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The Role of Regional Organizations in Boosting Authoritarian Resilience: Evidence from the Gulf Cooperation Council

Comparative Politics
Foreign Policy
Government
International Relations
Maria Debre
Universität Potsdam
Maria Debre
Universität Potsdam

Abstract

Although we know relatively little about the actual effects of regional cooperation and integration on regional and domestic political dynamics, there is an implicit assumption in most of the literature that regionalism furthers positive outcomes such as prosperity, security, peace, democracy and human rights. However, a growing number of studies on comparative regionalism point to a “dark side” of regional integration. Instead of providing regional public goods that benefit a larger citizenry, autocratic regimes seem to strategically employ regional organizations (ROs) to secure regime stability by helping each other sustain domestic and international survival politics. This paper seeks to unpack the various mechanisms through which ROs might help autocratic regimes to boost their resilience. Based on a rational-functionalist approach, it proposes that regionalism can help authoritarian regimes to mitigate the main domestic and international threats to non-democratic rule. Internally, ROs can further regime legitimation, strengthen repressive systems or help co-opt key elites and opposition. Externally, ROs can serve as an ‘epistemic community’ to coordinate policy and exchange best-practices, particularly in times of crisis, they can help fend of international pressure and appease donor communities, and they can offer alliances to protect against hostile enemies. These mechanisms will be traced in an in-depth case study of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to exemplify the impact of this RO on the politics of the six member states with particular emphasis on events challenging the Gulf region since the Arab Spring in 2011. The paper thus aims to add both to the emergent literature on the international cooperation of authoritarian regimes as well as to growing research on regime-boosting regionalism.