In keeping with its mandate to encourage and inform debate on questions of international defence and security, RUSI has partnered with Derasat, the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies, to explore the changing character of the Gulf's security architecture and what it means for British-Bahraini relations.
Bahrain and the UK have traditionally enjoyed close links, based on a shared history, strong military and political ties and thriving commercial interests. All these have been tested by the events of last year. While the cordial dialogue between the two countries continues - and was expanded in the wake of the visit by the King of Bahrain to London in December 2011 - major questions endure. They relate to the support which Bahrain should or could expect from its friends and allies, as well as to broader issues of security in the Gulf, given the rising tensions with Iran and wider political changes in the Middle East.
RUSI and Derasat: Building British-Bahraini dialogue
On 21 February, Derasat hosted the first of three events the organisations have designed to spur discussion and debate. Held in Manama, a closed-door roundtable entitled 'External Factors Influencing British-Bahraini Relations: Prospects for Trans-Regional Co-operation' examined the nature and implications of growing international engagement in Bahrain - particularly on the part of 'non-traditional' actors. The working sessions brought together forty experts from such key countries as Turkey, Russia, India, China and Japan, representatives from Britain and Bahrain, and participants from across the Gulf. The day-long discussion, entirely off-the-record, was frank, lively and enlightening for all involved.
On the question of regional geopolitics, in which Iran figured prominently, participants from Russia, China and India, among others, provided original analyses of Iranian motives and goals, and offered insights into potential responses. The strengthening, particularly commercial, of Bahrain's connections with new partners was viewed as a significant positive for a country seeking to diversify its economy, but one that could be counted on only if Bahrain found ways to remain competitive vis-à-vis its Gulf neighbours. Its new partners' interest in playing a role in providing regional stability was shown to be small. Meanwhile, pointed questions were raised as to the strength of Britain's own commitment to remaining a consequential security actor, and whether, in a context of European austerity, it still had the means to be.
Jointly tackling questions of mutual interest
That question will be explored more fully 22 March, when RUSI hosts a second invitation-only roundtable devoted specifically to British-Bahraini bilateral relations. A key priority being to strengthen lines of communication on matters of mutual importance, participants will explore topics including Britain's response to unrest in Bahrain; the connections between Bahrain's domestic security context and that of the region more broadly; the role Britain might continue to play as a security-provider or security-enabler in the Persian Gulf; and ways of enhancing, through revitalised economic co-operation, the two countries' longstanding friendship.