The role played by Universities in forging networks of non-state intercultural partnerships can be a significant long term de-escalation mechanism in the Persian Gulf region. First, it facilitates the establishment of social contact points and fosters relations between communities experiencing a hostile intergovernmental environment. Second, University networks offer a viable platform for dialog – an essential resource in making a space for informal exchanges between Arab Gulf countries and Iran. And third, academic ties among competing states help to establish access points to reach out to political actors.
These are possibilities that afford noticeable potential in initial stages of de-escalation in the region. Despite the predominance of rivalries and tensions, the Persian Gulf region offers a number of examples of higher education institutions which have provided fertile ground for the above Track-2 functions. Enhancing existing experiences and investing in new multilateral cooperation initiatives among universities from rival states remains an important avenue for an incremental restructuring of the security architecture in the region.
* Michael Stopford served with the United Nations and the International Finance Corporation (World Bank Group) for two decades, followed more recently as DASG Strategic Communications for NATO. He was Senior International Officer for two North American universities, with a focus on the Gulf, and also has extensive international private sector experience.