Dispatch: The Complexity of Persian Gulf Unrest – courtesy of Stratfor

by Marilou Long on March 1, 2011

in Energy,Foreign Markets,Geopolitical

This report is published with the permission of Stratfor.

Analyst Kamran Bokhari examines protests in Persian Gulf countries and their importance to U.S. interests in the region.

While the world’s attention is still on Libya because of the fighting over there, the slow-simmering situation in the Persian Gulf is far more important. We’ve already seen Bahrain and Yemen erupt, but now we have Oman in play, and this is forcing other states like Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar and, most significantly Saudi Arabia, to engage in pre-emptive measures.

The countries on the Arabian Peninsula are very complex entities. First of all, there are many of them, and each of them has its own unique dynamic internally that will then shape any potential unrest. If we look at what’s happened in the Persian Gulf area so far, what we have is Bahrain and Yemen already in motion. In Bahrain, there are protests that the government is tolerating, and the same situation is in Yemen, but there is an ongoing negotiation in both states as well, which will lead to some sort of a compromise. That compromise is going to be a slippery slope in terms of the state making concessions.

While that is happening, we now see the contagion spreading to Oman, where there has been violent unrest, and there we see the government trying to deal with the situation, both using security forces as well as other incentives to ensure that any unrest can be contained. Meanwhile, in other places like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, and more importantly, Saudi Arabia, we see governments trying to deal with the situation in a pre-emptive manner. Not only are they trying to sort things out internally within their own respective countries, but they’re also moving on a regional level, hoping that they can contain what is taking place in Oman, and in Bahrain, and in Yemen before it hits their countries.

Instability in this part of the world has huge implications. There is the obvious repercussion for the world’s energy supply — some 40 percent of total global energy output via sea comes through the Persian Gulf — but it’s not just about oil. Each one of those states, from Oman all the way up to Kuwait, houses major American military installations. They are very vital for U.S. military operations in this part of the world, particularly at a time when the United States is in the process of withdrawing its forces from Iraq, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

In addition to just the general nature of American military operations in the region, unrest in the Persian Gulf complicates the U.S.-Iranian dynamic. The United States is already withdrawing from Iraq, which allows Iran to flex its muscles, and if, in addition, we see unrest destabilizing the Persian Gulf states, that gives Iran further room to maneuver and project power, not just on its side of Persian Gulf but also across into the Arabian Peninsula. Thus, while the world is still focused on Libya, there is a need to shift focus to the Persian Gulf where the stakes are much higher and the situation much more complex.

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