For twenty years, American policymakers and foreign-policy analysts have been concerned with how to maintain peace and enhance stability in the oil-rich Persian Gulf region. The objectives of U.S. Gulf policy have been to preserve the West's access to Gulf oil on politically and economically acceptable terms and to insulate our Saudi and smaller Gulf-state friends from outside threats to their independence and territorial integrity. In large part, these objectives have been achieved. The end of the Cold War, recent steps toward an Arab-Israeli peace, and the reduction of both Iranian and Iraqi military capabilities have significantly lowered the great-power and regional threats to American interests in the Gulf.
But the oil "bust" of the 1980s and the threat to traditional regimes from Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait exposed the economic and strategic vulnerability of the Gulf Arab monarchies and put their ruling elites on the defensive. The 1990-91 Gulf crisis raised anew questions about the legitimacy of these regimes and their continued viability in a world where the international movement toward democracy has been gaining strength. Through out the Gulf states, but most dramatically in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, pressures have grown for ruling institutions to be made more accountable to society; for election of representative bodies and emphasis on the rule of law as checks on the arbitrary power of princes; and for an end to corruption and ruling-family monopoly over state finances. The American press this summer focused attention on Saudi dissident demands that the Western democracies use the influence of their strategic ties with Riyadh to press for political reform and human-rights improvements in the Kingdom.
How should the United States respond to these growing demands for political reform in the Gulf Arab states? Building institutionalized procedures for political participation can be potentially destabilizing (vide the Soviet Union). If we press these regimes to adopt current Western standards of political correctness and social values, do we risk creating tensions that would undermine the very stability that we wish to preserve? Might pressure for democratization lead only to replacement of pro-Western autocrats by hostile but equally undemocratic Islamists or by re-emergence of tribal, sectarian and regional separatisms? How, then, to reconcile U.S. concerns for promotion of human rights and democratization with continued close strategic ties to regimes which many Americans consider political and social anachronisms and therefore inherently frag and embarrassing allies?
Oil Monarchies, by F. Gregory Gause III, is a timely and very welcome contribution to the discussion of these critical questions. Gause agrees that there are indeed tensions inherent in the U.S. desire for both stability in the Gulf and for political and social reform of these monarchial regimes. However, he believes these tensions can be managed, provided Americans develop a clear understanding of the domestic politics and social forces at work in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and of how these domestic pressures influence the foreign and oil-production policies of the GCC rulers.
This book grew out of a January 1992 Council on Foreign Relations symposium on the implications for U.S. policy of political evolution in the GCC states, and it focuses on the bases of politics in those six countries. Gause's analysis relies heavily on recent work in the field of Gulf studies by scholars like Jill Crystal, Jon Peterson and Joseph Kechichian, among others. He has supplemented these sources by extensive interviews conducted during two research visits to five of the six Gulf Arabian states in 1992 and by reporting in the Western and Arabic press.
Gause argues that the present-day realities differ from the conventional wisdom that so often dominates American public discussion about this region. In doing so, he challenges two main assumptions that usually underlie that discussion. The first assumption is that, because these Arabian regimes and societies are "traditional," i.e., founded on tribal social structures and steeped in Islamic values, their institutions are unchanging and their political evolution is therefore not a serious issue. The second assumption is that these regimes are weak and of questionable legitimacy, culturally distinct from the West but dependent on Western, primarily U.S., help to survive.
To Gause, American conventional wisdom about politics in the Gulf monarchies is not so much wrong as outdated. Acknowledging that tribal affiliations and Islam played important roles in the formation of the Gulf states, he shows convincingly that the role of these elements has changed over time. Drawing primarily on Saudi Arabia for his examples, Gause demonstrates how Gulf ruling families have used the rhetoric, the symbols and the institutions of Islam and of their own tribal heritages to develop civic myths that justify and reinforce their right to rule. At the same time, the state has worked to weaken the independence of the tribes and of the Islamic religious institutions and to bring them under its control. In Saudi Arabia, the religious authorities, the ulema, have been given a role and status in the state bureaucracy and allowed to retain great influence over education (especially of women), justice and public morals. In return, the religious establishment is expected to legitimize government strategies and to give religious sanction to the political order.
Gause, a political scientist at Columbia University, turns to the growing literature on rentier states in the field of comparative politics to illustrate how the rulers' enormous oil income enabled them to concentrate great power in their hands vis-a-vis all other institutions. Rulers have used oil revenues to develop improved instruments of coercion and control; modem armies and police forces and large government bureaucracies answerable directly to the ruler have helped to centralize his power vis-a-vis the tribes, the merchants and even members of his own ruling family. Oil wealth has also made the Gulf governments the dominant players in their national economies-by offering subjects a wide array of benefits and services; by providing employment in the centralized bureaucracy and in the large parastatal oil and petrochemical industries; and by control over award of government contracts, investment of government funds and regulation of trade and business. As Gause explains: "Provision of all these economic benefits has a clear political intent: to convince the citizenry that their personal well-being is tied up with the existing political system" (p. 61).
The consequence is that the strength of the Gulf monarchies is based on the exchange of substantial material benefits from the state in return for the citizen's political loyalty, or at least his political acquiescence (p. 76). In the process, "political space," in the form of autonomous institutions mediating between the ruler and his subjects, tended either to be co-opted by the regime or suppressed. However, Gause considers it a mistake to assume that oil wealth has once and for all "depoliticized" the citizenry of the Gulf monarchies. The overwhelming impact of the state on the lives of its subjects has naturally made the latter anxious to gain some control over government decisions, if only to reduce the chance of drastic and unexpected policy changes that could mean higher utility prices, fewer jobs or reduced educational and health benefits. If there is ''no representation with taxation,'' then Gause believes it is equally valid that there can be no cuts in important state subsidies without representation.
As traditional points of direct patron-client contact with the ruler (e.g., the majlis) have been weakened by the burgeoning of government bureaucracies and by rapid growth of population, new groups organized on other functional or associative bases, such as Chambers of Commerce, professional syndicates, alumni associations and sports and social clubs, have become important parts of the political equation by lobbying the ruler and government ministries. This growth of civil society is seen by the author as directly challenging the theory that "traditional" societies are immune to more modem forms of political organization and debate. When permitted, as in Kuwait since 1991, such networks can form the basis for what are, in all but name, political parties. Even traditional tribal structures and Islamic groups have shown that they can organize and compete successfully in politics alongside these newer civil society institutions to promote their interests, as they did in the Kuwait National Assembly elections of 1992.
Government responses to these pressures have included the holding in Kuwait in 1992 of parliamentary elections that for the first time returned a majority of opposition candidates, the appointment by King Fahd of the Consultative Council (majlis al-shura) first promised by the late King Faisal in 1964, and the creation in Oman of a reorganized Consultative Council with indirect election of its members and expanded powers over its predecessors. Gause does not believe these political developments fundamentally threaten the stability or security of monarchical regimes in the Gulf. With the partial exception of Kuwait, real power still lies with the executive in all Gulf states. The bias is toward support of the status quo.
While the international movement toward democracy in the late 1980s certainly inspired some Gulf activists, it is domestic pressures and processes that have driven political events in the oil monarchies. Indeed, Gause believes that these states are now less susceptible than ever before to foreign ideological pressures, whether they be Marxist, pan-Arab nationalist or revolutionary Islamic. But where less traditional outlets for political expression, such as political parties, independent trade unions and a free press, are denied or repressed, the state's appropriation of Islamic and tribal symbols and institutions has been contested by opposition groups which have formed around these organizational foci (p. 40). Sunni Islamic political groups "are now and will be in the near future the most important mass-based political forces in these states" (p. 156), but they are not necessarily threats to the regimes. Many Islamic groups enjoy close ties to Gulf regimes and would be loath to break them. Only a few marginal groups actually challenge the ruling families' right to reign. Moreover, the regimes not only have considerable powers of co-optation and coercion but can rely on the business community and secular civil groups to balance the lslamists.
In a perceptive and important comparison, Gause suggests that the relative openness of political life in Kuwait has compelled Islamic groups there to engage in dialogue with both the regime and with other civil-society elements to advance their goals. In contrast, the more limited nature of Saudi civil society has given lslamists a virtual monopoly on organized political activity and has enabled them to confront the government on many issues as the only organized representatives of popular opinion. This in tum encourages a "government vs. lslamist" polarization of public opinion in the kingdom (p. 159).
Gause does not, therefore, see greater institutionalization of the political process and opening up of the political system as other than beneficial, whatever short-term instabilities they may cause. Wisely, the author offers no guarantees. A combination of factors acting together, such as severe economic crisis, pressures to accommodate younger ruling family members in jobs or business at the expense of non-royals and lslamist opposition, could still create political instability, especially if they came to a head during an intra-regime crisis, e.g., over the succession, that weakened the ruling family's cohesiveness and political will. The effect of foreign workers on cultural values, the role of women, Sunni-Shia differences and problems of political identity are seen as long-term challenges but not as immediate political threats to stability.
Gause would agree with National Security Council staff member Martin Indyk (see Middle East Policy, vol. III, no. 1, 1994, p. 2) that for the oil monarchies the Gulf regional environment at present is comparatively benign. But no stable regional security system emerged from the Desert Storm victory, and self-reliance in defense is a difficult, if not unachievable, goal for these states. Gulf Arab leaders will continue to rely on the politics of balance and maneuver to survive, while ducking confrontation if possible. They will seek the regional common ground, avoiding overt identification with any regional power. Thus, since 1991 the Gulf states have moved away from close defense ties with Egypt and Syria, improved relations with Iran and exhibited sometimes ambiguous attitudes toward both Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi opponents.
The author consequently foresees problems in the Gulf monarchies' security relations with the United States. Their leaders will want constant reassurance of U.S. sympathy and support in a crisis but still fear this too close identification with us will create regional and domestic problems for them. Popular attitudes in the Gulf states toward the United States are also ambivalent. Many people believe the United States is anti-Islam while others think we will protect regimes but not people oppressed by those regimes. Only in Kuwait has there been a radical rethinking since 1991 among the general public about identity with U.S. security policies in the region.
For Gause, the world's continued vulnerability to short-term oil supply disruptions nevertheless warrants a continued U.S. commitment to the stability of the current Gulf state regimes (p. 179). He weighs carefully, before dismissing, arguments for U.S. disengagement from the Gulf. But he also disagrees that the United States can avoid responding to those who press for more open political systems in the Gulf states. He recognizes the dilemma facing U.S. policymakers since the process of democratization is destabilizing in the short term, and popular political forces are likely to be less accommodating to U.S. interests than current regimes. But "[a]voiding the issue makes the United States look either weak or cynical" (p. 183). Moreover, there is a long-term benefit in dealing with regimes firmly grounded in participatory institutions.
Gause therefore advocates a policy aimed at encouraging the evolution toward a more participatory, and therefore more stable, politics in the Gulf monarchies. Now is a propitious time for such initiatives, when the regional environment is relatively benign and the Gulf regimes themselves sense the need for some political reform. But the United States needs to proceed with tact and caution. We should encourage Gulf governments to live up to their own constitutions (where they exist, as in Kuwait). We should welcome experiments in political participation at local levels and the development of autonomous social institutions. We should insist that regimes deal seriously with elected parliaments or appointed consultative bodies, e.g., by referring to them for consideration U.S. agreements with their governments. Contacts and exchanges between Gulf civil society groups and their American counterparts should be facilitated. The United States should avoid combat ting Islamic organizations and even try to work with them, when possible. These prescriptions make good sense, although human-rights activists and feminists will be disappointed by Gause's recommendation that we do not press for changes in Islamic penal codes or in women's status in Gulf societies, where the status quo enjoys strong popular support.
On regional security matters, Gause agrees with those who consider our present "dual containment'' policy in the Gulf as self-defeating, since it discourages Iran from cooperating with us in containing Saddam Hussein and does not address the "real issue," the future of Iraq. He urges the United States to seek an understanding with Iran to avoid future confrontation with Iraq, since Iranian domination in a post-Saddam Iraq is the only realistic threat he sees to U.S. interests in the region. Surprisingly, however, for an academic who has written also on Saudi-Yemeni relations, Gause does not explore the challenge to the oil monarchies from the 1990 unification of Yemen and the holding there of relatively free elections in which women participated. This omission is especially unfortunate given the evident uneasiness with which some Gulf monarchies view Yemeni unification and the sympathy, even support, allegedly shown by Saudi Arabia for the formerly detested South Yemenis during the 1994 Yemen civil war.
While Oil Monarchies will be of particular interest to area specialists, it is also appropriate for a more general audience. The author even provides a helpful glossary of Arabic terms like diwaniyya and shura for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the region. Not all area specialists will agree with Gause's moderately hopeful view of the prospects for non-revolutionary political evolution in the Gulf states. However, his analysis is soundly based and his conclusions are persuasive. Overall, Oil Monarchies is a balanced, well-organized and well-written book on an important foreign policy issue. It should be read by all those concerned with developing or analyzing U.S. policy in the Gulf region.