The six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council are being advised to step up their level of cooperation in defence intelligence. As The National reported yesterday, consultants are at work analysing the needs and abilities of Arabian Peninsula countries in these matters, and appear to be reaching the clear conclusion that in the current environment, information-sharing and response coordination demand more attention. The challenge is to find ways to move ahead.
The expert views correspond to what the GCC's secretary general, Dr Abdullatif Al Zayani, said earlier this year. He called for more collaboration not only on surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, but also in military command and control. "GCC countries have to be able to be integrated to share intelligence and information and be ready to work together at a higher and more complete level," he said.
The information age has come to the "battle space". From tactical "situational awareness" to strategic "information superiority", collecting and managing digital and other data is to modern militaries what seizing the high ground was to land troops of previous centuries.
Defence intelligence cooperation is just part of the vital alliance doctrine known as "interoperability". From rifle ammunition to fighter-jet spare parts to computer software to protocols for handling prisoners, military units from one country must be able to "plug and play" seamlessly with allied forces. In this vital field, some progress has been made among GCC countries but there appears to be room for improvement.
Fortunately the GCC countries are on good terms with Nato, which in six decades of coordination has solved many of the problems of interoperability and has a lot to teach the GCC.
Military intelligence, command and control, and other aspects of defence cooperation are just one part, though an important one, of the whole spectrum of cooperation among GCC states.
Differences of size and history make the Arabian Peninsula countries unlikely to become as tightly-knit as the European Union states. But in some areas there are clear and relatively easy opportunities for economies of scale and closer relations. Cargo rail is one such area, border security is another. But defence cooperation, so vital and yet so complicated, is the area where the need for tighter coordination is most vital.