Fragile Use of the Gulf Dictatorships

MANAMA/DOHA/BERLIN (Own report) - The German Defense Ministry is expanding its activities on the Arabian Peninsula. Berlin seeks to "enhance its presence" at the Persian Gulf, declared the German Defense Ministry's Parliamentary State Secretary, Christian Schmidt. A few days ago, Schmidt attended this years "Manama Dialogue", an international forum of prominent participants focusing on Middle East security issues. With its growing arms export and military cooperation, Germany has already achieved prominence with the Arabian Peninsula's dictatorships. German companies are intensifying their cooperation with the states and the sovereign wealth funds of the Arabian autocracies at the Gulf. The most recent example: The Qatar emirate bought a stake in Germany's largest construction company, Hochtief AG, complicating a takeover bid from its Spanish competitor, ACS. The cooperation with the dictatorships at the Persian Gulf is not only advantageous economically; it is also particularly aimed at weakening Iran. The overthrow of the government in Iraq opened the way for Iran to achieve preeminence in the world's most important resource region.

Stronger Presence

Berlin would like to "enhance its presence" at the Persian Gulf, declared Christian Schmidt, Parliamentary State Secretary in the German Defense Ministry. A few days ago, Schmidt attended this years "Manama Dialogue", an annual conference in Bahrain, organized by the London based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) since 2004, which focuses on military and security policy issues of the Middle East. "Even though "our footprint is not quite as big and important compared to other countries," according to Schmidt, Germany "traditionally has a good name" on the Arabian Peninsula: "Many positive features" are ascribed to Germany.[1] At the conference, the German State Secretary held informal talks on bilateral military cooperation also with representatives of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. "This region will be the center of change in the next 30 years," prophesized Schmidt. "There are many good reasons for closely cooperating with that region."


Schmidt's participation at the Manama Dialogue is part of Berlin's efforts to expand its military cooperation with the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. Since 2004, Germany has been maintaining a "strategic partnership" with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which includes a growing military component.[2] Last May, State Secretary Schmidt visited Saudi Arabia to discuss new treaties within the framework of the German-Saudi military cooperation.[3] In September, negotiations with the Emir of Qatar were held in Berlin on the expansion of military and security policy cooperation between the two countries.[4] At the same time, German arms exports to the countries of the Arabian Peninsula have increased drastically - tripling the value from 2007 to 2008.[5] The majority shareholder of the German Heckler and Koch firearms manufacturer recently announced that his company is building an entire factory in Saudi Arabia for the licensed production of the G-36 assault rifle.[6] All of these initiatives coincide with the USA's massive re-arming of the Arabian Gulf states, with arms supplies reaching a value of around $123 billion over the next few years, according to press reports.[7]

New Investment Strategies

Germany is also intensifying its economic cooperation with the dictatorships of the Arabian Peninsula. These countries are increasingly using their oil and natural gas profits not only for expensive investments and war preparations - including a project of the German "development" agency GTZ (German Association for Technical Cooperation), for a giant underground drinking water reservoir in the United Arab Emirates, that will be especially protected against "foreign attack in a "crisis situation".[8] According to a recent analysis of the Bertelsmann Foundation, subsequent to the financial crisis, the Gulf States' sovereign wealth funds adopted a new investment strategy for their capital. They are no longer concentrating on "pure financial investments" but are turning toward "investments in traditional companies with products for the future." They are also spreading their investments and, in Europe, their investments are "no longer exclusively with British companies."[9] Qatar's buying a stake in Germany's largest construction company, Hochtief AG - which has complicated a takeover bid by its Spanish competitor ACS - is part of this new investment strategy that Berlin can use to financially strengthen German industry.

Supplementary Advantage

Qatar's new diplomacy is playing a special role in the exemplary development of German relations to that country. The Emirate, home of the al-Udeid US Air Force Base, is maintaining rather good relations also to countries such as Iran, with whom it had concluded a "security treaty" last February. To hold its ground in relation to neighboring countries, it has been engaged for several years in comprehensive diplomatic mediator activities aimed at upgrading its international standing. Qatar is mediating in Yemen, in Sudan (Darfur), in Lebanon and in the Middle East conflict. According to German think tanks, "because of its autocratic structure (...) the Emirate has the advantage of not having to fear internal political resistance."[10] And experts note that even though its mediation activities are not really crowned with success, they are useful because Qatar can claim a certain credibility in relationship to other Arab countries. Germany could profit from the institutional weakness of this small Gulf State for its own interference - the Emirate has great wealth but only small intelligence and repression apparatuses. Qatar would ultimately have to "work in concert with experienced mediators, if it wants to be successful." This makes cooperation with Qatar even more attractive.


Berlin and the West's growing cooperation with the dictatorships of the Arabian Peninsula is largely aiming at weakening Iran. From Iran's standpoint, the size and population of the country, its wealth in raw materials and its strategic geographical location gives it "a quasi natural preeminence in the region, wrote the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) already two years ago. In 2005, after its most important rival, Iraq, was crushed, the government in Teheran adopted a strategic "20-Year Vision for the Islamic Republic," which is finding approval also among the domestic opposition forces and is considered to be "a consensus within the elite." According to SWP, the key sentence in that document reads: "In twenty years, Iran will be a developed country, an economic, academic and technological regional forerunner, which will inspire the Islamic world with its Islamic and revolutionary identity and maintain constructive and effective international relations."[11] This includes a self-confident and sovereign attitude toward the West.

Transient Partners

Berlin, Washington and other western powers are heightening their pressure on Teheran not only by escalating the rearmament of the Arabian Gulf dictatorships, but also with their international sanctions, which recently impelled the German Daimler Corporation to announce its termination of business relations with Iran. Under US pressure other companies, such as the Deutsche Bank and the Commerzbank, the Insurance companies Allianz and Munich Re as well as the ThyssenKrupp Corporation, have already ended their cooperation. All of these measures are aimed at preventing a recalcitrant, countervailing power at the Persian Gulf from enhancing its strength. This has been a constant feature of western policy in the world's most important resource region, which had pursued the same objective just a few decades ago but under a completely different constellation: Until 1979 the West had counted on the dictatorial Shah in Teheran, who had complied with western wishes; and Iran, if necessary, financed German companies. Whereas Qatar, today, is saving Hochtief from being taken over, in 1974 Iran saved the German Krupp company from collapse by buying a 25 percent share.[12] The repressive Shah dictatorship was toppled only a few years later and replaced by an anti-western regime. According to observers, the repression in the Arabian Peninsula's autocracies, serving as the West's partners today is very similar and a significant segment of the Arab opposition is also anti-western.

[1] Manama-Dialog: Staatssekretär Schmidt zu Gesprächen in Bahrain; 07.12.2010
[2] see also Partner in Occupation, Feudalinvestoren, Feudal Investors (III) and German Arab Maneuvers
[3] see also Militärpartner am Golf (II)
[4] see also Expansionsrivalen
[5] see also Militärpartner am Golf (II)
[6] see also Sturmgewehre
[7] Gulf states in $123bn US arms spree; 20.10.2010
[8] see also Water as a Weapon
[9] Christian-Peter Hanelt: Europas Nachbarn im Süden - Chancenregion Nahost; Bertelsmann-Stiftung, spotlight europe Nummer 2010/10, November 2010. See also Arabische Chancen
[10] Katja Niethammer: Katar als arabischer Konfliktmediator: Neuer Hoffnungsträger oder Gernegroß? GIGA Focus Nahost 8/2010
[11] Johannes Reissner: Irans Selbstverständnis als Regionalmacht. Machtstreben im Namen antikolonialer Modernität; SWP-Studie S 29, Oktober 2008. See also Hegemonic Conflict at the Gulf
[12] Wirbel um deutsch-iranisches Reisebüro von ThyssenKrupp; 06.08.2010