In recent years, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations, which include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman, have been forging increasingly robust military ties with Turkey, ushering in a transformative period in Middle Eastern geopolitics. This evolving relationship is marked by strategic collaborations, defense pacts, and the establishment of military bases. Turkey, keen on solidifying its position as a regional power, has been at the forefront of this shift, reflecting a broader geopolitical chess game unfolding in the Middle East.
The Turkey-Qatar Alliance:
One of the most prominent aspects of this evolving landscape is the Turkey-Qatar alliance, which has been on the rise for the past decade. This alliance has seen significant milestones, including the establishment of a 2014 defense pact, the deployment of Turkish troops in Doha during the 2017 GCC crisis, and the inauguration of a joint command headquarters at Khalid Bin Al Walid Military Camp in 2019. The Turkey-Qatar alliance has become emblematic of the changing dynamics between Turkey and the Gulf states.
The shifting sands of Middle Eastern geopolitics have led to recalibrations in defense partnerships among GCC nations. This is not limited to one-off agreements but reflects a larger strategic realignment taking shape in the region. As the Middle East grapples with power vacuums, shifting allegiances, and a desire to forge new alliances while strengthening existing ones, Turkey, with its strategic location and military prowess, has emerged as a highly sought-after partner for GCC nations navigating the turbulent waters of regional politics.
Turkey’s Military Bases Strategy:
Central to Turkey’s efforts to address rising security threats and expand its influence across the Gulf region is the establishment of military bases. While Qatar hosts Turkey’s first military base in the Gulf, there are indications that more may be on the horizon. Turkey has been transparent about its intentions to broaden its military partnerships in the Gulf. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed in 2017 that he had proposed establishing a Turkish military base on Saudi soil as early as 2015. This proposal stemmed from regional instability and the need for additional security assurances beyond traditional alliances.
The Quest for Security Guarantees:
Declassified documents linked to former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have shed light on Saudi Arabia’s early consideration of Turkey as a security guarantor, dating back to 2011. This strategic move signified a desire to diversify security assurances beyond the United States. Factors such as the instability brought about by the Arab uprisings, the reduced presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia post-Iraq War, and renewed US-Iran diplomacy under the Obama administration prompted Saudi Arabia to explore alternative security arrangements.
Strengthened Bilateral Relations:
While Turkish-Saudi relations faced strains during the Arab uprisings, recent years have witnessed a noteworthy strengthening of ties. This realignment is part of a broader trend of de-escalation across the Middle East. One of the most significant developments in this context was the Saudi-Iranian deal brokered by China, highlighting the growing significance of Turkey as a regional partner.
Turkey’s burgeoning military and security ties extend to Kuwait as well. In August, the Turkish ambassador to Kuwait highlighted the burgeoning military and security cooperation between the two nations. The ambassador even suggested the possibility of a Turkish military base in Kuwait should the Gulf nation express such a desire. Such a move, if realized, would not be unprecedented, as Turkey has provided military advisors to Kuwait during times of crisis in the past.
A Comprehensive Joint Defense Pact:
In late 2018, Kuwait and Turkey signed a comprehensive joint defense pact, reaffirming their shared commitment to mutual security interests. This pact underscores their dedication to regional stability and collaboration in addressing common security challenges.
Addressing Security Concerns:
Turkey’s role in the Gulf extends beyond the establishment of military bases. It also includes the supply of advanced weaponry, such as the Bayraktar TB2 armed drones. As Gulf states diversify their defense alliances, they seek to address security concerns independently rather than relying solely on Western powers.
Turkey’s growing military ties with GCC nations signify a strategic shift in the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East. As regional dynamics continue to evolve, Turkey’s strategic location, military capabilities, and commitment to its allies make it an attractive partner for Gulf states seeking to navigate the complexities of regional politics and security challenges. Turkey’s role in the Gulf is indicative of a broader trend towards regional autonomy and diversified alliances, ensuring the protection and stability of these nations in an ever-changing geopolitical landscape. The unfolding story of Turkey’s engagement in the GCC region is a testament to the intricate web of relationships that define the contemporary Middle East.