Gulf states differ on defence plans

NEARLY two years after the states of the Arabian peninsula turned to the US and its allies to defend them against aggression, they are meeting again to discuss once more the chimera of a common defence arrangement, writes Charles Richards. The six states of the Gulf Co- operation Council (GCC), whose summit began in Abu Dhabi yesterday, are today even further away from being able to defend themselves from outside threats. The states are divided over a number of issues. Qatar boycotted the preparatory meetings for the summit because of a border dispute with another member state, Saudi Arabia.

More serious are underlying differences about the role of the GCC, which was set up as a defensive shield against its two powerful regional neighbours, Iraq and Iran. Two years ago the threat was clearly from Iraq. Now, the threat is from Iran, bent on a massive rearmament programme. But Iraq remains a danger. Iraq's continuing instability and its repeated claims to Kuwait are, in some ways, as threatening as when it was powerfully united and aggressive.

In the past two years, the GCC states have moved even further away from the pipe-dream of self reliance. They have frozen the implementation of the Damascus Declaration, under which Egypt and Syria, which sent troops to the help liberate Kuwait, would help bolster the region's defence capabilities.

Instead, a number of the Gulf states, including Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman, have signed security agreements. Oman has proposed the setting up of a 100,000-man GCC defence force. But this has not met with favour from other member states.

'There are differing opinions about ensuring security in the Gulf,' said United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Zayed ibn Sultan Al-Nahayan.

'We in the GCC are united on this issue but every one has his own views. We are discussing these views and will continue to do so until we reach one opinion. Anyway, it is our duty to prepare ourselves and build our own forces.'