Ahrar al-Sham al-Nusra al-Qaeda Bashar al-Assad Caeser Act Civil Resistance Civil War Conflict Counter-Terrorism Democratic Union Party (PYD) Energy Sector Foreign Investment Free Syrian Army Hayat Tahrir al-Sham Humanitarian Aid Industrial Organisation Infrastructure Islamic State Jaish Khalid bin al-Walid Kurdish Groups Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Land and Property Restitution Militarisation Operation Peace Spring People’s Protection Units (YPG) Post-War Recovery Rebel Groups Rebuild Syria Conference Reconstruction Refugees Sanctions Southeastern Anatolia Project Syrian Democratic Forces Turkish Strategy Uprising
In December 2022, Chinese President Xi Jinping travelled to Riyadh for the first summit between China and GCC leaders, officially sealing what has become a strategic partnership in just a few years. Oil and gas exports to China remain the backbone of economic relations between the GCC and China, but these have deepened and diversified over time. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are China's most important partners in the GCC and have received the bulk of Chinese investment and awarded large construction contracts – mainly for industrial parks and port facilities – to Chinese companies. The GCC countries' "visions" of transforming their economies away from fossil fuels and China's "Belt and Road Initiative" a strategy to achieve economic opportunities and political influence abroad have led to a classic "win-win" situation between the two sides. So far, China has shied away from challenging the US as the main security provider in the region but has started supplying arms to its main partners Saudi Arabia and the UAe, which want to hedge against a possible US withdrawal from the region. China is trying to reconcile its relations with the GCC countries with its relations with Iran, the arch-enemy of the Arab states. It is doubtful whether this can work in the long run and whether China can avoid becoming embroiled in the various conflicts in the region. The US-Chinese rivalry could endanger the fragile stability in the region.
Heinrich Kreft is a German career diplomat and academic. Since September 2020 he is the Director of the Center for Diplomacy at Andrássy University in Budapest, Hungary, where he also holds the Chair for Diplomacy and is directing the International Relations and european Studies program. He has published extensively on major power political and economic relations; on international security; the Arab world; european, American and Asian political and economic affairs. Most recent publications on US-China relations; transatlantic relations; Islam in Germany; geopolitics and culture and on German and european foreign policy after Russia´s attack on Ukraine.
The latest developments in Sino-Gulf relations marked the opening of a new period. China aspires to use the current geopolitical situation in the Gulf as a bandwagon to get the GCC states behind its policies. Nevertheless, disagreements among the Gulf states continue to hinder China’s aspirations. There are significant divergences in foreign policy approaches between the GCC states. Therefore, a common Gulf foreign policy position towards China is more complex than it seems.
Mordechai Chaziza is a senior lecturer at the Department of Politics and Governance and the division of Multidisciplinary Studies in Social Science at Ashkelon Academic College, Israel. Dr. Chaziza also holds a Ph.D. from Bar-Ilan University. His research focuses on China-Middle East and North African relations.
Over the past years, the countries of the GCC have become more and more relevant in various theaters but, as a result of these dynamics, the organisation got weaker, burdened by increasing internal problems. This article aims to investigate why and how Gulf countries have become more active on the global stage and the impact of this greater strategic autonomy on the GCC as an organisation. The main argument is that this greater strategic autonomy is a result of systemic changes in the Gulf Regional Security Complex, namely the end of the American external hegemony. This autonomy has led to an increasing geopolitical discrepancy between some members of the organization and a greater assertiveness in their foreign policy approaches – as shown in the case of the Arab Spring, but which ended up weakening the GCC. The loose institutional arrangements on which the GCC was built also allowed for these differences to emerge more sharply, leading to what is as "organisational cacophony" and resulting in an overall weakening of the organisation, with the 2017 blockade being the culmination of these dynamics.
Dario Cristiani ia Resident Senior Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) in Washington D.C., working on Italian foreign policy, Mediterranean Security, Terrorism, and Global Politics. He received his Ph.D. in Middle East & Mediterranean Studies from King’s College London in 2015 and has previously lived in Italy, the UK, Turkey, Belgium and Tunisia.
Gulf sovereign wealth funds (SwFs), large state-owned investment funds, have historically been known as quiet global investors deploying capital through a long-term approach, mainly in western financial markets. More recently, however, Gulf ruling elites have been leveraging them to proactively drive nation-building projects, deepen strategic international partnerships and claim a more prominent role on the world stage. why is that the case? The article argues that Gulf SwFs are now pivotal agents in the region’s shifting international politics. A new generation of leaders is using them to pursue elite-based interests and economic development goals that induce deeper economic and political influence in a regional sphere of influence. They also drive Gulf governments' attempts to boost alternative revenue streams through significant investments in disruptive technologies and low-carbon projects, simultaneously expanding the rentier monarchies' international reach beyond their role as fossil fuel producers. The article delineates the rise of SwFs as alternative mechanisms of regime maintenance; they enable incumbent elites to advance foreign policy ambitions and maintain shared expectations about the appropriate organisation of a political economy by harnessing the impending energy transition and the impact of the climate crisis.
Alexis Montambault-Trudelle is pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of edinburgh. His research focuses on Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund to explore the effects of internal political dynamics on sovereign wealth management. He investigates how intra-elite dynamics, regime structures and state-society relations in the post-2015 Saudi political landscape shape the sovereign wealth fund's institutional design and behaviour, whether in the kingdom or across the global financial market. He is particularly interested in the political economy of Gulf states and the multiple facets surrounding the relationship between states and the financial market.
A major change in Saudi Arabia’s international profile has been the much greater role assigned to its sovereign wealth fund. Certainly, in the past few years the Public Investment Fund has been substantially reconfigured, effectively supplementing its more traditional regional investments with fresh focus on strategic stakes and ventures in the US and other key foreign states. After outlining the PIF’s current decision-making structures and strategy overview, this article explores some of the fund’s most notable recent investments, also addressing key issues and concerns.
Christopher Davidson is a former reader in Middle East politics at Durham University, a former visiting associate professor at Kyoto University in Japan, and a former assistant professor at Zayed University in the UAE. His books include From Sheikhs to Sultanism: Statecraft and Authority in Saudi Arabia and the UAE and Shadow Wars: The Secret Struggle for the Middle East. In 2022 he served as the US Department of Justice’s expert on the politics of the Gulf monarchies, with reference to national security and foreign influence operations.
The 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal significantly altered the Middle east’s geopolitical landscape, resulting in a shared security threat and increased cooperation between Israel and moderate Gulf states. The turning point of this Arab-Israel rapprochement was the Abraham Accords of 2020, which marked the normalisation of ties and new strategic partnership between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco. The implications, changes and challenges, as well as potential for other countries to join the peace circle, is explored.
Jonathan Ghariani recently completed his doctorate at the University College london, in Hebrew and Jewish Studies . His thesis focused on the diplomatic history of Arab-Israeli relations and geopolitical negotiations. He holds a master's degree in Security and Diplomacy at Tel Aviv University, Israel and a bachelor's degree in Government Diplomacy and Strategy from IDC Herzliya. Ghariani has also completed internships at the Institute for National Security Studies and at the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies. Most recently, he was a visiting scholar at the Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada,
where he spoke and published his research on Israel’s historical relations with Morocco and Oman.
Kristian Coates Ulrichsen
This essay examines how Qatar’s international relations are changing as the decade of regional rivalries which followed the Arab uprisings in 2011 gives way to an era characterised by great power competition, which presents new challenges as well as opportunities for states such as Qatar and its neighbours. An opening section provides an overview of the rifts among the Gulf States that formed a near-constant backdrop to most of the 2010s and only came to an end in 2020. This leads into a second section which examines the pace and depth of Gulf states’ reconciliation in the two years since the signing of the Al-Ula Declaration in Saudi Arabia on 5 January 2021. A third section analyses how Qatar is balancing international relationships and picking a path through the growing polarisation of global geopolitics and ends by looking ahead and assessing how Qatar’s international relations may further evolve.
Kristian Coates Ulrichsen is a fellow for the Middle east at the Baker Institute. His research examines the changing position of the Gulf states in the global order, as well as the emergence of longer-term, non-military challenges to regional security.
Two and a half years after their signing, rather than the historical breakthrough President Trump presented, the Abraham Accords appear a somewhat contradictory work in progress. If, on the one hand, they promoted greater integration among the signatories, they did not prove the expected rallying point nor really tackled the Middle east’s many political and security problems. In March 2022, the establishment of the Negev Forum raised new expectations, but its impact is still to assess. At the same time, the weakening of the US role hampers the possibility washington could provide the process with clear guidance and leave the regional actors large room for manoeuvre.
Gianluca Pastori is Associate Professor, History of political relations between North America and europe, Faculty of Political and Social Sciences, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milano, Italy. In the same Faculty, he also teaches International History (Milano), and History of the international relations and institutions (Brescia). He is author or editor of several books and essays on the history of international relations, security issues and military history.