x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

A closer military union is key to Gulf security

The GCC must assume more of its own security responsibilities and prove that collective strength is the best defence against outside aggression.

The 25 F-16 Desert Falcon fighters that the UAE is purchasing from the US are only part of the recent push for GCC states to do more to ensure they can successfully repel any threats. At the same time, Saudi Arabia has purchased 84 fighter jets from the US and a further 72 from the UK, and Oman will purchase 20 UK Typhoons. The aim, as was amply demonstrated in February during the latest round of war games for Peninsula Shield, the GCC’s joint Gulf force, is to be able to secure the Arabian Gulf with as little external help as possible.

The GCC was born out of the chaos of the Iran-Iraq war, a recognition, made in Abu Dhabi in 1981, that Gulf states are stronger standing together. Yet in many ways, the evolution of the security bloc stalled once the war ended. Inter-operability of military hardware and technology are keys to mutual defence, but in past decades Gulf neighbours have established much of their military hardware, software and strategies unilaterally.

American military officials have been touring the region in recent weeks making these points. There’s a reason for that: selling such sophisticated weaponry to close allies bolsters a recovering US economy. But more importantly locally, it gives Arab allies the ability to offer a counterweight to regional threats. If conducted in a coordinated fashion, the goals of collective security would be more easily reached.

Slowly and without much fanfare the US is continuing its “pivot” towards Asia, stressing that its commitment to this region and its allies are solid, while it turns its defensive attention to other parts of the globe. China and the South China Sea are America’s top priorities today, not the Arabian Gulf.

Nato, the military union that emerged after the Second World War, is one example of how the GCC could organise. That alliance ensures that mutual and collective security comes first, with the caveat that there should not be military dominance by any one member. Indeed, the GCC could consider some form of Nato model or even Nato representation as part of its security pact. Moreover, cooperation between the GCC states on military matters would have knock-on effects in other areas, such as the fight against human trafficking and drugs smuggling. Even today Nato considers itself both a military and political bloc of states.

As the GCC builds its capabilities, collective strength will prove to be the region’s best defence against outside aggression.