U.S. Forces in the Middle East: Resources and Capabilities

By Anthony H. Cordesman | Go to book overview
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The United States plays a vital strategic role in the Gulf. US military forces and power projection capabilities deter Iran and Iraq--two aggressive and radical regimes with military forces that might otherwise dominate the Gulf. The US prevents these states from achieving regional hegemony and intimidating their Southern Gulf neighbors. At the same time, the US plays a critical stabilizing role in the Southern Gulf, compensating in part for the lack of cooperation between the Gulf states and their internal rivalries. This strategic role affects a critical part of the world's energy supplies. The Gulf has at least 649 billion barrels of proven oil reserves out of the world's total proven reserves of 999.8 billion barrels, and 1,549 trillion cubic feet of gas out of a world total of 4,980 trillion cubic feet. 1

Put differently, the Gulf has nearly 65% of the world's oil reserves and 33% of its gas reserves. Iran has 8.9%, Iraq has 10.0%, Kuwait has 9.7%, Qatar has 0.2%, Saudi Arabia has 26.1%, and the UAE has 9.8%. The West, other countries of the developed world, and virtually all developing states are critically dependent on the stable flow of energy resources out of the Gulf, and every major projection of world energy balances indicates that this dependence will increase steadily throughout the period between 1995 and 2025--the year where most such projections end. 2

There is no question that US military capabilities in the Gulf are a critical measure of its ability to maintain the stability of the world's economy and global economic development and growth. However, analyzing the trends in US military capabilities in the Gulf is not a simple task. US capabilities in the Gulf are shaped by the size of the total pool of forces the US maintains on a world-wide basis. It is US capability to deploy given portions of this pool of forces to the Gulf to deal with a specific crisis that is critical, not the forces the US normally deploys forward or allocates to the US Central Command (USCENTCOM).

This means that US capabilities are scenario specific in the sense they will be shaped by the level of warning the US receives, the support it receives from its allies, its forward deployments at the start of a contin


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