Kuwait’s Role In The Gulf Cooperation Council’s Diplomatic Crisis

By Kevin Dupont

On June 5, 2017, a coalition of Muslim-majority countries, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Bahrain, and Kuwait severed diplomatic ties with the State of Qatar, an unexpected move to even the most senior experts in the region. This piece will analyze the role of the State of Kuwait as a mediator in this cold conflict, and how the development policy of the Kuwaiti government could signify a decline in their involvement with GCC affairs.

As the Saudi-led coalition within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) continues to condemn the actions of fellow member Qatar, Kuwait has remained active in its role as a mediator.  Since June 2017, Kuwait has aimed to strike a balance between its fellow GCC members through diplomatic dialogue and mediation. One of the most infamous failures to mediate this balance occurred at the annual GCC Summit in December 2018, where Qatar’s diplomatic crisis was left off of the meeting agenda in Riyadh.  Attempting to bring the blockade of Qatar to the international stage at a later point, Kuwait also brought this matter to the attention of the UN Security Council, which ultimately proved fruitless. The failure of Kuwaiti negotiation practices should not come as a surprise, as GCC actors have never been united under a common political agenda. This divergence of diplomatic priorities can be seen most clearly in the stances of the GCC states towards Iran and Yemen, ranging from Saudi Arabia’s aggressive stance to Oman’s more conciliatory role.

The internal GCC dynamic is heavily influenced by the actions of Saudi Arabia, particularly regarding matters of security and military movements. However, recent events suggest that the Kingdom may be moving away from GCC coalitions and aiming to create their own bilateral partnerships. Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubair said that cooperation continues between Qatar and other GCC members on the topics of military operations and security training, despite diplomatic relations remaining ceased. Further, the UAE and Saudi Arabia recently announced a separate partnership that is solely focused on military actions, which suggests that they have confidence in bilateral relations, even though trust in the GCC remains thin.  This increasing bilateralism and the failure of Kuwait to mediate the severing of diplomatic ties with Qatar suggests that it will remain a stalemate.

While Kuwait ultimately benefits from the safeguard of the GCC alliance, this internal conflict has encouraged the small city-state to explore new opportunities with foreign partners in the international community. These opportunities could manifest in security partnerships between states, as well as trade and foreign investment. The latter is particularly important, because if Kuwait is able to find a suitable partner for such foreign investment, their desire to fight for the sustainability of the GCC may dwindle.  While the GCC provides minimal investment transactions between its member states, investment opportunities that have emerged from Qatar and the UAE, have allowed Kuwait to reap benefits by association in the form of friendly trading partners and the attraction of foreign businesses.

The impact of a successful foreign investment venture in Kuwait would be monumental for an economy that has depended upon global oil and gas markets. Such ventures are already in the works: Kuwait and China recently announced an initiative that would create the Kuwait-China Silk Road Fund – a $10 billion-dollar fund that aims to promote mutual investment between the two states. The fund will support the construction of the ‘Silk City’ urban development, which will be linked to Kuwait City as part of an extension of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative. Kuwait’s national development plan that also includes the development of its northern region, attempting to transform itself into a regional business hub by 2035. It is hoped that these projects will boost non-oil revenues, and help Kuwait develop a national economic structure independent from its GCC partners.

With an uncertain diplomatic context and ambitious national development plan, Kuwait faces a challenging path towards prosperity. With the GCC serving as a staple of Kuwaiti foreign policy in recent years, it is understandable that Kuwait wishes for the group to remain intact. However, given the uncertain future of the alliance and continuing political rifts, Kuwait’s work as a mediator must not detract from its pursuit of a development policy that goes beyond the opportunities afforded by the GCC.  Given Kuwait’s recent failures to resolve the GCC’s diplomatic crisis, it should focus instead on the pursuit of its own independent economic goals.

Photo by Muhammad Mansour on Flickr

Kevin Dupont holds a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University, two Bachelor of Arts degrees in International & Global Studies and Anthropology from Brandeis University, and a Certification in Arabic Language Studies from Middlebury College. In the Summer of 2015, Kevin formulated a global research project, analyzing the role of social media and political activism; from China, to Israel and Tunisia, plus many locations in between.  He has worked with the United States Department of State on three separate occasions, in the embassies at Baku, Azerbaijan; Tijuana, Mexico and Islamabad, Pakistan. Before arriving at the Fletcher School, he was teaching at an American international school in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, while managing the partnerships division of a youth-focused NGO called Global Young Voices (GYV). Kevin recently presented academic papers related to the foreign affairs within the Arabian Gulf at five conferences located in Amsterdam, Netherlands; Hong Kong, China; Santa Barbara, California; and Montreal, Canada. Kevin is fluent in four languages, with proficiency in eight.