The emergence of the contemporary inter-state system in the Gulf, and of the antagonisms underlying it, can be seen as a product of the imposition of modern forms of state formation, and of the nationalist or revolutionary ideologies associated with it, upon the pre-existing mosaic of peoples, languages and beliefs in this area of West Asia.
The initial territorial divisions were a result of imperial state formation from the fifteenth to the early twentieth centuries. The boundary between Safavis and Ottomans was the site of substantial wars in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries but was gradually stabilised through treaties, beginning with that of Zuhab (Qasr-i Shirin) in 1639, and culminating in the Treaty of Erzurum of 1847, while that between the two encroaching modern empires, the Russian and the British, was gradually drawn from the late eighteenth century onwards: the Romanovs took Iranian territory in the Transcaucasus, while the British pushed against Iran’s eastern frontier, through India (now Pakistan) and Afghanistan, and from the late nineteenth century also encroached on the Arab territories lying on the southern side of the Gulf.
The dominant power in the Gulf was neither Arab nor Persian, but Britain, in formal control of Iraq and much of the Peninsula’s coastline, from Kuwait to Aden. The strategic situation was, therefore, one in which Britain maintained its military and administrative dominance: local states, Iran included, conducted their relations largely with Britain, and other major powers. There was very little contact of substance between the regional states. Iran and Saudi Arabia formally recognised each other. At first, however, Iran refused to recognise Iraq, since Baghdad refused to provide suitable guarantees to Persians living in its territory.
Where there was upheaval, nationalist and social, in these states it had little to do with other regional peoples, and much to do with external, imperial, domination.
From the perspective of the mid-1990s the Gulf would appear to be one of the potentially most unstable regions of the world, given the combination of economic resources, militarized tension, and internal political instability. Yet beyond this evident instability it is worth examining in what the difficulties consist. As far as international questions are concerned, one can identify at least six areas of tension: territory, ethnic and religious minorities, oil, arms races, conflicts in foreign policy orientation, and interference in each other’s internal affairs.
Arabs and Persians Beyond the Geopolitics of the Gulf
To the reader, following two of our previous posts of this series about TERRITORIAL DISPUTES:
- What are the issues at stakes in this a territorial dispute?
- Which remedy could be used to solve this particular territorial dispute?
For reference to these questions see:
Jorge Emilio Núñez
06th November 2018