Arab NATO, a paper tiger or real one

TEHRAN, Aug. 25 (MNA) – The US and Arab media have recently reported the attempts of US President Donald Trump to form a new security-political coalition with some of the Persian Gulf Arab states (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain), Egypt and Jordan to counter Iran.

Accordingly, the White House wants to strengthen cooperation with these countries in the field of missile defense, military training, counter-terrorism and other issues such as supporting regional economic and diplomatic relations.

According to Washington and Middle Eastern officials, the scheme is a copycat of NATO dubbed “Arab NATO”. The Trump administration hopes the coalition, named the Middle East Strategic Alliance for the time being, will be unveiled at a summit in Washington on October 12-13, 2018.

The security treaty or plan was introduced by Saudi authorities prior to Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia a year ago. The plan will be revealed three weeks prior to the launch of the US oil sanctions on Iran. In fact, these actions are part of a series of coordinated measures to maximize political, economic and military pressures against Iran, aimed at forcing Iran's leaders to hold talks with Trump.

Similar discussions and attempts were made previously to establish a military alliance between the United States and the Persian Gulf Arab states, but all to no avail. There is a great chance that the attempt will fail this time as well.

Each of the participating countries in the coalition has its own complexities in terms of political considerations, manpower, logistics capabilities, and leadership which have raised doubts and concerns about the coalition idea.

Saudi Arabia has been seeking to strengthen its regional power since 2015 through the creation of a number of unofficial multilateral unions and alliances that include Arabs, Muslims and other nations under the Saudi leadership.

The very first one, Arab Coalition in Yemen, was launched in March 2015. Subsequently, in December 2015, the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT) was formed. The most recent is the Anti-Qatar Coalition, established in June 2017 to force Saudi Arabia’s longtime rival in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to fall in line with its strategic worldview.

The three Saudi-led alliances are fragile and the participants do not expect their membership and engagement with these alliances to lead to an enduring institutional relationship. Although not limited in scope, their operational tasks are issue-specific.

One of the reasons for Saudi’s failure lies in their failures to transform the PGCC into an effective regional security organization under Riyadh’s direction and control. Since the PGCC birth in the early 1980s, Riyadh has put forward several proposals that would turn it into a collective security coalition. All the proposals have been rejected by various potential partners such as Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and even its current ally, the United Arab Emirates. Fears have existed that Saudi Arabia wants to hijack legitimate security concerns to promote its own interests and extend its influence throughout the region.

The formation of security regimes and security convergence requires a high level of coherence and understanding between the constituent members of those regimes regarding security threats and ways to counter them.

The Arab states of the Persian Gulf in the last months of Barack Obama's presidency and at a Camp David meeting also tried to sign a collective defense pact with Washington, but their plan fell through. In fact, the members of the council were trying to have the highest level of security cooperation with Washington, a “joint defense pact”. They were trying to boost their security cooperation with Washington from the level of “partnership” to the level of “coalition.”

The entry of countries into a common defense pact is the last step in a security convergence. That is, countries may have defined a level of security and military relations between themselves, but the entry into a common defense treaty means that they will act for a member of a treaty and all members of the treaty have a common definition of “threat” and a common view over the type of threat they may face. At the same time, the United States has not at least been willing to provide such security guarantees to countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt.

What should be Iran’s strategy?

If the coalition is formed, it would be considered an unofficial coalition and not embodied in a specific institution or organization. However, what Iran needs to consider is that these unofficial coalitions may lead to official alliances like NATO. In such a case, the situation becomes more dangerous for Iran. At present, the coalition against Iran by the Saudis is unofficial and tactical, rather than strategic. Notwithstanding, greater convergence is possible between coalition states.

So far, coalitions have isolated Tehran in the region. Iran should try to keep the level of hostility with countries like Jordan and Egypt to a minimum to keep these states from entering a security regime with the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Also, Iran should try to create a meaningful coalition with Turkey, Afghanistan and Qatar as well as Iraq.

With no history of direct military confrontation with each other, Iran and Saudi Arabia as two traditional regional rivals are currently involved in vicarious wars that only add fuel to the fire. Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Qatar, are examples of such flashpoints.

The first issue around the Saudi efforts to balance Iran’s power is Tehran’s penetrating, strategic role in the region, which has included countries like Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and Lebanon. The enhancement of Iran’s power in the region creates conditions for these countries and their foreign policies to move towards Iran’s goals.

The second issue is the increase in Iran's regional strength and Tehran's military containment power, which further emphasizes the ability of rocket deterrence, which has the potential for effective counteraction to threats and eliminates many regional constraints.

Ultimately, the third issue is Iran's nuclear capabilities and advancements. By bringing on the nuclear deal and ensuring the international community of it, the countries of the region, especially Saudi Arabia and its allies, have been in a position of passivity.

In the current situation, which defines the countries’ regions of security, the supremacy of relative power over absolute power, there must be a mechanism for negotiating the security of the Persian Gulf.

The United States is considered an interventionist player in the Persian Gulf security complex, which has prevented the development of regional cooperation, and even its policies have led to an intensification of rivalries and hostilities. According to Graham E. Fuller, in the book “The Center of the Universe: The Geopolitics of Iran”, the presence of foreign forces in the Persian Gulf region has not brought about any natural order in this region.

Some Persian Gulf experts, including Kenneth M. Pollack, believe that Arab states in the Persian Gulf have taken significant steps over the last decade to develop some of their capabilities, including strengthening their military forces and bilateral ties with the United States and other Western armed forces. But nothing has been solved or resolved yet with respect to the region. The coalition with the Arab League not only won’t help the Persian Gulf security order but will add to the “security riddle” in the region. What will be the upshot of this coalition is primarily the sale of more weapons by the United States to these countries, which is not helpful to peace or security.

This artcle was first published in American Herald Tribune.


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