Gregory Gause’s Constructivist Argument

The first chapter in Gregory Gause’s The International Relations of the Persian Gulf argues that the best way to understand the security conflicts of the Persian Gulf is to view the area as a regional security complex. By this, he means that the wars, alliances, and the problems of consolidating centralized states in the region are mostly due to tensions between countries that have intense security interdependence on each other. According to Gause, the Persian Gulf regional security complex consists of Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf monarchies because they focus intensely on each other and they have devoted the majority of their security resources to their relations with each other for decades. This argument contrasts Realist theories concerning the drive of foreign policy in the Gulf, as Realists believe that shifts and disparities in power centered around oil are most often the cause for conflict in the region. Gause argues that oil was not the primary driving factor in any of the Gulf wars. Rather, he argues that regional states have almost always acted more against perceived threats to their own domestic stability from others within the regional security complex. In other words, instead of choosing allies based on classic notions of balance to power, they chose their allies on how their own domestic regime would be affected by the outcome of regional conflicts. According to Gause, the most important and distinctive factor in the Gulf regional is not power imbalances but the salience of transnational identities.

The idea that reliance on support of or rejection of certain identities is driving force behind creating alliances is a constructivist argument that contests the realist argument that the pursuit of resources to become a hegemon or to balance power  is responsible for conflict in the Gulf. Gause explains that there are number of transnational identities, most importantly Arab, Kurdish, Muslim, Shi’i, Sunni, and tribal, that cross almost all the borders within the region. These identities affect regional politics because they offer leaders access to domestic politics within neighboring countries, which increases the likely hood of waging war in since leaders believe the can rally support from internal identity groups, and likewise because these identities are seen as threats to leader’s own regime stability. In other words, the reality of transnational identities in the Gulf both increases the likelihood that ambitious leaders will seek to exploit those identities to expand their influence and increase the sense of threat felt by the regimes that are the targets for those ambitious leaders. This is a large departure from Realist arguments that claim all conflict results from an attempt by leaders to either become a hegemon or balance powers in the region, such as dominating the oil market.

 

– Marie

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