The Geopolitical and Strategic Importance of the Persian Gulf

Since the 14th-16th centuries, the Persian Gulf represents a unique strategic area that interested both the East and the West. The states of the Middle East have no single geopolitical perspective, but a variety of views conditioned by history, political ideology, and geographic location. Geographically, the Persian Gulf is located between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula. The countries of the basin are Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and UAE. The strategic importance of the Persian Gulf is explained by large oil fields and gas resources located in the Persian Gulf and nearby lands. Also, this region represents a mixture of different cultures and religions of the Middle East. The states of the region have always resented interference from outside powers in the region’s economic and political life. The real geopolitical preoccupations of the population are regional, not global. Long-standing political cleavages and traditional rivalries dominate relationships between states. Behind frontline states, the second ring of states, equally anti-Muslim, is rather less fearful of Israeli territorial expansion but alert to the possibilities of commando raids or airstrikes (Lewis, p. 43).

The remarkable feature of the region is military confrontations and violent national conflicts between the states. For instance, the two states, Iran and Iraq plunged into full-scale wars during the 20th century. Iraq’s rights to the Shatt al-Arab were used as a good reason for its invasion of Iran. The war’s underlying causes had little to do with a local boundary disagreement. They lay, partly at least, in centuries of political and religious rivalry, reinforced latterly by the personal animosity between Iraq’s President Saddam Husayn and Iran’s Ayatollah Khumayni. The outcome of the war and future boundary division along the Shatt al-Arab have yet to be resolved (Lewis, p. 41).

Regional political alliances and agreements have also been most tenacious in the Persian Gulf region, where a national central place hierarchy, oil economy, and communications infrastructure have been slow to develop. The nation-building process is of strategic importance. The degree to which this endeavor succeeds depends in part on the nature and goals of a nation-state’s political leadership. Some political elites are more highly motivated and able to articulate a state idea and mobilize the population in support of it than others. In many states of the region, a state-led by a political and religious leader may have a very different nation-building experience from a state-led by a charismatic populist or one led by an activist, ideologically based mass political party (Lewis, p. 43). Classifying Middle Eastern on the basis of their state-idea or the source of their national identity is no easy task, if only because these invariably have several components. The unique state-ideas and national identities of several Middle Eastern countries derive in part from their historical continuity as distinct and relatively stable political geographic entities (Lewis, p. 47).

In sum, the Persian Gulf is a region of military conflicts and confrontations caused by huge oil resources and unique oilfields which have no analogs in other parts of the world. Today, the invasion of the USA is considered a strategic move that helps it to access oil resources and maintain political order in the Gulf region. Also, the region suffers from civil wars and political confrontations between nation-states which try to maintain control over vast geographical territories.


Lewis, B. The Middle East. Scribner, 2007.

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