Led by a Lion

By Talbot, Brent J.; Hicks, Jeffrey J. | Aerospace Power Journal, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Led by a Lion


Talbot, Brent J., Hicks, Jeffrey J., Aerospace Power Journal


The US Role in Preserving Gulf Security

Editorial Abstract: This article is a wake-up reminder that the Gulf War denouement is still unfolding. Although Balkan problems and Asian tension may have temporarily eclipsed media attention on the Gulf, the hot spot fanned by Iraq and its dictator is much more than a glowing ember We must realize that we cannot extinguish this long-term problem by sprinting but have to commit ourselves to marathon-like endurance. The Gulf scenario involves a complex interaction of economic, political, and military forces thrown into further turmoil by a long history of ethnic and religious differences. It is very much to our advantage that a miscalculation somewhere does not cause an eruption on a grand scale. Here, Major Talbot and Lieutenant Hicks explore the strategic issues and policy options.

AS THE GULF War slowly fades into the history books, it is important to realize that the Middle East remains a region scarred by conflict and tension. While the United States struggles to control the myriad problems such as guaranteeing the flow of Persian Gulf oil, deterring Iraq and Iran, and moving the ArabIsraeli peace process forward, many people wonder if the United States can "go it alone" in this critical area of the world. Not only has the Middle East threatened to overload the resources of the military, but also a growing anti-American sentiment has subjected American troops to increasing terrorist threats in the last decade. In response to these recent trends, many individuals within the political and military arenas have pushed for a regional security arrangement that places a greater responsibility for the region's defense on the Arab countries themselves. Using the Gulf War as a catalyst, the United States has committed itself to uniting the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) into a defensive security regime.' Although drawbacks exist, such as a potential loss of US control within the region, official security-strategy documents have identified this regional cooperation as a national objective.2

Moreover, pressures are mounting-even within the military-to bring US forces home, as evidenced by the Air Force Times headline "Ryan to JCS: Give Us a Break!"3 Currently, we have seven thousand airmen in the Middle East, and since the end of the Gulf War, between 10,000 and 28,000 US military forces have maintained constant vigilance in the Persian Gulf and surrounding region.4 Operations in other regions of the world have come and gone, but the Gulf deployments continue on a significant scale, driving operations tempos to all-time highs for the military services. Why the continued large-scale presence when the threat has diminished? Most analysts agree that Iraq's forces, which failed so miserably against coalition forces, are less than half as capable as they were during 1991,5 and Iran is making friendly overtures across the Gulf to its Arab neighbors and the United States. Moreover, given the efforts already put forth to strengthen the GCC (e.g., the military buildups of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the pending purchase of 80 F-16s by the United Arab Emirates [UAE], and the general overall improvement in the quantity and quality of weapons within the militaries of the GCC's member states), it would seem that the Joint Chiefs of Staff could answer the call of Gen Michael Ryan, Air Force chief of staff, by reducing US forces in the Middle East. This article, therefore, explores the options available to US policy makers on whether such a force reduction should take place and whether the GCC can increase its security role in the Gulf.

The article assesses US-GCC cooperation efforts to maintain the flow of oil in the Gulf, discusses obstacles to these efforts, examines the US effort to contain Iraq and Iran, addresses the ongoing Arab-Israeli peace process, and concludes with a discussion of national security strategy for the Gulf that best guides US policy for the region. It argues that at this time we cannot rely upon the GCC to increase its role in providing regional security. …

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