Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summits are usually a well orchestrated show of niceties, with all the leg work carried out by the foreign ministers of the six member countries a day or two before the arrival of the heads of states to the hosting capital. An army of Arab journalists and a handful of western reporters are usually given a draft of the final communique well in advance, affording them the opportunity to better enjoy the lavish Arab hospitality on offer. However, the 23d GCC summit, held in Doha in December broke the mould.
The meeting came at a crucial time, as the Gulf faced mounting political challenges. Despite the anticipated US war on Iraq, regarded as imminent at the time of the Summit, only two heads of state were able to attend: the host, Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, and Oman's ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said. On the eve of the summit even the six foreign ministers cut short their scheduled meeting in the Qatari capital, leading to speculation that the group was losing its cohesion as a political and joint security umbrella for the oil rich Arab states.
When the Council, made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, was established 23 years ago, leaders fiercely denied that it was a panic response to the Islamic revolution in Iran. They argued that it was a long overdue step towards the creation of an Arab common market, a custom union and a single currency. However, although there has been some progress towards integration, the pace has been painfully slow. Two decades on, the custom union was finally announced in Doha in December, with optimists anticipating a single currency four years from now. The common defence pact and a joint security force known as the Al Jazeera shield, exists in theory. In practice however, it has not yet taken off, despite some joint manoeuvres. Some GCC troops participated in Operation Desert Storm, which liberated Kuwait in 1991, with Saudi Air Force pilots, flying Tornados and F16s, doing well against Iraqi flown MIGs. Qatari armour repelled the only Iraqi armoured column that managed to advance into Saudi Arabia near Al-Khafgi in January 1991--meanwhile, causing the highest `friendly fire' casualty rate of the conflict, among their American allies.
At the Doha meeting, Kuwait, Qatar and UAE wanted to increase the Shield force from 5000 to 20,000 strong to deal with the pending Iraqi crisis. However, no agreement was reached on the issue.