Cooperation Among the Arab Gulf States Is Key to U.S. Interests and Regional Stability, Despite Friction

For Release

July 28, 2016

The increased influence of Arab Gulf states in regional affairs such as the fighting in Syria and the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen has raised the stakes for relations between the six nations and poses significant consequences for stability in the region, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

While the ongoing conflict in Yemen largely has unified the nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council in the security realm, transitions that occur once conflicts end tend to exacerbate divisions within the council, as occurred following the civil war in Libya, according to the report.

RAND researchers recommend that the U.S. government continue to work with member states both individually and as a group, particularly encouraging cooperation in areas such as group weapons purchases and on creating new economic opportunities.

“The Gulf Cooperation Council always has had high and low periods of cooperation and friction,” said Jeffrey Martini, lead author of the report and a senior Middle East policy analyst at the RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “Future trends are not likely to differ significantly from this historical pattern, but the consequences of intracouncil dynamics are greater now with the growing activism of some member states.”

The report examines factors that bind and divide the six Gulf Cooperation Council states — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — and presents the outlook for the council's evolution over the next 10 years.

Fissures within the Gulf Cooperation Council reached a peak during 2012–2014, largely over the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in regional politics. Despite this, the council was never in danger of dissolution because of overriding incentives binding the group together, particularly a common desire to preserve monarchical rule, according to the study.

The United States should continue to raise human rights concerns with the Gulf Cooperation Council states and press for improvements on the basis of values and security benefits, while reassuring council partners that Washington remains committed to the region's security, despite some limited U.S.-Iranian cooperation following the nuclear agreement between the two nations.

“The ongoing conflicts in Yemen and Syria could engender tension among council states over what constitutes an acceptable outcome,” said Becca Wasser, co-author of the study and a project associate at RAND. “Meanwhile, an increase in the threat from the Islamic State could increase intracouncil cooperation, particularly in the areas of intelligence sharing and coordination between internal security forces.”

The report, “The Outlook for Gulf Arab Cooperation,” can be found at Other authors of the report include Dalia Dassa Kaye, Daniel Egel and Cordaye Ogletree.

Funding for this study was provided, in part, by donors and by the independent research and development provisions of RAND's contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers.

The research was conducted within the RAND National Security Research Division, which conducts research and analysis on defense and national security topics for the United States and allied defense, foreign policy, homeland security, and intelligence communities and foundations and other nongovernmental organizations that support defense and national security analysis.

About RAND

RAND is a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous.