Ongoing Research
in Pursuit of a Cumulative Habilitation

My research in pursuit of a cumulative habilitation concentrates on the future implications of a shifting security paradigm in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates). This multidisciplinary approach is based on the hypothesis that traditional Gulf security formulations will be insufficient to cope with those intense, extensive, prolonged, and comprehensive threats to which lives and freedom are vulnerable in this region. Hence it suggests moving away from the obsolete tendency to think of security only in military terms and recognizes that the wellbeing of GCC nationals themselves is also threatened by environmental degradation, climate change, demographic imbalances, systematic oppression, inequity, unemployment, food & energy insecurity, public health concerns, and poverty. It concludes that real progress in human development will only be possible in these economies, if these sources of insecurity are addressed in a holistic manner and that the future will be framed by the need to find a novel sustainable equilibrium between traditional security and human security approaches. Finally by acknowledging that the latter concept must be dynamic, the analysis views human security as a precondition for the achievement as well as the safeguarding of national security.

  • What is a habilitation?

    A habilitation is the highest academic qualification a scholar can achieve by his or her own pursuit in numerous European countries and in several other countries who adopted this system. The level of academic achievement required for a habilitation can somewhat be compared to a North American tenure review, but can take significantly longer and grants a degree-like professorial certification (basically equivalent to a US full professorship when it comes to the social sciences). Next to international confusion, there has been a substantial debate about this process, nevertheless in the social sciences and humanities the habilitation was and still is regarded as a valuable instrument of the urgently necessary quality control (Venia legendi) before giving someone the honor of a full professorship. In this respect the habilitation is also a strict requirement for supervising PhD students and applying for the full professor tenure position in some European countries (e.g. France). In some federal states of Germany, restrictions have been imposed to guarantee that only those with the highest Ph.D. thesis degrees will be to enter the habilitation process.

The assessment has been structured into three components:

(1) The first consists of a number of publications primarily concerned with the climate-security nexus in the Gulf. This interdisciplinary approach is based on the assumption that declining ecosystem services will act as a driver of social destabilization and threat to human security in the political environment of these rentier economies. Influenced by Amartya Sen's concept of “capabilities”, one major concern was with the local "ability of adaptation" and how will it be sustained in investments or institutions. Could governance mechanisms be improved to enable these monarchies to deal with these long-term challenges? Especially how could the question of legitimacy, accountability, viability, fairness and transparency in these processes be approached in this authoritarian political environment?

(2) The second part of the research is concerned with economic structures and the deeper systemic problems which undermine long-term solutions. While the severe threat of environmental degradation and climate change is by and large still mostly ignored, the so called ‘demographic imbalance’ is currently regarded as the most proliferating concern. Above all escalating population growth rates, social change, foreign labor, unemployment and underemployment are considered major threats to long-term stability and security in the GCC member states. One of the greatest internal challenges, the Arab Gulf economies face today is the “youth bulge”, which affects primarily, but not exclusively, the demographics of these countries. This transition, pushing an ever increasing number of graduates into the local economies, reflects itself in the inability of the Gulf authorities to secure jobs for the new graduates out of the government sector. The issue has proven almost impervious to substantial improvement, while intended policies to “nationalize” various sectors of the workforce should be considered, at best, incomplete successes and at worst absolute failures. As a result, the dependence and existence of large numbers of foreign nationals in most of the GCC states is not only a serious stress factor for the already volatile ecosystems with limited access to natural and strategic resources such as water and food, but in itself present a traditional security risk reinforced by alienation, resentment and occasionally even xenophobia. Rising wealth disparities, inflation and declining individual living standards will certainly enhance the simmering discontent and will eventually release a potential challenge to the question of legitimacy. The widening gap in the demographic composition in some of the Gulf countries shows that governments are either unable or unwilling to confront profound social challenges and place their people at the center of development. In pessimistic scenarios, rulers will miscalculate the tradeoffs, will fail to prepare their exploding populations in accordance with the capability approach to participate productively in the global economy and will become even more repressive to maintain their power. (Please note that while this was written years ago, the latest uprisings in Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman certainly underscore this statement) The major outcome is a forthcoming monograph entitled “Marginalizing the Self: Social Cohesion, Human Agency and Development in the United Arab Emirates”, which represents a case study of how such a demographic imbalance serves as a political tool to repress an entire society into a minority.

(3) The third part deconstructs the underlying power dynamics of tourism promotion, which is often considered an integral element of their economic diversification strategies. Nevertheless tourism as a catalyst for economic development can be a controversial device and its unsustainable rapid development has had detrimental environmental, sociocultural and security impacts, particularly because this industry is dependent on and a major user of natural resources and habitually collides with the values, skills, and aspirations of GCC nationals. It should hence conceivably best be seen as a ‘threat multiplier’ that intensifies existing problems and vulnerabilities in the region. The second monograph will analyze tourism development in Saudi Arabia from a human security perspective and thus present another practical case study in development policy.

© 2013    Andy Spiess