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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 19 August 2018

A US-GCC alliance should prioritise peace and prosperity

The partnership would fill a long-standing void in the Middle East and could be a major force for ensuring lasting peace in a region rocked by war, writes David Rothkopf

GCC leaders attend the Gulf Cooperation Council summit at Bayan palace in Kuwait City on December 5, 2017. Giuseppe Cacace / AFP
GCC leaders attend the Gulf Cooperation Council summit at Bayan palace in Kuwait City on December 5, 2017. Giuseppe Cacace / AFP

The United States is reportedly in talks with “six Gulf Arab states, Egypt and Jordan” to create a new regional security partnership. The nations are sure to discuss, if not actually launch the initiative, which is being referred to in discussions as the Middle East Security Alliance (Mesa), at a planned summit to be held in Washington, DC in mid-October, as The National reported this week.

While one US government official with whom I spoke stated that the primary purpose of the proposed alliance was to “contain Iran” there is an opportunity to make the idea much more than a single-issue military security initiative.

Indeed, the proposed alliance could achieve much more, providing a model for next-generation security alliances worldwide. That would not only be a good thing for the region. With most security alliances, including Nato with which the proposed Middle East pact is already being compared, getting a bit long in the tooth, it is time for new thinking to accompany new security architectures.

For example, the nations engaged in this partnership will face next-generation threats such as cyber conflict and, within years, smart systems powered by AI and other new technologies, which will change forever the rules of modern warfare.

Further, defending against cyber threats in particular will require new public-private partnerships given that many of the targets will be within the private sector and much of the necessary know-how will reside there as well. Therefore, not only should a new security alliance prepare for such challenges, but countries within the partnership should use it as a mechanism to promote greater investment in research and development, which is lagging as a percentage of GDP in all the region's proposed member countries (not to mention in potential adversary nations).

This could mean training generations of young Arabs in new technologies, which could offer myriad broader benefits to society at large and make each of these countries more competitive.

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Recognising that the underpinnings of such an alliance reside in enhanced educational resources, research, new technologies and collaboration within these areas between members, including the US, would also deepen ties and enhance trust.

This process could be further enhanced should the members also accept that part of joint security is investing in the rebuilding of parts of the region that have been scarred by war. This would eliminate vulnerabilities and risks associated with wounded, struggling societies and again, build good will and enhance the chances for peace and stability.

Assuming such an alliance also recognises other security threats – such as those caused by dislocation of refugee populations or climate change – as among its priorities, it can both enhance security and channel the resources dedicated to the alliance into social benefits that accrue across their societies; benefits that promote growth and development.

Recognising shifting geopolitical realities and being built to acknowledge the growing role and influence of powers like China in a constructive way, would also be positive – although a complex task full of nuance and a need to understand the long-term interests of all involved.

Beyond such ideas another benefit of such an alliance would be the recognition that in the new Middle East ever greater responsibility for regional security will and should go to the countries of the region. Such an alliance can help ensure appropriate burden-sharing among those countries and, with the right guidelines, establish principles and a set of best-practices that can help guide the onset of this new era. Each of the would-be member states are undergoing a period in which they are more actively involved in international affairs than ever before.

Such an architecture can help shape that evolution and ensure all involved are not just more safe from attack but that they are comfortable with one another’s new roles and positions.

That is because while greater military capabilities are often the first thing we associate with such alliances, their true power comes from enhanced communications and greater internal economic, social and political strength within the member societies.

Mesa would fill a long-standing void in the Middle East and could be a major force for ensuring lasting peace in a region that has been rocked by war for too long.

It would, indeed, send a strong message to actors like Iran and to extremists that balance will and must be maintained in the region, that attempts at destabilisation and hegemony will not be tolerated.

But it can and should do more than that. It can provide the foundation for a new era of growth, development and enhanced communications among the Sunni Arab states and between them and the US and America’s other allies. In fact, it might better be called Mepsa – the Middle East Peace and Security Alliance.

The architects of this new initiative should therefore remain ambitious and keep their eye on the greatest ultimate goal such an alliance can bring – not victories in war, but prosperity and growth in peacetime.

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