US-GCC security partnership under new pressures

Friday 31/07/2015
A challenged partnership

DUBAI - Concerns over an Iranian threat, instability the “Arab spring” has plant­ed in regional political discourse and now the spread of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) should have added new impetus to the defence rela­tionship between the United States and members of the Gulf Coopera­tion Council (GCC) — Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain.
However, the US-GCC alliance is being driven increasingly by reac­tivity to regional events at the cost of a holistic approach that ought to have fast-tracked predetermined strategic goals designed with clear­ly sequenced milestones to meas­ure progress. For lack of capacity, the technical and operational re­quirements of the US-GCC defence relationship are increasingly being managed in ad-hoc ways as regional threats outpace the ability of the al­liance to react quickly and dynami­cally.
There is little doubt that the Unit­ed States has failed to live up to GCC expectations of critical regional se­curity priorities. Now, as the US and the GCC face an increasingly com­plex regional environment char­acterised by unprecedented state fragmentation, the rise of transna­tional non-state actors, a new gen­eration of terrorist groups and the proliferation of weapons, there is no strategic alternative to develop­ing a truly collaborative regional se­curity architecture.
The US and the GCC must work together to develop a regional se­curity architecture that builds on existing capabilities, plugs critical gaps and delivers interconnected forces between the alliance mem­bers. In doing so, the US and GCC would operationalise regional se­curity burden-sharing and position themselves to meet emerging chal­lenges. The White House has re­peated its commitment to upgrad­ing US-GCC defence cooperation, but progress has been slow.
Despite the apparent US-GCC consensus on the need to improve regional security, progress contin­ues to be impeded at both political and technical levels.
At the political level, the GCC as a whole is hardly in a position to praise US efforts either to allay regional concerns about Iran, the situation in Syria, and the rise of non-state actors such as ISIS around their periphery. Indeed, many in­tellectuals in the region debate the real motivations behind key deci­sions the US has made with regards to commonly shared threats and how these decisions are undeniably in tension with the needs of its re­gional allies.
If there is one common theme in how regional crises have been man­aged and mismanaged at the politi­cal level, it appears to be the unex­pected and perhaps unjustifiable reluctance of a superpower such as the US to demonstrate decisive leadership. While the GCC has in­vested deeply in relations with the US, a serious credibility crisis has formed surrounding what precisely can be expected from the US by the GCC and other regional partner na­tions.
The regional security environ­ment could continue to disinte­grate, creating more space and op­portunities for non-state actors to consolidate their influence and sup­port networks. Already, the fight against ISIS is set to last years by most estimates. What is needed to­day is a radical change in approach to US policy for the Middle East, as well as how the US chooses to lead an effort together with its regional allies and international partners.
Technical impediments also con­tinue to hinder progress on US-GCC defence cooperation. In maritime security, progress has been limited to military exercises and efforts to develop tactics, techniques and procedures. On more important is­sues such as information-sharing, the US tendency to highly classify information continues to hinder the kind of cooperation expected and required by GCC partners.
In fact, information-sharing at a regional level continues to remain inadequate. It is vital that the US works with its GCC partners to en­sure it contributes towards the shared intelligence, surveillance, tracking and reconnaissance net­work the GCC requires by fast-track­ing equipment sales of relevant ca­pabilities such as remotely piloted aircraft, removing restrictions that hinder operational integration be­tween GCC allies and helping devel­op technical capacities for regional operators to improve effectiveness.
Failure to step up efforts that synchronise the approaches to re­gional security in and around the Gulf threatens negative and costly impacts upon US and GCC security interests and indeed on the surviv­ability of their alliance. Volumes of GCC-bound defence sales in them­selves cannot be used as the test for US commitment to regional al­lies and regional security or act as a substitute for a truly collaborative security architecture.
The bottom line, simply, is that the US – as a superpower and as a partner with tremendous resources, capabilities and technical expertise at its disposal – is failing to assure the level of operational capability, interoperability and joint readiness required in the Arabian Gulf by its partners.
The emerging strategic environ­ment makes it increasingly neces­sary for the US and GCC states alike to take a more proactive role in re­gional security.
As such, if the US-GCC strategic alliance is to survive the global and regional rebalancing of power, the United States must fix the problem of its lack of direction, commitment and leadership at the political level and remove those policy and tech­nical barriers that prevent the re­alisation of a collaborative regional security architecture. The US-GCC alliance must successfully position itself to face the complex threats of the emerging strategic environ­ment through a holistic, forward-looking approach rather than be constrained by red tape and short­sightedness.