GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
John Duke
Title of Paper:
Dynamics of U.S.-GCC Defense Cooperation
Paper Proposal Text :
GCC citizens, almost without exception, are aware of and deeply grateful for the effective United States external defense umbrella over the GCC’s member-countries. The 1979 Access to Facilities Agreement between the United States and Oman, the four separate Defense Cooperation Agreements (DCAs) between the United States and Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, and the much older and more multifaceted defense undertakings and understandings between the United States and Saudi Arabia have arguably proven effective.

In concept and enactment, the DCAs were not entirely original. They built upon earlier British protected-state treaties dating from the first half of the 19th century that lasted until their abrogation in 1971. Viewed together – tellingly, despite the absence of such arrangements in the period spanning two decades from December 1, 1971 to Iraq’s August 2, 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which was the one exception – the two successive international arrangements have succeeded in deterring adversaries while simultaneously strengthening and expanding the defense capacities of the GCC countries against external intimidation and attack.

In a significant development at the 35th Ministerial and Heads of State Summit in Doha, Qatar, all six Gulf Cooperation Council member-states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) agreed to the establishment of a unified armed forces command. This major breakthrough is not to be confused with the quite different Dir Al-Jazeerah (Peninsula Shield). That force, based at Hafr Al-Batin in northern Saudi Arabia and established in 1984 during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, is the one that dispatched several of the member-states’ defense units to Bahrain in 2011.

Critics have frequently pointed out that the Peninsula Shield force lacks credibility. That is, one ought not to expect it to be able to protect against an invading force that is battle-hardened and better equipped, or of any significantly larger size. To view it from that prism, though, is a recipe for misunderstanding. The force’s real position and role can be likened to a neighborhood fire brigade – a metaphor, so to speak, for the kind of assistance it rendered Bahrain. It is also much more than that. Symbolically, strategically, and geopolitically it serves as an important linkage for all six countries not only to one another, but also to their friends, allies, and strategic partners further afield.

In contrast, the unified command that was agreed to at the 35th GCC Summit will not have a standing force. Rather it could be likened in concept to an Arab NATO. In that sense, special units in each GCC country’s existing military establishments will comprise the forces of the new unified command. As the education, training, and experience in field exercises and simulated warfare increases over time, units of the emerging generation of armed forces personnel will be similarly designated. In short, the structure of the new arrangement will be one where specific units will from now on be “on call,” as it were, for what could amount to possible double duty – fighting for their country in addition to possibly fighting for a fellow member-state within the GCC.

The consensus and resolve for all six GCC members to agree to such a breakthrough has no precedent in the history of regional defense plans. This is especially true given: (1) the deep and widespread cynicism among analysts worldwide about GCC defense capacities; (2) the unprecedented deep political disagreements and divisions among several of the GCC members in the past year; and (3) the suspicions and doubts regarding the wisdom of Oman’s multifaceted relationship with Iran as well as its reluctance, thus far, to have anything to do with the GCC union plan.

This latest development comes in light of other significant recent regional defense developments, including: (1) the GCC countries’ demonstrating a degree of significantly heightened resolve to strengthen and expand their deterrence and defense capabilities; (2) the participation of GCC members, providing military and logistical support, alongside the United States in the coalition fighting the so-called “Islamic State;” and (3) President Barack Obama’s December 2013 authorization of military sales to the GCC.

This paper will explore the evolution of United States defense cooperation with the GCC countries over the past half century. It will examine how different strategic challenges have shaped United States and GCC deterrence and defense planning, and trace the process through which the United States has worked to enhance the GCC member-states’ self-defense capabilities.