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 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.
More details about speakers and registration to be announced soon.