The US–GCC Strategic Cooperation Forum: a multilateral approach to counter-terrorism

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited Ridyah, Saudi Arabia for the inaugural meeting of the US–GCC Strategic Cooperation Forum in March 2012 (Photo: US State Dept)

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited Ridyah, Saudi Arabia for the inaugural meeting of the US–GCC Strategic Cooperation Forum in March 2012 (Photo: US State Dept)

By Becca Wasser, Program Officer and Research Analyst, IISS–US and John Drennan, Research Assistant, IISS-US

Throughout 2012, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) approach to counter-terrorism and security focused on building operational ties to its strongest international partner, the United States.

The US–GCC Strategic Cooperation Forum (SCF) was launched in March of this year, bringing together the foreign ministers of the GCC states and top US officials. The aim is for both sides to strengthen and better coordinate their security efforts. While the GCC has a long relationship with the US, this high-level forum illustrates the continuing importance of the Gulf region to the US national security agenda.

 

The US–GCC SCF convened its second meeting in late September, and ministers ‘reaffirmed their rejection of terrorism and extremism in all its forms’ in a communiqué  issued after the event. The meeting laid the groundwork for a new, more multilateral, approach to counter-terrorism in the region under the umbrella of a newly formed Joint US–GCC Security Committee.

Although the US has a number of bilateral programs in place with GCC member states–including the State Department’s Antiterrorism Assistance Program and the US Treasury-led Financial Action Task Force–this new committee aims to centralise and streamline counter-terrorism efforts across the region. These developments go hand-in-hand with the GCC’s own internal attempts to more fully integrate and enhance coordination among member states’ various security agencies, including proposed measures that harmonise those agencies’ mandates.

However, tension between concerns over human rights and the rule of law, and the operational desire for enhanced security integration could undermine the success of the forum. Concerns have been raised over legislation passed by GCC member states and by the actions of security authorities, with groups citing the suppression of rights such as free expression, speech, and assembly under the guise of counter-terrorism laws.

These concerns highlight a major question that the GCC and the US will face as they move towards deeper security integration: should domestic governance issues in the GCC–such as human rights–undermine the opportunity for cooperation on national security issues?


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