GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
The impact of U.S. policy on Gulf security dynamics
Paper Proposal Text :
Barack Obama’s accession to the U.S. presidency in 2009 led to a recalibration of American policy in the Middle East. But the administration’s rebalance to Asia, withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, limited intervention in Syria, conclusion of a deal on Iran’s nuclear program and nascent rapprochement with Tehran, and general approach to disorder and conflict in the Middle East has eroded its Gulf allies’ faith in the American security commitment in the region. Such anxieties about the impact of the Obama Administration’s policies and the long-term role of the U.S. in the region have led to perceptions of American retrenchment by Gulf leaders. While U.S. defense posture in the Middle East and its commitment to regional partners remains mostly unchanged, Washington’s willingness to act in the interests of the GCC states has decreased. As structural factors suggest that the changes in U.S. regional policy are likely to outlast the Obama administration, the Gulf states have adjusted accordingly and adapted their security policies.

The U.S. security role has been an essential element of regional balancing against threats in the Gulf sub-region since the announcement of the Carter Doctrine in 1980. Historically, this arrangement protected the Gulf states from security threats stemming from Iraq and Iran; maintained open sea lanes critical to their economic growth; and provided them with the time, space, and peace to pursue national development policies that have proven crucial to each states’ political and economic stability. While the GCC countries have held and continue to hold different threat perceptions, a shared security guarantor has added to their cohesion on security issues. The gap created by perceived U.S. regional withdrawal and strategic disinterest has exacerbated existing regional rivalries, intensified regional disorder, and, to the Gulf states, increased direct threats to their security.

In light of the changing context of the U.S security commitment, the Gulf states have taken increased ownership over their domestic defense and regional security, seeking to move from consumers to producers of security. Domestically, this has been seen through the development and professionalization of military institutions, demonstrated by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates adoption of conscription. The GCC countries continue to shore up their domestic defenses through U.S. arms sales and security cooperation agreements with other extra-regional partners, but have also sought to mature their own defense industrial complexes. Regionally, military cooperation has increased among the Gulf states, both within the context of military action initiated by the GCC countries and within international coalitions, such as the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State. While the Gulf states have traditionally been reticent to employ their military capabilities outside of international coalitions, this has changed in recent years. The Emirati use of air power against Islamist aligned forces in Libya in 2014 and the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen are but two examples of this significant trend of military activism. These autonomous security strategies, which are at times at odds with U.S. policy and interests, are reshaping the traditional regional security architecture.

This paper will assess the impact of the erosion of the U.S. security guarantee on the defense agendas of the Gulf states. It will outline the shifts in policy that have altered the U.S. security posture and engagement with the GCC countries, and analyze how these have resulted in new trends within Gulf security dynamics. The paper will find that the perception of U.S. retrenchment has led to a redefinition of the regional security architecture, which has resulted in new domestic and external security policies and priorities for the Gulf states. These include the enhancement of military institutions; development of domestic defense industry; increased purchase of U.S. and other countries armaments; higher propensity for military cooperation; and increased military activism. As many of these developments run counter to traditional security studies theory, this paper will incorporate existing literature within this discipline to identify points of departure and highlight critical gaps.