GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
Des Roches
First Name:
Title of Paper:
Back to the Future: The American Security Approach to the Gulf in the Era of Austerity
Paper Proposal Text :
The United States’ role in the Gulf is easily misinterpreted. The strategic interests of the United States in the Gulf remain constant, but the emphasis the United States places on physical presence and operational movements in the Gulf will inevitably decrease. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that a decrease in physical presence indicates a correlating decrease in strategic interests. An examination of trends in U.S. military deployment will show that there is no strategic decrease in the U.S. ability to achieve security goals in the Gulf. Indeed, one can make a strong case that the decrease in American physical security presence in the Gulf actually increases the possibility of extraordinary American military actions as Washington policy makers have to deal with greater margins of uncertainty.

This American security decision-making environment, shaped by the parallel drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan as well as by the climate of austerity at home, is nothing new – indeed, it is a return to the historical norm of American security policy in the Gulf, which tends to stress reliance on allies and partner-capacity building efforts through arms sales and other security cooperation arrangements such as joint training and exercises. The period of American build-up to confront Saddam Hussein and deal with other post-911 contingencies should be viewed as a departure from the norm –albeit a prolonged one – not the norm itself.

The future manifestation of the US presence in the Gulf is reverting to a reliance on allies and weapons sales, as in the pre-Desert Storm era. This old strategy has a new name: “Building Partner Capacity” and was first formalized as a Defense mission in the 2006 Quadrennial Defense review. The new twists are mostly generated by political and technical developments in the United States, as well as by Arab Gulf partner states’ increased willingness to collaborate on defense issues. The two main foci of this Building Partner Capacity effort will be missile defense and the new US willingness to sell advanced stand-off ground attack weapons to Gulf partners, a development which had been stymied in the past due to the U.S. commitment to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge.

Moving forward, the U.S. will seek to expand an independent Gulf military capability which will nevertheless remain dependent upon American weapons and a limited military presence, and will seek to move the GCC towards a more integrated military command structure, particularly for missile defense.