In April 2022, the European Union, for the first time, unveiled a comprehensive strategy in which the future relations of the Union with the member countries of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council are described in various fields, from security issues to trade and climate issues. The new strategy is "Strategic Partnership with the [Persian] Gulf." Since it is a long-term plan and its full implementation will take several years, it is more like a road map. According to this document, the European Union will increase its regional diplomatic presence. This increase in presence started from the connection with Qatar in 2022, and it will be expanded to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait this year (2023).
In this way, at the current stage, European countries, based on their power and position in the form of the European Union or separately and individually, seek to increase their presence and role-playing in the Persian Gulf. They pursue many different goals and interests in this geopolitical and geostrategic field.
Traditionally, European countries (and due to their historical presence in this region) regard themselves as having a guiding and strategic role in creating balance in the politics of the countries in the region. With such an approach, they try to reduce tensions among the members of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council and direct the position of this council on various issues, including relations with Iran and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the issue of Palestine and relations with Israel, national reconciliation and political stability in Iraq and other essential matters in the region according to their interests.
- Economic, military, and security goals
Among the European countries, the United Kingdom and France have a large military presence in the Persian Gulf region. Examining the recent actions of the United Kingdom towards the sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf and London's efforts to strengthen its military presence in these countries also show that the United Kingdom is returning with power to its former position (the period before 1971 that managed the security mechanism of this region) in the Persian Gulf region. After leaving the European Union, this country is looking for new markets and economic allies. The rich countries of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council are also considered good destinations for the sale of United Kingdom military weapons. Based on this, United Kingdom's goal for the next decade (2020 to 2030) is trade and investment of 2 trillion dollars in this region. In fact, due to Brexit and the absence of human rights restrictions from the European Union, this type of relations and communications, especially in the trade, military and economic fields, is increasing between the United Kingdom and the Persian Gulf countries.
Currently, the United Kingdom has three permanent bases in the region; these bases include a permanent naval support facility in Bahrain's Mina Salman seaport, Joint Logistics Support Base within the Al Duqm Port in Oman, and the United Kingdom military presence center in Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. Qatar is the only country with which the United Kingdom shares a squadron.France is one of the other trans-regional powers active in the Persian Gulf, which has defense contracts with some countries in the region, including the UAE. At the same time, some European Union countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark have a negative attitude towards military-security cooperation with the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf and have announced that due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen, they will not sell a weapon to any of the coalition members active in this war. France is moving against this trend through arms transactions with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar, as well as military cooperation with Kuwait. In 2009, the opening of the naval base of Camp de la Paix (Peace Camp) in Abu Dhabi was also aimed at providing the basis for the purchase of more military weapons from France. In 2021, France and the UAE signed a 16 billion euro contract for the sale of French military equipment, including the sale of 80 Dassault Rafale to the UAE. Accordingly, in recent years, the French and the United Kingdom have become more active in the security sector of the region due to the booming arms market in the Persian Gulf.
While the European countries in recent years provided most of their energy needs from Russia, in the past year and following Russia's military attack on Ukraine, these countries have imposed several sanctions against Russia, which is also a kind of self-sanction and it has fueled a European energy crisis. While this crisis caused the diversification of energy supply markets to become a severe issue among European countries, it doubled the importance of the Persian Gulf region for these countries. On July 18, 2022, France and the UAE signed an energy agreement to ensure the supply of oil and natural gas from this Persian Gulf country. The Chancellor of Germany also signed a contract to purchase liquefied natural gas in September 2022 while traveling to the UAE. Olaf Scholz said in this meeting: "We must make sure that enough liquefied natural gas is produced in the world to meet the existing demand, and there is no need for Russia's production capacity." This shows that Europe does not intend to tolerate Russia meeting its energy needs. Given the unknown status of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and Iran's absence from international energy markets, it is trying to replace Russia with Arab Gulf countries.
- Preventing the development of Russian and Chinese influence in the Persian Gulf
In recent years, especially after the United States government decided to reduce the presence of the Persian Gulf, we have seen the role of Eastern powers, especially China and Russia, in the Persian Gulf strategic region, and this is something that raises concern about European countries because of the change in the balance of power in the world. Based on this, although due to the pragmatism and multilateralism policy of the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf region, the European countries cannot prevent the expansion of their relations with China and Russia and make a severe change in their long-term strategy, they try to as far as possible prevent from the development of China-Russia's presence and influence in the region and the dependence of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council members with the more active presence in the region, the oil and gas agreement and meet some of the industrial-weapons needs of the Arab countries.
Based on this, it seems that in the current situation, European countries, especially Germany, the United Kingdom, and France, have many political, economic, security, and military interests in the Persian Gulf region. Therefore, they want to increase their presence and influence in this region at the same time as the presence of the United States decreases. To meet their needs, sell weapons and create domestic economic prosperity, confront the effect of the Ukrainian war, create a political balance in the region, and deal with problems that may threaten their interests after the United States' absence in the region, these countries are taking the opportunity for themselves and are developing their presence and relations with the countries of the region.
Mohammad Mehdi Mazaheri, university professor
(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)