(Reuters) - The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council met in Riyadh on Monday to discuss closer political economic and military union to counter what they see as growing external threats of the Arab Spring and Iran’s regional influence.
The GCC was formed in 1981 in the wake of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war, by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.
Combined, the six GCC states have a population of around 43.2 million, roughly half of Egypt’s total population. Of those the majority are Sunni Muslim. The following is a breakdown based on the 2010 World Bank data.
* Saudi Arabia 27.4 million (Around 10-15 percent of the population is Shi’ite according to independent figures)
* United Arab Emirates 7.5 million
* Kuwait 2.7 million (Around 30 percent of the population is Shi’ite, according to independent figures)
* Oman 2.7 million
* Qatar 1.7 million
* Bahrain 1.2 million (Around 70 percent of the population is Shi’ite, according to independent figures)
The combined economic output of the GCC is around $1.385 trillion which is mainly driven by oil exports. The following is a breakdown of each state’s annual GDP according to 2010-2012 data from the IMF.
* Saudi Arabia $577 billion
* United Arab Emirates $360.1 billion
* Kuwait $176.7 billion
* Oman $71.9 billion
* Qatar $173.8 billion
* Bahrain $26.1 billion
Members of the GCC states have been trying for years to create a monetary union. However plans fell apart in May 2009 when the UAE, the second largest Arab economy, broke ranks with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain by dropping out of the single currency plan in protest over the decision to base the Gulf central bank in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
In December 2009, other Gulf countries enacted a monetary union agreement despite the absence of the UAE and Oman, which had also abandoned the project in 2006, saying it could not meet the original 2010 deadline.
Following is a breakdown of foreign reserves for each Gulf country, according to the IMF:
* Saudi Arabia $650 billion
* United Arab Emirates $425 billion
* Kuwait $325 billion
* Oman $13 billion
* Qatar $20.3 billion
* Bahrain $9 billion
With economies heavily reliant on oil exports, the GCC’s budget depends on the level of crude sales and production. Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia has been increasing its output since the start of the year to make up for the loss of Iranian crude in the in the market due to tighter Western sanctions.
The following are average production levels for each state in 2011 based on the Joint Oil Data Initiate (JODI) Reuters data, and the IMF.
* Saudi Arabia 9.30 million bpd
* United Arab Emirates 2.55 million bpd
* Kuwait 2.64 million bps
* Oman 886,000 bpd
* Qatar 733,000 bpd
* Bahrain 200,000 bpd
* Saudi Arabia 7.3 million bpd
* UAE 2.3 million bpd
* Kuwait 1.7 million bpd
* Oman 0.7 million bpd
* Qatar 0.7 million bpd
* Bahrain 0.1 million bpd
In defense, the GCC has not been able to fully materialize any of its long-dreamed projects such as creating a pan-Gulf armed force and a missile defense shield with a shared command.
The six nations have made some steps towards building a Gulf force with the Peninsula Shield, a GCC force set up in 1986 to defend Gulf countries against any potential threat.
It has been called upon three times since its foundation - in the 1990-91 Gulf War, during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and in March 2011 when Saudi Arabia and the UAE sent 1,500 soldiers to Bahrain during anti-government Shi’ite protests.
The GCC states were unable to agree on the technical, operational and political details involved in building a regional missile defense shield which is hoped to provide cover from potential missile attack from neighboring Iran.
The following is data compiled from IISS, The Military Balance and Jane’s Sentinel. GCC total active military manpower 2010:
* Saudi Arabia: 233,500
* United Arab Emirates 51,000
* Kuwait 15,500
* Oman 42,600
* Qatar 11,800
* Bahrain 8,200
GCC Military spending estimates 2010:
* Saudi Arabia $45 billion
* United Arab Emirates $8 billion
* Kuwait $4 billion
* Oman $4 billon
* Qatar $2.5 billion
* Bahrain $1 billion
Reporting by Amena Bakr