Desert Storm II: Is a New Persian Gulf War on the Horizon?

Article excerpt

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. …