Oman and the World

The Emergence of an Independent Foreign Policy

by Joseph A. Kechichian

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In the aftermath of the War for Kuwait[1] and the dramatic fall in the price of crude oil in the world markets, the strategic importance of the Straits of Hormuz remained intact and the vital role of the Sultanate of Oman in ensuring its security unchanged. To be sure, Oman's propinquity to the Straits of Hormuz was not the only significant factor in the country's rebirth.

After the British debacle in Aden, and London's 1968 decision to "withdraw" from the Persian Gulf, both Saudi Arabia and the United States became concerned that a collapsed Oman might endanger neighboring countries. Since then, and even though Western academics and government officials seem to have reached a consensus over the short-term future of the Persian Gulf region—that its future is less threatened than it was between 1967 and 1990—for the overwhelming majority of Gulf citizens as well as officials, the area has still been beset with the hegemonic aspirations of three major regional powers. None were more threatening than the dismemberment of Iraq, especially as the potential for the establishment of an independent Kurdistan loomed on the horizon. Iran appeared poised to reap the benefits of the waning influence of the former Soviet Union in Central Asia, Turkish aspirations to rekindle Pan-Turanism notwithstanding. Ankara, for its part, was caught in a perpetual identity crisis, oscillating between the aspirations of its elite to join the European Community and its militarist tendencies to assert Turkish hegemony over the old "Silk Route." Even the collapse of the Soviet Union has had minimal effects on regional security because nascent interstate conflicts resurfaced with a vengeance. Neither the Iraqi, Iranian, or Turkish political designs comforted conservative Arab Gulf monarchies, including Oman.

In addition to these direct threats to regional security, disputes between India and Pakistan preoccupied Muscat, as tensions rose over the Kashmir question. Associated with this explosive situation was the arms race between New Delhi and Karachi. Muscat was more immediately concerned with the spillover effects of an Indian-Pakistani war among the large expatriate community in the Sultanate.

Although this study aimed to provide detailed analyses of relations with most countries—including the Levant and the Maghreb—much of what follows was painstakingly assembled from a variety of primary and secondary sources. The availability of these sources determined which countries were chosen for detailed discussion.

These foreign policy concerns were as important as internal matters throughout the area. Oman faced significant internal changes over the past few decades that shaped, whether by design or accident, its foreign policy objectives. A serious population explosion threatened to tax the country's resources to the limit, compelling government officials to push a two-pronged economic liberalization and investment-oriented policy. A 4 percent annual population growth rate stood as the most ominous threat facing the Sultanate. In part to meet this internal challenge, Muscat adopted new economic policies that necessitated closer cooperation with, first, its immediate neighbors, including Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen and, second, with a variety of European and Asian states. Still, Oman is well poised for future challenges, as the Persian Gulf region enters the 21st century.

Generous support from RAND, using its own research funds, has facilitated the timely completion of this study.

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Notes

  • [1] Throughout this volume, War for Kuwait refers to the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the 1990–1991 UN-mandated effort to liberate the Shaykhdom. The term is preferred over "Gulf War" to avoid confusion with the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq War.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Part I: The Origins of Omani Diplomacy

  • Chapter Two

    The Omani Nation

  • Chapter Three

    The Modern Omani State

  • Part II: Foreign Policy in the Modern Era

  • Chapter Four

    The Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf Region

  • Chapter Five

    Oman and the West

  • Chapter Six

    Russia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus

  • Chapter Seven

    Oman and the Far East

  • Chapter Eight

    Oman and South Asia

  • Chapter Nine

    Oman and Africa

  • Chapter Ten

    Trends in Omani Foreign Policy

  • Appendix

This research in the public interest was supported by RAND, using discretionary funds made possible by the generosity of RAND's donors and the fees earned on client-funded research.

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