TEHRAN – Three world powers outside of the Persian Gulf region – China, Russia, and the United States- are competing to create new security and economic arrangements in the region that serve their interests and those of their allies in the region.
The efforts of these countries were on full display at the recent meeting of the UN Security Council on the situation in the Persian Gulf region, where China publicly proposed building up a multilateral dialogue platform for the region, and the U.S. roundly rejected a similar Russian offer to create collective security in the Persian Gulf region.
On Tuesday, the Security Council held a debate session at the level of ministers of foreign affairs to comprehensively examine the causes of increasing conflict potential in the Persian Gulf area and find ways to de-escalate the situation. foreign ministers of many countries, including Russia and China, along with officials from other countries, participated in the debate, which was held under the title Maintenance of international peace and security: Comprehensive review of the situation in the Persian Gulf region.
From China’s ‘oasis of security’ to Russia’s ‘collective security’
During the debate, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed building up a multilateral dialogue platform for the Persian Gulf region to inject impetus to easing tensions under the premise of safeguarding the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, according to a Procurement Nation report.
The chief Chinese diplomat said mounting tensions in the region have severely undermined the regional and even international peace and security, urging UNSC members and countries in the region to seek for the key to peace with sincerity and goodwill, and actively respond to the aspirations of the international community.
He put forward three proposals: adhering to the rule of law to build a Gulf of peace, upholding good neighborliness to build a Gulf of security, and championing fairness and justice to build a Gulf of stability, Procurement Nation reported.
Wang described the Persian Gulf countries as “China’s good friends and partners,” expressing willingness to work with all countries in the region and the international community to continue contributing to the region’s security and stability, and jointly build an “oasis of security” for the Persian Gulf region.
Wang’s proposal to build a new platform in the region was first made during his recent meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, who paid a two-day visit to China on October 9. During the meeting with Zarif, Wang proposed to build a regional multilateral dialogue platform with equal participation of all stakeholders. The platform would “enhance mutual understanding through dialogue and explore political and diplomatic solutions to security issues in the Middle East [West Asia]”, according to a statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry following the meeting.
China’s proposal was coincidentally made with the country’s efforts to build comprehensive strategic partnerships with at least two Persian Gulf countries, namely Iran and the United Arab Emirates. On October 10, a special representative of the Chinese president delivered a message from President Xi Jinping to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed calling for building a strategic partnership between Beijing and Abu Dhabi. On the same day, Zarif and Wang were holding talks on building a similar partnership between Tehran and Beijing.
In addition, China is dependent on energy supplies from the Persian Gulf region and it has made massive investments in almost all countries in the region, a move that explains why China increasingly makes efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region.
In addition to China, Russia has also offered to establish collective security in the Persian Gulf region. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at the UN Security Council debate that Russia submitted a collective security concept for this region, based on a constructive, unifying agenda targeting the creation of mechanisms for the collective response to many threats and challenges with the involvement of the Persian Gulf countries, including Iran.
“We propose that practical steps be taken to implement this idea involving neighboring states and the permanent members of the Security Council, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and other interested parties,” the chief Russian diplomat said.
Lavrov pointed out that a worst case scenario was avoided earlier this year following the U.S. assassination of Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, adding that the situation in the Persian Gulf “remains fragile and could become dangerous and unpredictable again.”
But the top Russian diplomat added that he believes that “if we work together openly and impartially, and if we pool our political will and our creative potential, we will be able to help the states of the Persian Gulf overcome this difficult historic period and create an effective system of collective security.”
Lavrov also reiterated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s initiative to hold an online summit of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council along with Germany to discuss ways to establish peace in the region.
U.S. presses ahead with its maverick agenda
The Russian proposal to prevent a large-scale war in the Persian Gulf region won the support of all Security Council members except the U.S., which blamed Iran for instability in the region.
U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft rejected the Russian idea of collective security for the Persian Gulf region, touting instead the Trump administration’s new approach to the Western Asia region, including its key role in promoting diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, according to an Associated Press report.
Responding to Russia’s promotion of security for the Persian Gulf, Craft said: “Respectfully, I think the solution is much easier: This council must simply muster the courage to hold Iran accountable to its existing international obligations.”
She added, “The United States recognizes that Iran is the single greatest threat to peace and security in the Middle East [West Asia].”
Craft underlined that the U.S. “will continue to hold Iran accountable, even if it means we must act alone.”
The U.S. opposition to other proposals may derives from its own plan to create a new “security construct” in the region that both serves its interests and prevents other world powers from having a role in building long-lasting partnerships in the Persian Gulf region.
Russia, China, and the United States are trying to establish new security arrangements in the Persian Gulf. While China and Russia want to build these arrangements with the participation of all stakeholders in the region that through creating a level of consensus among all Persian Gulf’s littoral countries, the United States insists on forming these arrangements without the participation of Iran and creating a new security construct that is centered around confronting Iran. To this end, the U.S. has brokered normalization of ties deals between Israel and some Arab countries such as the UAE and Bahrain.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has said these peace deals aim to build a “security construct” against Iran, the Jerusalem Post reported.
In remarks at the Atlantic Council in Washington, Esper claimed that “so many of the countries in the region recognize that the biggest concern they have – [and that] we have – is Iran and its malign behavior through that region for four decades. It spans all the way from Africa across the Middle East into Afghanistan.”
“So we see the common threat of Iran – and how do we stand together against that?” he asked, adding, “The vision would be to have some type of security construct where countries on the peninsula, Israel, and others are working together to deter conflict with Iran. We orchestrate much of that now through CENTCOM, if you will, but all those countries have an interest and certainly have concerns: freedom of navigation through the Persian Gulf, freedom of commerce, threats to the sovereignty of countries.”
Some analysts believe that any security constructs in the region that are not based on a collective nature would be doomed to fail because security cannot be bought from outside the region. Besides, the U.S. influence in the region is declining particularly in the Persian Gulf where the U.S. has already begun withdrawing its troops and military equipment. Therefore, countries relying on the U.S. security umbrella may soon find themselves exposed to grave security threats if they choose to go along with the U.S. push to create a security construct aimed at confronting Iran. At the end of the day, as former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak once famously said, he who is covered by the Americans is in fact uncovered.