THE U.S. MILITARY has not rested on its laurels since its success in Operation Desert Shield/Storm. The war is perceived as the benchmark against which to measure the most likely future conflicts. It also is seen as one that is likely to be repeated in the future. Military planners believe they will be called on to fight again, somewhere in the jurisdiction of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), in the not too far distant future. To that end, they not only are strengthening American presence in the region, but also are restructuring the entire U.S. military in order to be able to support the American forces better when they are called upon to intervene again.
Washington's perception of the Middle East is simple and straightforward--the region is an area of extraordinary volatility and menace. Persian Gulf countries are among the very few nations the Pentagon specifies as future threats. According to Gen. Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "We can still point to North Korea, a weakened Iraq, and even a hostile Iran as specific threats for which we must maintain forces." Iran or a remilitarized Iraq were named explicitly in the Pentagon's Bottom-Up Review completed in the fall of 1993 as one of the two major regional conflicts the U.S. must be prepared to fight.
Efforts by the Gulf states to provide for their own common defense are not considered seriously, given neighboring rivalries and the imbalance of military power between them and such states as Iran and Iraq. The internal dissension among Gulf Cooperation Council states serves to deepen those nations' dependence on the U.S. for their security needs. Kuwait, in particular, is explicit in expecting the U.S. to provide protection. According to its defense minister, Sheikh Ali al-Sabah, "Protection is the friends you have, not the weapons you have."
None of this is surprising or particularly unwelcome to the U.S. Department of Defense. In an era of reduced fiscal resources, much of the Pentagon's plans for maintaining its budget and force structure is predicated on continuing threats from the Middle East and Persian Gulf region. The end of the Cold War and the war with Iraq served only to formalize what has been a de facto policy since long before the Carter Doctrine declaration of 1980. In fact, Pres. George Bush's decision to go to war with Iraq proved to be an extension of Carter's 1980 State of the Union address, which declared: "An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf regions will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America. And such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force."
The Pentagon looks at the Middle East in much the same way that Willie Sutton looked at banks--it is where the action is. According to the General Accounting Office, the DoD estimates that it spent $21,400,000,000 during Fiscal Years 1980 through 1990 for military programs and activities directly related to Southwest Asia-specific missions. These include such items as military construction, equipment prepositioning, and Central Command headquarters. DoD estimates it spent $5,800,000,000 for other programs and activities that were oriented primarily toward Southwest Asia. Also, DoD estimates it invested about $272,600,000,000 in programs that, although justified by requirements outside the area, have proven to be useful in meeting regional contingencies. This does not include the cost of past military operations such as the reflagging of Kuwaiti tankers, Operation Desert Shield/Storm, or security assistance programs. This figure probably is low.
Earl Ravenal, a former Pentagon official, calculates that the annual military cost of ensuring access to Persian Gulf oil to be about $71,000,000,000. According to the Congressional Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus, "While the U.S. is reducing its presence in Europe, it is rapidly expanding its presence in the Middle East: not only has the U.S. increased its pre-Gulf War military presence in the Gulf by more than ten times, but also in the last years it has concluded or expanded defense cooperation agreements with three Gulf countries [Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain] and is currently negotiating with three others."
To the Defense Department, the prospect of renewed conflict in the Persian Gulf has a bright side. It helps to justify preserving force structure and to ward off possible Congressional cuts to the Pentagon's Base Force. Currently, on average, the U.S. has more than 20,000 soldier, sailors, marines, and airmen in the Persian Gulf region. This includes an air wing, carrier battle group, amphibious ships, and soldiers on training exercises in one or more Gulf countries.
Other U.S. unified military commands are happy to see the Central Command preparing for future operations because it gives them an additional rationale to justify their own force structure requirements. For example, a Rand analysis noted that a major regional contingency in the Persian Gulf would require the U.S. European Command to provide eight-10 divisions or other units, 10-13 air wings, and four-six carrier battle groups, as well as extensive command, control, and communications and logistics support. Such arguments are of great utility as the Pentagon seeks to ward off proposed cuts to the planned 150,000 U.S. military personnel presence in Europe in the future. Similarly, another Rand analysis maintained that a threat to Persian Gulf oil fields might require the Pacific Command to provide a carrier battle group, Marine Expeditionary Force, and tactical fighter wing.
CENTCOM came into existence as the latest U.S. geographic unified command on Jan. 1, 1983, Its immediate predecessor was the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force. Today, CENTCOM's area of responsibility encompasses northeastern Africa and southwestern Asia, including the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, and Red Sea. This includes the three distinct, but interrelated, sub-regions: South Asia, the Persian Gulf/Arabian Peninsula, and Red Sea/Horn of Africa. With regard to the latter, CENTCOM coordinated the deployment of U.S. forces to Somalia as a part of the relief effort called Operation Restore Hope. It has not been neglecting its warfighting strategy, however.
Support of its theater strategy is a continuing effort, taking place in peacetime as well as wartime. The elements that directly support the strategy in peacetime are combined exercises, security assistance, military construction, pre-positioning, and personnel.
Combined exercises demonstrate U.S. commitment to the region. According to Congressional testimony by Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, the successor to Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf as head of CENTCOM, "The planned exercise program has increased fivefold compared to pre-operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm levels. In FY90, 14 JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] and non-JCS exercises were conducted. In FY91, all JCS exercises were canceled, but 20 small maritime exercises were conducted, more than twice the number planned in previous years. In FY92, [there were] 56 JCS and non-JCS exercises scheduled with nine of the 18 countries in our area of responsibility; and in FY93, we [had] 71 exercises planned with 12 of the countries. We are expanding the Kuwaiti program to provide exercises on a virtually continuous basis."
Arms sales. "Security assistance" is the term used for government-to-government and direct commercial sales of weaponry and military equipment and funds for training foreign military personnel. According to Hoar, "These programs enhance stability by enabling countries in the region to improve their defensive capabilities in a balanced, controlled manner. At the same time, security assistance provides inter--operability with U.S. and other coalition partners."
The fact that continued arms transfers by the U.S. to the Middle East flies in the face of the Clinton Administration's public declarations has not served to reduce the flow. During Operation Desert Storm, Secretary of State James Baker testified that "The time has come to try to change the destructive pattern of military competition and proliferation in [the Middle East] and to reduce the arms flow into an area that is already over-militarized." On May 29, 1991, Bush announced a Middle East Arms Control Initiative aimed at curbing the spread of nuclear arms, chemical munitions, ballistic missiles, and "destabilizing" conventional weapons.
None of this has had much practical effect. U.S. policymakers still operate under the assumption that American arms transfers are good; it is only those by other nations that are bad. Moreover, transferring U.S. arms makes the next war easier to fight in the view of military officials. As Hoar testified in his first appearance before Congress, "From my point of view, the necessity of selling American equipment out there so that we have the interoperability in training, doctrine, spares, and weapons whether it be to Saudi Arabia or UAE [United Arab Emirates] or Kuwait is extraordinarily important to out warfighting capability in years to come." The U.S. formally established a Military Training Mission to Saudi Arabia as early as 1953. In 1990 alone, the mission helped Saudi Arabia buy $16,000,000,000 worth of American material and training.
In fact, less than two weeks after Bush announced his initiative, Congress was notified of a $682,000,000 proposed sale of Apache attack helicopters to the United Arab Emirates. Between the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, and Sept. 25, 1992, the Bush Administration announced a total of $32,300,000,000 in new arms transfers to eight Middle Eastern countries: Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, more than $25,000,000,000 to go to Saudi Arabia alone. All but two--Morocco and Israel--are within CENTCOM's area of responsibility. About $19,300,000,000 was announced since Bush proposed his initiative.
Access agreements. The oil fires were not even out in Kuwait when Defense Secretary Dick Cheney arrived in Saudi Arabia seeking permission to store military equipment there. On Sept. 5, 1991, the Pentagon confirmed that the U.S. and Kuwait had reached agreement on the outlines of a 10-year security pact. As the details still remain undisclosed, it is unclear whether the agreement is more than symbolic, but it reportedly provides for stockpiling of equipment, tanks, and infantry fighting vehicles for up to two mechanized brigades. Under the pact, the U.S. sends a battalion task force to Kuwait three times a year to train with a similar-sized Kuwaiti force.
On Oct. 27, 1991, the U.S. and Bahrain signed a defense cooperation agreement regarding the pre-positioning of material and an increase in joint military exercises. In June, 1992, an agreement was signed with Qatar, providing for the stationing of naval stores and periodic combined military exercises. CENTCOM also is in the process of concluding a defense agreement with the United Arab Emirates and is continuing discussions on the subject with Saudi Arabia.
The Army is making preparation to be able to deploy its heavy armor to the Persian Gulf in the event of conflict far more rapidly than it did during Desert Shield. The Army plans to dispatch a permanent floating force of tanks and armored personnel carriers to the Indian Ocean that could arrive in Saudi Arabia within two weeks after an order to deploy. When there is no crisis, the floating armor depot would be moored at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
Although the exact configuration of the equipment has not been finalized yet, it likely would equip two tank battalions and two mechanized infantry battalions. Although the number can vary, depending on the configuration of the deployed unit, there are approximately 58 tanks in the former and 54 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles in the latter. According to the Pentagon, planned sealift acquisitions will give it the capability--almost immediately upon request--to ship two Army armor divisions to any point in the world within 30 to 45 days.
The Navy is expanding the capacity and capability of the port in Haifa, Israel, to accommodate ships up to the size of Aegis cruisers for repair and refitting. In the future, Haifa even might be able to take aircraft carriers. This is being done because of its proximity to Persian Gulf states. In the new era, traditional ports in France, Greece, and Italy used by the Mediterranean Sixth Fleet are not close enough.
The Pentagon reportedly is planning to deploy Air Force tactical squadrons to the Persian Gulf for the three months each year that a carrier is not forward-deployed in the Indian Ocean. According to the General Accounting Office, the Air Force plans to expand its land prepositioning in southwest Asia. In his last annual report to Congress as Secretary of Defense, Cheney noted that the U.S. pre-positions support equipment and initial supplies for 750 aircraft in Southwest Asia.
CENTCOM is seeking to increase its pre-positioned material in the theater. According to Congressional testimony by Hoar, the goal is 200,000 short tons afloat or 350,000 short tons ashore. In a future war, this would be the equivalent of approximately 28 shiploads or 24,500 C-141 aircraft loads being pre-positioned.
In accordance with the 1993 Mobility Requirements Study (MRS), the Pentagon plans to increase both its sealift and airlift capability. The Navy intends to acquire--either through new construction or conversion--additional sealift capacity equal to 20 large roll-on/roll-off ships. These would be maintained in a high state of readiness for rapid deployment of Army combat and support unit equipment and supplies. The Navy also intends to lease two container ships for pre-positioning.
If all the assets envisioned under the MRS are put into place by the end of the decade, the U.S., in the event of another Desert Storm, could deploy five Army divisions, along with a Marine Expeditionary Force and tactical air, within about eight weeks. That would be about twice as fast as it took an equivalent number of forces to deploy during Operation Desert Storm.
Ongoing U.S. military activities in the Persian Gulf region can be summed up by the line used by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie "The Terminator": "I'll be back." While politicians may debate publicly about trying to avoid another Desert Storm, military planners consider the prospect an almost inevitable certainty--if not against Iraq, then vs. Iran. The Pentagon sees future war in the Persian Gulf as its primary raison d'etre, in terms of overseas conflicts.
Military officials may hope to have some help from other nations, either under the auspices of the UN or as part of some loose regional defense structure. To that end, they have invited European and Arab countries outside the Gulf to join in exercises. The bottom line, however, is that, when war comes, they expect the U.S. will be fighting essentially alone. The phrase, "together when we can, alone when we must" that was used by Bush Administration officials also is in vogue with the Clinton Administration.
When it comes to the Persian Gulf, there is remarkable continuity between the Bush and Clinton Administrations' emphasis on regional threats as a danger to U.S. security. When presenting the FY 1994 Pentagon budget, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin indicated: "The thing that really drives the defense budget now is the regional threats. We still have people like Saddam Hussein, we still have bad guys which have military capability, and we need to have the capability in the United States military to be able to deal with those people."
Given Clinton's support for strikes against Iraq in 1993 and his promise to focus primarily on domestic policy, there is little reason to suppose he will change the status quo. As Gen. Hoar put it in Congressional testimony, "That region of the world assigned to the Central Command has continued to grow in importance, as one of the overseas areas most likely to become the scene of a regional conflict."…