC states keen on not alienating Iran and moving back to the bitter past of the 1980s, when revolutionary Iran sought to undermine them.
Since the early 1990s, however, Iran has taken a "pragmatic turn" in its foreign policy, culminating in low-level security cooperation agreements with a number of GCC states, including Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. What the recent crisis over the British sailors has taught the GCC states is that despite radical rhetoric, Iran is still saddled by the same elements of political realism and pragmatism inviting further cooperation.
Ideologically, Iran’s projection of a "regional patriotist" image seeking
self-reliance instead of foreign dependency is attractive in the Arab world and
undermines the effort of Iran’s adversaries to depict Iran as the "coming hegemon" bent on regional domination.
Such Iran-phobic scare tactics, pointing at Iran’s nuclear program, miss an
important point about post-revolutionary Iran detected by French philosopher Michel Foucault, that is, the anti-hegemonic, liberating potential of the Islamic Revolution questioning the world’s hierarchies.
Hence Iran’s empowerment is, in a sense, tantamount to a regional empowerment, benefiting the Muslim and Arab world, and not just Iranians. Rowhani’s statement in Qatar has once again served notice on the functional utility of Iranian power as a "common good" for the region, and a prudent response by the GCC states is not to cast doubt on its sincerity but rather to ask Iran to prove it with action.
The problem with that scenario, on the other hand, is that whereas Iran has pushed for a regional free-trade zone in the Persian Gulf, several GCC states have entered long-term bilateral agreements with both the US and Europe, following the "Greater Middle East" grand design, that complicate efforts to enhance inter-regional cooperation.
Not only that, Rowhani’s call for an end to a regional arms race clashes with the interests of Western, Russian, Chinese, and other military contractors who would hate to lose the multibillion-dollar arms market in the Persian Gulf.
Nevertheless, the combined economic needs of the rising populations of GCC states and the need to lower military expenditures give an urgency to at least putting some control on the regional conventional and ballistic arms race.
Iran’s offer of security cooperation with the GCC states has to be seriously
explored in all areas, including by setting up a pan-Persian Gulf military research committee that would issue reports on how to manage the arms race instead of letting it get out of hand as is the case today. Similarly, the questions of joint exercises, interoperability of weapons systems, intelligence sharing and the like must be probed.
Conspicuously absent in Rowhani’s statement was any reference to environmental cooperation. Yet this is a ripe area for enhanced cooperation given the growing problem of pollution and other (industrial and non-industrial) environmental hazards that can only be tackled through joint action and are to some extent beyond the capabilities of any single state.
On this front, Iran has accumulated a prized experience by signing a convention on environmental protection in the Caspian Sea, with all the region’s littoral states, and can now apply that experience to the Persian Gulf, with the help of dozens upon dozens of environmentalist groups. 
As in the Caspian Sea, where the debates on environmental cooperation often intersect with "environmental security" and larger security issues, eg, in light of rampant poaching in the Caspian, in the Persian Gulf too the question of environmental protection is not divorced from, among other things, the role of foreign warships polluting the waters.
Unfortunately, the United States has so far not paid any attention to this
particular issue, despite the outcry by several local environmental groups about pollution from its warships. For a US government so keen on its image in the Middle East that it spends billions of dollars on public relations, the devotion of a small sum to this cause could go a long way in enhancing its image.
The US could, for instance, push for the creation of a United Nations program on the Persian Gulf environment, similar to the UN’s Caspian Environment Program. The United States’ aversion is based on the concern that systematic studies of such a program could pinpoint the US as a culprit, adding to its current headaches in the region.
Only through common security can the Persian Gulf states realistically hope for durable peace and tranquility in a war-ravaged region that is both blessed and cursed by its possession of a lion’s share of the world’s energy deposits.
The presence of foreign forces incites the feelings of some Muslims and is a root cause of radicalism and terrorism, which cannot be effectively combated as long as the Arab states of the region are stuck in the client networks hatched by Western powers.
1. For more on this, see Kaveh L Afrasiabi, The Environmental movement in Iran, Middle East Journal.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran’s Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran’s Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran’s nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran’s Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.