Characterized by an impressive history and dynamic foreign relations focused on controlling the resources of this area, Gulf region is an interesting case study for understanding the international relations (IR) theories. This essay aims to identify how IR theories explain the situation in Gulf countries and to decipher the Arab Spring and its foreign relations.
Gulf countries have built a self-constructed image of being different because of their common Islamic religion, shared same history, common language and experiences (Gelvin 2). Shimko (37) observes that collective egoism is enrooted in the belief that the members of certain groups are better than others, from various points of view. The conflict groups is translated in the sphere of IR as international conflicts, meaning conflict between states, wherein some states claim cultural, national or ethnic superiority and also claim the resources of other states (Shimko 38). This is the case with Gulf countries’ foreign policy. Controlled until 20th century by British, this region has started to be controlled by the Americans starting with 1970s, in the context of the oil crisis (Ayoob 121).
What realists see as an inevitable estate of conflict driven by states’ interests, the liberals see as a harmony of interest, aligning mutual interests throughout groups and states (Shimko 40). Human progress and solving the problems through reforming institutions are the principles that define the liberal perspective in IR (Shimko 43).
The Marxist theory, on the other hand, sustains that the power belongs to the “bourgeois” class, the capitalists, which translated into foreign relations scene, are seen as the capitalists countries protected by international laws to reach their hegemonic goals, exploiting the other states (Shimko 44-45).
Feminist IR theory accuses the supremacy of make in Gulf countries and condemns the hardships and oppressions that Muslim women endure (Shimko 50-51). Secular countries are interfering with the Gulf countries’ gender relations, aiming to attain the independence and emancipation of Muslim women.
In social science, the constructivism theory reflects at the connection between theory and practice, stating that just as gravity existed before people acknowledge it, leaders have their predefined conscious about how they should behave in IR (Shimko 53). In Gulf countries, the constructivism theory explains the Muslim identity and the behaviors of Gulf country societies, based on learned and inherited behaviors (Weatherbee 21).
Analyzing IR theories in relation with Gulf countries offer a more clear perspective of the interests and intentions focused on this region. As such, realism explains the inherent estate of conflict and the believed supremacy of democratic countries (United States), which also founds the principle of differentiation. The principle of differentiation distinct between the weak and the powerful, according to Marxism, explaining the class separation between capitalists societies and Gulf countries societies or the supremacy of democracy upon other regimes from a liberal perspective that praises the harmonization of interests.
The IR theories, on the other hand, are limited in explaining the Arab spring events, which outburst from the population’s dissatisfaction with their countries’ political regime. These events are explained through realist theory, as conflict groups shared frustration in relation with their rulers. The events are also explained by Marxist theory, according to which the proletariat raise against the bourgeois because of the increased dissatisfactions (Shimko 44-45). It does not explain, however, the international conflict, because Arab Spring represents an internal revolution, driven against the rulers and their international policies that led Arab countries to austerity (Gelvin 25). However, looking at the outcomes of the Arab spring events, IR start to make sense. Specifically, Marxism is the theory that Saudi Arabia applied for avoiding its people to raise against its government. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia invested $100 billion in social welfare of the Arab population (Dunnee, Kurki & Smith 180), which is a Marxist reform for preventing popular revolution (Shimko 46). The liberal theory is beneficial for understanding the Arab Spring events, as it praises the positive change and social progress (Shimko 44), defining Arab population’s beliefs in ending their fear and oppression related with their autocratic governments (Baylis, Smith & Owens 196).
Overlooking on the foreign policies in Gulf region, there must be marked that the interest in this region started in 1930s, when Washington expressed its intentions of investing in Gulf oil, but it was practically pursued after the Second World War, when U.S. acted as a peace setter, defending this region of the Russian danger (Ayoob 123). This situation can be explained through realism IR, which might translate U.S. intentions as benefiting from changing the existing order (Shimko 40). Gulf countries’ foreign policy has often been benefic for some of the Persian Gulf states, in the detriment of others. As such, United States’ interest in having access to Gulf’s oil and gas reserves for exploiting them in the Western society often meant (and it still means) its strategic coalition with certain Gulf countries, whom USA supports in becoming growing regional economies. This is the case of Saudi Arabia and also of Iran, who enjoy American protection, as compared to Iraq, considered a terrorist country because of its expressed anti-Americanism orientation and the attributed 9/11 attacks upon United States.
At the heart of the conflict estate in Middle East, Iran permanently negotiates its foreign policy., benefiting of a U.S. sponsored social order, while threatening with a nuclear conflict, generating instabilities in the entire Gulf region (Cubin 3).
IR theories are useful in understanding the Gulf region. There are various angles from which Gulf aspects can be approached, corresponding to various IR theories. Arab Spring can be explained through liberalism IR, expressing the population’s intention to achieve a positive change. In the same time it can be interpreted through realism IR theory, defining the intention of changing the status quo for benefiting from the changing of the order. Similarly, the foreign policy of Gulf countries are exposed to multiple IR interpretations, but the arguments of each IR theory contribute to deciphering the political context and foreign relations in Gulf region.
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Ayoob, Mohammed. American Policy Toward the Persian Gulf
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Shimko, Keith. International Relations: Perspectives, Controversies and Readings. Mason, Cengage Learning. 2012. Print.
Baylis, John, Smith, Steve & Owens, Patricia. The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations. Oxford, Oxford University Press. 2014. Print.
Weatherbee, Donald, E. International Relations in Southeast Asia: The Struggle for Autonomy. Maryland, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2009. Print.