Kuwait — Has the ferocity of the Gulf war and the occupation of Afghanistan shocked the Gulf states into burying decades of differences? That certainly seems to be in the air.
Kuwaiti officials are pinning many of their hopes for the security of this strategic region on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), announced by six Gulf-side states in January.
The six include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. Foreign ministers of the six will meet in the Omani capital of Muscat shortly, to further the groundwork for the GCC.
Kuwaitis claim to have been the authors of the council idea, though they say that Saudi Arabia's backing for it was a vital element. As envisaged here, the GCC should move gradually toward furthering cooperation between member states, primarily in economic and commercial fields.
But at least one senior politician here, ex-minister Muhammad Youssef al-Adasani, who is widely tipped as speaker of Kuwait's parliament, has held out the hope of eventually reaching "complete unity."
Mr. Adasani told the Monitor that in the first instance, joint economic measures would be a useful testing-ground for the new council.
"It has taken Europe many decades of economic cooperation to lay the basis for joint political action," he noted. "Perhaps we can even be a bit faster here!"
Diplomats here, meanwhile, are watching to see what contribution the new grouping could make toward filling the defense vacuum left in the Gulf after the downfall of the Shah of Iran.
Saudi spokesmen have gone on record as hoping the GCC member states could do something to standardize their weapons procurement policies. Some Kuwaitis are wary of such pronouncements, seeing in them an attempt to prevent Kuwait obtaining even its present limited supplies of Soviet weaponry.
Kuwait is the only member of the GCC group with diplomatic relations with the Soviets. It also hosts a Chinese Embassy. But Kuwait, like the other GCC states, continues to be predominantly Westward-leaning.
One GCC state, Oman, recently hosted American military communications experts for joint exercises inside Oman. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, continues to be linked to US strategic plans for the region through its use of the American AWACS (airborne warning and control system).
Kuwait's foreign minister recently reiterated his country's longstanding opposition to the establishment of permanent foreign military bases in the Gulf region. But it was noted here that the recent exercises in Oman did not prevent the next GCC foreign ministers' meeting being held there.
On paper, the GCC provides no counter to Iraqi or Iranian military might. Member states' armies total 106,000 men. Though they have much modern equipment , they rely heavily on imported, non-national manpower.
The Iraqis and Iranians each field armies totalling one-quarter of a million men. but improved links between GCC states could give the grouping substantial political weight in facing up to the Gulf war protagonists, each of whom is viewed as a potential threat by most member states.
For Kuwaitis, their very survival depends on striking a balance between their much larger neighbors, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
For this reason, Kuwaiti officials are careful to stress that the new grouping will be open to Iraqi membership once Iraq extricates itself from the war with Iran. Until then, the Gulf states are evincing a new political maturity in their step s toward cooperation.