The Road of Interdependence

Dr. Abdullatif Bin Rashid Al-Zayani

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Introduction By Dr. John Duke Anthony

The author of the essay that follows heads the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Founded in Abu Dhabi on May 25, 1981, the GCC is comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Its Secretariat, comprised of representatives of all six of the Member States, is headquartered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

His Excellency Dr. Abdullatif Bin Rashid Al Zayani is the GCC’s fifth Secretary-General. He was appointed by the GCC’s Supreme Council, which is the organization’s highest decision-making body. The Supreme Council is composed of the Heads of State of the GCC’s member countries.

The GCC has long been viewed as the most successful sub-regional organization in modern Arab history.

Incorrect and Flawed Perceptions

Some take issue with this description. They disagree. In the eyes of some of the GCC’s critics, such a positive assessment is incorrect and misleading.

Some contend that the GCC has failed to live up to its aspirations regarding maximum cooperation. Others emphasize how the GCC has fallen short of integration. Still others point to the lack of success in forging a more unified set of achievements.

The GCC’s leaders do not deny that there is a significant measure of truth in these complaints. They acknowledge their shortcomings. They admit to their having failed to achieve what some had hoped and others expected the organization to accomplish at the time of its founding.

In fairness, though, one needs to ask: what organization’s achievements have not fallen wide of what its founders hoped to effectuate? No such organization exists. In this, the GCC is no different.

This writer was present at the GCC’s founding meeting. He has attended each of the GCC’s Ministerial and Heads of State Summits since then. He has experienced firsthand the heady atmosphere and the genuinely euphoric mood that accompanied the GCC’s establishment. He has witnessed firsthand also the genuinely jubilant climate that has followed many of its subsequent summits.

Regional Comparisons

Shortcomings and all, the six east Arabian Peninsula countries never cease to amaze. Their material progress has been and continues to be mind-boggling. The nature, pace, and extent of their modernization and development can be catalogued in myriad ways.

Lest one suspect such comments are a paid advertisement, which they are not, check them out. For comparison, examine the entire 22-country Arab region and, regarding the 16 other Arab countries, see if there is anything remotely comparable to what the GCC, as an organization, and its Member States as its components, have accomplished. One will not find it because it does not exist.

The unconvinced are urged to apply a different test. Use another set of contexts to test the viability and robustness of the GCC. Attempt to find another international organization in the region that meets with as much frequency. Searchers will not find a comparable example nor even a remotely similar one.

What one will discover instead is that the GCC Secretariat hosts and administers no fewer than 400 meetings a year. They will learn that, in some years, it hosts as many as 700 meetings. What is more, there are no absences; all six of the members convene to discuss common issues and challenges. No Arab organizational grouping and no Arab countries meet as regularly to anywhere near the same degree.

Additional Frames of Reference

Still not persuaded? Try another frame of reference.

To determine the robustness, and overall appeal and attractiveness to local and foreign investors of a given region, or even of a single country, the following test might be useful. Examine the nature, pace, and extent of people clamoring to enter the GCC region or one of its specific countries. Determine whether it could be classified as: (1) many, (2) some, (3) few, or (4) none. In many countries, the answer is either of the latter options. In the GCC region, it is the first.

Flip the coin and examine the trend from the opposite perspective. Ask how many people are trying to leave the region. Ask what the reality is in terms of the same four options. The answer will be between (3) and (4).

The reason for these positive realities is clear to specialists if not to generalists. It has to do with the six countries being globally distinctive in terms of their domestic safety and external defense. Search the globe and one will not find six other geographically contiguous countries or six identical systems of governance that illustrate these same realities.

In other words, the negative, pessimistic, and dismissive views that one will find in much of the media are at once incorrect, unfair, and misleading. The extraordinary frequency with which the GCC Member State representatives meet to further their countries’ and peoples’ progress is but just one example.

Agenda Items

Of related importance is the range of matters that the GCC brings members together to discuss: security, defense, intelligence, economics, commerce and trade, investment, and technology cooperation. In addition, the members meet regularly to plan operations pertaining to the members’ periodic security and defense maneuvers and exercises designed to enhance their common deterrence and protection.

These facets of the GCC’s forward momentum in matters of a material, social, and economic nature have no rival among any of the world’s other sub-regional organizations. More specifically, the region as a whole and each of its countries exhibit a range of truisms, certainties, and predictability that would-be investors find a marvel to behold. These do not, however, exist in a vacuum.

At The Helm: Preparation, Preparation, and Preparation

They are present alongside the author of the remarks that follow, His Excellency Dr. Al Zayani. Abiding by the strictures of three-year terms in office, Dr. Al Zayani is presently in his ninth year as head of the six-country organization’s Secretariat in Riyadh. What is it that to date has made this particular leader so effective in the eyes of his peers as well as his superiors?

Dr. Al Zayani, a native of the Kingdom of Bahrain, is a graduate of Sandhurst, Great Britain’s premier military academy. Upon returning to Bahrain, he began a period of service in his country’s armed forces and its Ministry of Defense for the next three decades.

From there, Dr. Al Zayani was transferred to Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior, which is not like America’s Department of Interior but rather, in close association with the administration of an effective system of civil justice, is focused on the maintenance of law and order. He served there as Bahrain’s Chief of Public Security with responsibility for all aspects of the Kingdom’s domestic security and safety.

After that, Dr. Al Zayani could have taken up a full-time teaching position—he holds a PhD and has taught at several universities. Rather than do so, however, he accepted an appointment at Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was serving in that role when he was appointed Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council by the GCC’s Supreme Council in 2011. Dr. Al Zayani was elected for a second three-year term in 2014 and elected yet again to a third three-year term in 2017.

In October 2018, Dr. Al Zayani addressed the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations 27th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference in Washington, D.C. In his remarks, Dr. Al Zayani stepped outside of his role helming the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Secretariat. In doing so, he drew upon his deep knowledge of public service to issue a personal call for a brighter future for the region’s people.

Dr. Al Zayani is mindful of the pessimism and feeling of hopelessness stemming from regional violence and turmoil. Despite this, he has charted a specific path forward through regional collaboration and cohesion. If national leaders were but to heed Dr. Al Zayani’s advice, they would realize the benefits in how it could breed optimism and bring shared peace.

The National Council is privileged to share here an edited transcript of his remarks.

John Duke Anthony, PhD
Founding President & CEO
National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations


By H.E. Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani,
Secretary-General, Gulf Cooperation Council

Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General H.E. Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani addressed the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations 27th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference in Washington, D.C., on October 31, 2018. This transcript of his remarks was lighted edited for publication.

Your Royal Highness, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,

I am delighted to be with you this evening. It is a privilege and an honor to be among such a distinguished gathering of leaders in the capital of one of the world’s most important and powerful countries. I come before you to say a few words on some of the difficulties facing the Gulf and the Middle East. I do so also to briefly outline my vision, as a citizen of the region, of how such challenges might, in the longer term, be turned into an opportunity for genuine peace, stability, and prosperity.

Of course, any vision for the future must be rooted in the reality of today’s challenges. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, these geopolitical challenges are at once well known and exceptionally complex. Among the more intractable are those in and associated with Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.

Any vision for the future must be rooted in today’s challenges. In the Middle East and North Africa region, these challenges are at once well known and exceptionally complex.

The opportunity you have offered me is one that is seldom extended to someone in my part of the world.

It is not every day that one is asked to offer a vision of what may lie ahead. Even less frequently is one requested to suggest how one might best proceed to address the challenges they represent.

Lebanon as But One Example

Of the various challenges we face, Lebanon is but one among others. The structure of governance and the system of political dynamics in that Arab country are steered by Hezbollah (literally, “the Party of God”). People may differ in their descriptions of the party, but there is no doubt that many regard a significant proportion of it as a violent, sectarian, extremist militia.

Hezbollah’s militias are recognized as one the world’s best organized, most disciplined, and most effective non-state actors. In addition, of particular concern in the eyes of many is that it is a wholly owned subsidiary of Iran. That alone should bother anyone and everyone.

Beyond Lebanon is the challenge of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or Da’esh, which has wrought brutal havoc among innumerable peaceful peoples in the region. Da’esh is at once an organization and a movement that draws its fighters from numerous different countries. It serves as an exemplar of religious extremism and terrorism.

Hezbollah fighters with an Iranian-made anti-aircraft missile.
Hezbollah fighters with an Iranian-made anti-aircraft missile. AP Photo/Hussein Malla.

This is not to mention other challenges and uncertainties. Among them are those that remain for millions of refugees and displaced people. Practically each and every one of these challenges have their roots in the unending tragedy and trauma inflicted upon the Palestinians.

For over 70 years, the Palestinians have been seeking to realize their legitimate right to a sovereign national state. What constitutes the unmistakable roots of many of the challenges facing the region are the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its accompanying denial to the Palestinians of their of freedom, independence, human rights, and elemental dignity.

Iran: Exporting Instability to the Region and Beyond…

But for the past forty years, what has additionally tied the region’s challenges together has been Iran’s behavior. What we see in Tehran is no normal national capital. Rather, we see a regime determined to export its brand of sectarian theocracy. Indeed, to our knowledge, Iran’s is the only regime constitutionally obliged to “export the revolution” – begun in 1979 and continuing to this day.

For forty years, it has been Iran’s behavior which has tied the region’s challenges together.

Tehran seeks to do so by systematic efforts to undermine the states of the region. This is in clear violation of international laws and in particular the United Nations Charter, which calls on nations to abide by the principles of good neighborliness and non-interference in the internal affairs of others. Separately and collectively, in concert with their strategic partners, Iran’s agents and proxies have set about in one country after another to do what they can to subvert and delegitimize the states in which they operate.

As Demonstrated in Yemen…

Take the tragic example of Yemen. No one seriously doubts that the Houthi militias are closely allied with and assisted by Iran and those among its proxies such as Hezbollah. Neither, certainly among specialists, does anyone deny that the Houthis’ original demands for greater representation and resources have been considerably co-opted in the service of Tehran’s wider regional agenda.

And so across the Middle East, we have Iranian proxy groups – as well as groups that are not direct proxies but which are nevertheless supported by Tehran through a variety of means – spreading hatred, division, and violence, and working with their allies overseas as they do so. For example, many of the hundreds of missiles that the Houthis have rained down on Yemeni civilians and on cities and installations in Saudi Arabia have been developed and manufactured in Iran, and operated by Hezbollah personnel seconded from Lebanon.

Iran's support for regional partners and proxies.
Iran’s support for regional partners and proxies. Graphic: U.S. Department of State.

There is no choice but to push back robustly against Iran’s efforts in Yemen. For what is the alternative? To allow an expansionist, sectarian militia to control part of the Arabian peninsula, the heart of the MENA region, and to hold to ransom international shipping through the Bab Al-Mandeb at the southernmost gates to the Red Sea? Such a scenario should be unacceptable to the international community, and indeed to any rational actor placed in our position.

We therefore must work to prevent this from happening. We have no choice but to endeavor to ensure a return to a political process. Only thus can we expect to help provide a stable, secure, and peaceful country for the people of Yemen and the wider region.

And Around the Middle East Region…

Equally, there is a need to stand against Iranian threats and subversion elsewhere in the region – from Beirut to Baghdad to Bahrain. The security and prosperity of our peoples gives us no strategic alternative but to resist such efforts. This is despite our knowing that doing so will cause a backlash from Tehran’s proxies, both physically and through their relentless propaganda. Making the latter seductive is that it conveniently glosses over the misery and suffering that Iran continues to inflict on the region’s peoples on a daily basis.

From Here to Where? And How?

This, then, is the regional context. It is a context in which death, destruction, and displacement is an inescapable fact for whole swathes of the MENA region. It is a context in which huge numbers of ordinary people have largely lost hope.

And who can blame them? Many sense that the current processes are going nowhere towards lasting peace. I find it difficult to disagree – there are simply too many vested interests and too few incentives to compromise.

So how do we move beyond this? How do we steer the region away from today’s conflict and turmoil? How do we guide it to a future of security and prosperity?

In my view, the answer lies in one word:


Interdependence is a long-term concept. It is an idea that will allow us to move from firefighting to fireproofing. It will enable us to put in place frameworks, networks, and norms that align national or vested interests to a wider regional benefit, and which prioritizes cooperation over conflict.

If I know that my prosperity and security depends – in large part – on your prosperity and security as my neighbor, then: Guess what? I am incentivized to work with, not against, you. What is more, I will have the motivation to voluntarily develop the cooperation and trust that can advance both our interests.

Mission Improbable?

An impossible dream? I don’t believe so.

Consider Europe, a continent wracked by centuries of conflict, culminating in the two Great Wars of the Twentieth Century. But for the first time in centuries, Europe today has survived for more than 70 years without war, growing immensely wealthy in the process.

This unprecedented stability in Europe is due almost entirely to the interdependence that has grown up around and between the countries of the region. The form that the interdependence has taken is the overlapping but complementary framework of organizations, networks, and physical infrastructures. These are the sinews that bind states and peoples to common goals and values.

From the European Union, to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), to the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to the sector-specific cooperation agencies throughout the European countries, all of these play a role in nurturing interdependence. Economically, too, shared roads, railways, energy grids, cross-border supply chains, and the unprecedented levels of intra-regional trade have made countries and peoples more invested than ever in continued peace, cooperation, and prosperity.

European cooperation in matters of economics, defense, infrastructure, and trade has fostered intra-regional investment and growth, and produced peace, cooperation, and prosperity.
European cooperation in matters of economics, defense, infrastructure, and trade has fostered intra-regional investment and growth, and produced peace, cooperation, and prosperity. [1]
So, for Europe, interdependence is not just a concept. It is not just a dream. It is a tangible, everyday reality through which the combination of individual achievements has had an extraordinary and enduring impact.

Overcoming and Achieving

The key issue for the Middle East, of course, is how can we best encourage movement towards such regional cooperation and – the key word – interdependence? How can we do so consensually? And how can we do so without being forced into action as Europe was, following the two World Wars and the millions upon millions of dead?

There’s no question that these are legitimate issues. There is no doubting either that they are compelling. Indeed, their implications are far-reaching for any and every country’s policies, positions, actions, and attitudes. But they are issues that we owe it to our peoples to consider, address, and overcome.

In my view, we will only make progress if all of us have an honest assessment of the reality on the ground today. We cannot afford to be naive or complacent about the motivations and methods of those involved. From these realities and on this basis, we must demonstrate our ability to construct, coordinate, and maintain as robust a response as possible to those trying to destabilize the region.

We must not be shy. We must be courageous and bold about building mutually beneficial networks that encompass a range of political and economic measures. And there must be no timidity in our publicly and forthrightly highlighting objectionable behavior.

In the GCC region, we wholeheartedly welcome the support of the United States in confronting the challenges that I have tried to describe and delineate. We seek the assistance of our American friends and partners. We do so knowing full well that we pursue a common objective.

This is no time to be reluctant or hesitant in recognizing as effectively and prominently as possible Tehran’s destabilizing role across the region. The goal is to demonstrate publicly and repeatedly how so many of Iran’s international actions brook no illusion. They inhibit regional security, they stymie stability, and they hinder the prospects for greater prosperity for all the people of the Middle East – including the Iranian people themselves.

Interdependence is a long-term concept. It will enable us to put in place frameworks, networks, and norms that align national or vested interests to a wider regional benefit.

This is an important foundation on which to proceed. We must make clear that such behavior is not acceptable. It is our duty to state again and again that Tehran’s objectionable and illegal actions cannot be the basis for a secure and prosperous region.

And let there be no doubt. One must not lose sight of the fact that we must work simultaneously to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This is an absolutely essential step that all of us must take towards the brighter regional future we seek. Like nothing else, resolving that conflict would throw open the doors to true regional prosperity. It would remove the single greatest impediment that has stood between the United States and its Arab friends.

Furthering the Way Forward

Over the longer term, our international allies such as the United States can also be key partners in realizing the vision I have set out of greater regional interdependence and cooperation. They can do so through supporting our efforts to grow networks of intra-regional cooperation, to nurture – from our small beginnings – the institutions, links, and trust that will be required.

They can do so, too, through being a vocal advocate of the benefits that will follow, and by encouraging all concerned to move seriously and in good faith towards this goal. And they can do so by joining hands with those of us eager to work with all those who will march with us towards our common objective.

Because be in no doubt that achieving this aim of a peaceful, cooperating, and interdependent region will be a momentous challenge, particularly from where we are today. It will involve political will, courage, compromise, flexibility, pooling interests, and, above all, vision to reach out towards our ultimate prize.

Financially, for example, do we need a monetary incentive (or even some form of Marshall Plan, which proved so successful in Europe) available only to those genuinely seeking stability, who are willing to abide by strict principles in order to be a member of an interdependent association?

The Marshall Plan provided a total of over $13 billion in aid to Europe between 1948 and 1952, almost $1.4 billion of which went to West Germany (Berlin is pictured above). The aid helped enable Europe to stabilize and rebuild after World War II. Importantly, the Marshall Plan encouraged European countries to work toward common goals and to reduce barriers between themselves. In so doing, it helped lay the foundation for long-term economic and political cooperation on the continent.
The Marshall Plan provided a total of over $13 billion in aid to Europe between 1948 and 1952, almost $1.4 billion of which went to West Germany (Berlin is pictured above). The aid helped enable Europe to stabilize and rebuild after World War II. Importantly, the Marshall Plan encouraged European countries to work toward common goals and to reduce barriers between themselves. In so doing, it helped lay the foundation for long-term economic and political cooperation on the continent. Photo: U.S. International Development Cooperation Agency.

This may be expensive. Of course. Spending what is necessary can be a vital key to the prospects for achieving what is necessary. Let us also keep our eyes on the huge long-term dividends. Recognize the trillions already wasted on conflict – which could instead have underwritten such a scheme. But whatever approach we ultimately decide to adopt, certain elemental requirements must be acknowledged and accepted.

In order to achieve our objective, we must not merely proclaim what the benefits will be. They must be real, visible, tangible, and genuinely attainable by countries taking part.

Getting Started

Let us acknowledge the wisdom of the Chinese proverb that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Our first step, of course, is for like-minded nations to create a long-term vision based on interdependence. Some Gulf states are already taking such steps. But then the hard part – how to move from a core of willing participants to convince adversaries and doubters to be part of the vision?

The answer lies in making the ultimate goal so attractive that to be outside it is to lose and be marginalized. The benefits must be there for all to see, especially for long-suffering citizens. And this is where information technology, social media, and determined advocacy from our international friends can help demonstrate the benefits directly to the people of the region.

“Prosperity through interdependence” can be emphasized as both an example and a realistic aspiration for our region, so those governments choosing not to be part of the “Club” will need very good reasons to convince their peoples why they should not put down the sword and take up instead the hand of cooperation. For, in the fullness of time, it is the ordinary citizens who will place pressure on the doubters amongst their leaders.

In the meantime, I am firmly convinced that if we wish to move on from the cycle of violence in which we are trapped, we must look beyond the short term and current vested interests – we must look to a new, wider horizon. If we truly want to renew our region, we must think ahead, we must think long-term, we must think big, and we must dare to think what in the past was the unthinkable.

Building The Network of Peace and Prosperity

One way of doing this is to create a network, a web, to which nations of the whole region with differing beliefs and ideologies will wish to be glued through a common vision of security, stability, and prosperity. This web will be based on the key concept of “interdependence” and offer a realistic, attainable means through which diverging interests can be persuaded to converge for a common benefit.

My hope is that this vision might be a starting point for convergence and a beacon of hope for those of our citizens who need it most. For let there be no doubt: this vision has the ability to shine. The opportunities for it to succeed are limited only by the imagination. It can hold out the realistic prospect of not only a peaceful, prosperous, and dynamic region, but, along with it, a qualitative improvement in the lives of those among our citizens who need and long for it most.

Together, we must refuse to yield to the pessimism and hopelessness that, for many, defines much of our current age; we can seize the opportunity to create something better; and with hard work, dedication, and the support of our friends and partners, the optimism of the new generation can – this time – be fully achieved.

[1] European cooperational groupings include:

Baltic Assembly: The Baltic Assembly is a regional cooperation organization comprised of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Benelux: The Benelux Union (Benelux on graphic) is a regional cooperation organization comprised of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

Central European Free Trade Agreement: The Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA on graphic) is a trade agreement with 7 member states that are not members of the European Union.

Common Travel Area: The Common Travel Area provides for minimal controls when crossing borders between the Channel Islands, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the United Kingdom.

Council of Europe: The Council of Europe is an international organization with 47 member states that seeks to uphold human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. The Council of Europe is a separate organization from the European Union but no country has ever joined the European Union without first having been a member of the Council of Europe.

European Economic Area: The European Economic Area (EEA on graphic) is an extension of the European Union’s single market to Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway.

European Free Trade Association: The European Free Trade Association (EFTA on graphic) is a trade organization and free trade area consisting of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

European Union: The European Union is a political and economic union with 28 member states.

European Union Customs Union: The European Union Customs Union (EU Customs Union on graphic) consists of all the member states of the European Union, Monaco, and some dependencies of the United Kingdom. Established in 1958 as the European Economic Community, it is a principal component of the European Union.

Eurozone: The Euro Area (Eurozone on graphic) is a monetary union of 19 European Union member states that have adopted the euro as a common currency.

GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development: The GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development (GUAM on graphic) is a regional cooperation organization comprised of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova.

Monetary Agreement with the European Union: Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City have monetary agreements with the European Union to have limited participation in the Eurozone despite not being members of the European Union.

Nordic Council: The Nordic Council is an intergovernmental forum for formal inter-parliamentary cooperation between five states and three autonomous areas in the North Atlantic region.

Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation: The Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC on graphic) is a regional cooperation organization with 12 member states focused on political and economic issues.

Schengen Area: The Schengen Area is a grouping of 26 member states that allow movement among themselves unhindered by passport or other border controls.

Union State: The Union State is a political and economic union between Russia and Belarus.

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Author: Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani

H.E. Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani has served as Secretary-General of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) since 2011. The GCC, comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, is one of the most successful sub-regional organizations in modern history. Previously, Secretary General Al Zayani had served as Adviser at the rank of Minister in Bahrain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He also served in the Bahrain Defense Force, eventually holding the position of Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations. From there, he was posted as Chief of Public Security in Bahrain's Ministry of the Interior. He achieved the rank of Lieutenant General in 2010.