The Forum will be hosting its Fifth Annual Gulf International Conference titled “Prosperity and Security of the Gulf Region and U.S. Interests in a Changing World Order,” at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on November 16, 2023. The conference will convene six panel sessions addressing U.S.-Gulf relations, great power competition, rivalry and reconciliation, soft power, climate change and youth-focused economic development of the Gulf.
The world’s geopolitical landscape is rapidly changing, with significant consequences for the Gulf and the broader Middle East. While previous great-power competition drew Gulf states into balancing threats through alliances, the recent deterioration of relations between East and West following the Russian invasion of Ukraine has increased their political maneuverability. Across the Mediterranean, Europe is embroiled in its largest war since 1945, and both NATO and the European Union have tried to persuade the Gulf states to exert diplomatic pressure on Russia. However, the Gulf—with the exception of Iran—has remained on the periphery of the conflict. In this context, multipolarity has fast-tracked the strategic autonomy of the GCC member-states, leading them to hedge between the global superpowers while expanding their overall geopolitical influence.
Over the past decade, the strategic partnerships that have long guided U.S.-Gulf relations have come under increased strain. Mounting disagreements between Gulf governments and the last four American administrations have deteriorated the trust between both sides. Pushed by a need to achieve their national diversification plans—and increasingly skeptical of Washington’s commitment to the Gulf’s security—the GCC states have deepened their partnerships with Russia and China in trade, energy, and manufacturing. Closer ties between the GCC, Moscow, and Beijing have likewise added to frustration with the West. Yet, neither side has been willing to truly abandon the partnership, and security cooperation has, to a significant extent, been preserved.
At the same time, the Middle East is experiencing long-awaited internal dialogue and rapprochement among regional rivals. Against the trend of rising global tensions, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and several other GCC states secured landmark diplomatic agreements since 2021, replacing rivalries with economic, political, and security collaboration.
Many observers have linked regional de-escalation and the GCC’s balancing of East and West to their ambitious innovation-led economic diversification plans centered on human capital policies harnessing the energies of their large young labor force. The new ventures under these initiatives include (but not limited to) investments in tourism, international sports, artificial intelligence, fintech, greentech, and defense localization.
As part of the national visions, Gulf states have taken steps to advance the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda. Across the GCC, women have gained a greater share of participation in the labor market, and have also gained greater representation in peace-building decision-making roles in government.
Soft power has remained an important tool for the strategic engagement of the Gulf states. They have utilized diplomatic relations and economic might to increase their presence in international crisis mediation, while working to promote their image abroad through various investments such as in media and sports. Within the past half-decade, GCC states have facilitated negotiations between the United States and the Taliban, Pakistan and India, and Russia and Ukraine. The GCC states have played a particularly outsized role in climate action, hosting dozens of climate-related events and gaining plaudits from the international community.
8:30 – 9:00 Registration, breakfast and networking
9:00 – 9:10 Executive Director’s Opening Remark
9:15 – 9:30 First Keynote Address
9:35 – 10:45 Great Power Competition and America’s Standing in the Gulf
Dr. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen (moderator), Fellow for the Middle East, the Baker Institute; Senior Non-Resident Fellow, Gulf International Forum
Shaikh Nawaf Al Thani, Qatar’s former Defense Attache to the United States, Canada and Mexico; Member of the Board of Directors, Gulf International Forum
Dr. Paul Salem, President and CEO, Middle East Institute
Shaikha Najla Alqasimi, Director of Global Affairs Department, Bhuth
Dr. Abdulaziz Alsager, Chairman and Founder, Gulf Research Center
10:55 – 12:05 Reconciliation and Rivalry: the Role of Turkey, Iran and Israel in the Gulf
(This panel is organized in partnership with Middle East Council on Global Affairs)
Ambassador Patrick N. Theros (moderator), Strategic Advisor and Senior Scholar, Gulf International Forum
Jonathan Lord, Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Security program, Center for New American Security
Dr. Gönül Tol, Director of Turkey Program and Senior Fellow at Black Sea Program, Middle East Institute
Dr. Roxane Farmanfarmaian, Director of International Studies and Global Politics, the University of Cambridge Institute for Continuing Education
Dr. Abdulla Baabood, Member of the Board of Directors, Gulf International Forum; Chair of the State of Qatar for Islamic Area Studies and a visiting professor at the Faculty of International Research and Education, Waseda University, Tokyo-Japan
Omar H. Rahman, Fellow, the Middle East Council on Global Affairs; Nonresident Fellow, the Baker Institute for Public Policy
12:15 – 12:30 Second Keynote Address
12:35 – 1:00 Networking
1:00 – 1:50 Plated Lunch
2:00 – 3:10 Creative Insecurity: Disruptive Technologies and Youth Potential in the Gulf
Dr. Amin Mohseni-Cheraghlou (moderator), macroeconomist at the GeoEconomics Center, the Atlantic Council; Assistant Professor of Economics, American University in Washington, DC; Non-Resident Fellow, Gulf International Forum
Dr. Dania Thafer, Executive Director and Senior Fellow, Gulf International Forum
Dr. Racha Helwa, Director of the empowerME Initiative, the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East
Dr. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Fellow for the Middle East, the Baker Institute; Senior Non-Resident Fellow, Gulf International Forum
Dr. Ghiyath Nakshbendi, Senior Professorial Lecturer, American University Washington, DC
2:00 – 3:10 The Future of Knowledge Production in the Gulf: Media, Social Media and Artificial Intelligence
Zaid Benjamin, Journalist and Blogger (moderator)
Dr. Khalid Aljaber, Director, MENA Center
Dr. Mohammad Alrumaihi, Professor of Sociology, Kuwait University; Board of Directors Member, Gulf International Forum
Joyce Karam, Senior News Editor, Al-Monitor
Abderrahim Foukara, Bureau Chief for the Americas, Aljazeera
3:20 – 4:30 The Gulf’s Ambitious Climate Action: Renewables, Green Policies, and Emission Reduction
Dr. Wafa Al-Daily (moderator), Board Member, Gulf International Forum
Princess Noura Bint Turki Al Saud, Founding Partner, AEON strategy
Ben Cahill, Senior Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Dr. Sara Vakhshouri, Adjunct Professor of Energy Security and Director of the Center for Energy Security and Diplomacy, The International Institute of World Politics; Founder and President, SVB Energy International
Dr. Gawdat Bahgat, Professor of National Security Affairs, National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Study; Senior Non-Resident Fellow, Gulf International Forum
3:20 – 4:30 Soft Power in the GCC: Sports Diplomacy, Mediation, and Cultural Industries
Khalid Saffuri (moderator), Founder and President of the National Interest Foundation
Dr. Kenneth Katzman, Senior Fellow, The Soufan Center; Senior Advisor, The Global Insights Group; Senior Non-Resident Fellow, Gulf International Forum
Dr. Courtney Freer, Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow, Emory University; Senior Non-Resident Fellow, Gulf International Forum
Dr. Khalifa Al Suwaidi, Research Fellow, Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy
Fatima Al-Dosari, Executive Director, Qatar America Institute for Culture