‘More Middle East Arms Deals’ Is Not A Sustainable Regional Strategy

chopper mosqueLast Thursday, I wrote about the need for the Obama administration to come up with a regional security strategy for the Persian Gulf as it withdraws its troops from Iraq, and link its arms sales to the region to this strategy. This weekend, both the New York Times and Washington Post led with stories on the future of U.S. security policy in the Gulf.

The most concrete information coming out of these stories is that the United States is deploying eight Patriot anti-missile missile batteries to Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia in addition to stationing Aegis ballistic missile defense ships in the Gulf. In addition, they also reveal that the United States is supporting an expansion of the Saudi facilities protection force to 30,000 personnel.

On arms sales, an anonymous administration official made grandiose claims to the Post about “developing a truly regional defensive capability, with missile systems, air defense and a hardening up of critical infrastructure.” These claims are difficult to substantiate given the lack of new information provided by this anonymous official, and the relative slowness it’s taking the U.S. to fulfill arms requests already in the pipeline.

In fact, what these announcements reveal, if anything, is that the region is becoming more — not less — dependent on the United States for its security. The U.S. military is sending a significant number of its own missile defense capabilities to the Gulf while requests by local states for missile defense equipment have only begun to be fulfilled in the last month. U.S. efforts still seem to be concentrated on bilateral relationships rather than working to create a “truly regional” security system.

Taken together, these stories indicate that while the United States is preparing to withdraw from Iraq, it’s not preparing to substantially shift from or even rethink the role it’s had for the last 30 years as the security guarantor of the Gulf.