Alwaght- In the middle of a transformation period the West Asia region’s security order is experiencing, the regional states are reviewing and reshaping their relations with other actors to create new security structures based on their assessment of the challenges their security environment could face in the future.
Turkey and Kuwait are an example. The two countries signed a joint defense plan on October 11 for 2019, mean to enhance the two sides’ military cooperation.
According to Kuwait News Agency (KUNA), the Kuwaiti army said in a press release that the deal was signed with the aim of pursuing joint coordination "for accomplishing harmony, sharing experience and unifying efforts."
This agreement is not the beginning of Turkey and Kuwait steps towards designing joint defense programs. In September 2017, the two regional countries signed an array of pacts that allowed them to broaden their security and military partnership.
Kuwait is a small but wealthy state in the Persian Gulf region and is a founding member of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council. The Arab emirate since the beginning of its foundation tended to cooperate with the strong international players, on top of them the US, to protect its own security. But in recent years, the Kuwaiti leaders have expanded their range of alliances, cooperating some regional actors such as Turkey. The new approach raises some questions: Why does Kuwait choose Turkey for a new partnership? And why does it seek new allies while it is allied to Washington, amid the US laying the foundation for a new intra-Arab security mechanism, dubbed Middle East Security Alliance (MESA), or simply the Arab NATO?
Cooperation Council: A collapsing bloc
Last week, the news reports said that the first visit to Kuwait of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was a total frustration for Saudi Arabia. The regional media outlets have maintained that apparent gaps in the two countries’ views made bin Salman leave Kuwait empty-handed. The Kuwaiti-Saudi cleavage on regional issues is a single case of a gallery of deep chasms inside the body of the (P) GCC, a regional bloc founded in the early 1980s with the purpose of economic, political, and security integration of the member states. After four decades, however, not only the goal was not achieved but also the reality of the relations between the Persian Gulf Arab states indicates that they are away from convergence.
Changes in the leadership in Saudi Arabia in 2015 introduced a new reality to the Arab states. Following the death of King Abdullah, his brother Salman bin Abdulaziz ascended the throne. In 2017, Salman installed his son Prince Mohammed as crown prince, dismissing Mohammad bin Nayef from the post. The new leaders, dreaming of dominating the Cooperation Council, started their threats against the bloc’s smaller countries like Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar. The overbearing campaign finally reached a peak when Saudi Arabia, assisted by the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt, stirred a diplomatic crisis with Qatar, cut its diplomatic ties with Doha, and imposed an all-out blockade on the emirate.
At loggerheads with the aggressive bin Salman on the foreign policy, Kuwait appears to begin to feel a potential risk of becoming a target to punitive measures— similar to those against Qatar or even worse— of an infuriated Saudi Arabia. A set of issues cause cracks in the Saudi-Kuwaiti relations. The Saudi rulers, for instance, frequently press Kuwait to restrict the freedom of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement Riyadh finds enemy to its both Arab world leadership ambitions and ideologies, on its soil.
So, the Kuwaitis have come up with the conclusion that the deeply-divided (P) GCC cannot address their security concerns and challenges. They, so, turn heads to Turkey. An alliance with Ankara, the biggest Muslim Brotherhood supporter and an ideological rival to Saudi Arabia, amid strained ties and falling cooperation between Saudi Arabia, can send a serious message to the Saudis, telling them that Kuwait leadership are not going to be intimidated by Riyadh’s brinkmanship, something that is expected to add roughness of Prince Mohammed’s rugged road to the Council dominance.
During his visit to Turkey last year, Kuwait’s Emir Sabah AL-Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah came clean on some anti-Turkish plots, saying “some openly try to target Turkey and seek to drag the crisis to inside Turkey. We tell those that aim to launch an economic war against Turkey that they will not succeed.”
On Wednesday, the Kuwaiti Parliament Speaker Marzouq Ali al-Ghanim, on an official visit to Turkey to meet his Turkish counterpart Binali Yildirim, said that the recent attacks on the Turkish economy will yield no results. The Turkish economy has lately suffered from a crisis amid fall in the national currency lira value against the US dollar. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan directed the blame on the interventions of “some foreign countries”, particularly “some Arab countries”, in an indirect reference to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both banning the Ankara-backed Muslim Brotherhood.
The US: An unreliable ally
The recent Turkish-Kuwaiti defense pact comes in a time of worries for the Arab leaders as the US intends to remove a number of its Patriot missile defense systems from Kuwait, Jordan, and Bahrain, a move the experts read as bringing forth air defense weakness to Washington’s Arab allies.
Under Donald Trump, the US embarked on a policy of cutting the protection commitments to the allies. The US president brazenly seeks to blackmail the oil-rich Arab sheikhdoms into paying heavily for their security or face the removal of US-provided security coverage.
On the other side, seeing Washington and Riyadh closely working, Kuwait and other small players like Qatar search for new allies. Turkey is a top candidate, as the country is close geographically to them and Erdogan grows a raging thirst to expand military presence in the Persian Gulf and secure a share in the regional states’ capital market.
The alliance with Turkey comes while Washington presses forward with plans for the Arab NATO, which many say is meant to fill the US protection commitment cut vacuum using the Arabs’ cash and to cultivate an Arab front against Iran and Turkey for the good of the Israeli interests. Apparently, Kuwait’s security coalescing with Ankara reveals that the Arab army idea is failed beforehand.