It is not surprising that discussions with government officials from member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council often dwell heavily on security threats. Terrorism remains a persistent concern of theirs even if some of the urgency they feel has passed. A conventionally armed Iran is a constant source of worry. And the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is an unending nightmare.
Yet, among the most-senior leadership, there is also some perspective. The terrorism threat no longer feels existential, as a combination of effective security initiatives, internal cooptation and international cooperation have made their mark. On Iran, there is a sense of fatalism: The Gulf has relied on external guarantors to keep the Iranians at bay since the days of the Portuguese empire, and the Iranians have sufficiently agitated the world to ensure that external guarantors, in some form or another, will remain.
But in private conversations with senior GCC royals last month, it was clear that one security concern does indeed loom large. It is one not of physical security, but of human security. Their nations can almost certainly survive the other threats they face. But unless they can create dynamic, hard-working and creative populations over the long term, these countries will fail.