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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Report Identifies Security Challenges in the Persian Gulf

Press Release

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Location: Washington, DC

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) today released a staff report examining the evolving security framework in the Persian Gulf. The report, "The Gulf Security Architecture: Partnership with the Gulf Cooperation Council," identifies challenges and opportunities associated with promoting U.S. interests and a stable security environment in the Gulf region. Home to more than half of the world's oil reserves and over a third of its natural gas, the stability of the Gulf is critical to the global economy. A confluence of events in the Middle East -- the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, the Arab Revolutions, and the ongoing concerns over Iran's nuclear program -- have raised questions about the Gulf region and U.S. relations with the six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

"The Gulf Region is strategically important to the United States economically, politically, and for security reasons," said Sen. Kerry. "This is a period of historic, but turbulent change in the Middle East. We need to be clear-eyed about what these interests are and how best to promote them. This report provides a thoughtful set of recommendations designed to do exactly that."

Chairman Kerry deployed Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff members to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Iraq to examine the future multilateral relationship, which is the basis for the report. They identified seven principal challenges to the region and offered the following policy recommendations:

The United States should leverage its strategic position to be a steady force for moderation, stability, and non-sectarianism, through patient and persistent engagement in support of human rights. The United States should not be quick to rescind security assurances or assistance in response to human rights abuses, but should evaluate each case on its own merits. U.S. government officials should use these tools to advance human rights through careful diplomacy. Consistency is a hallmark of a successful security partnership. Nonetheless, there should be redlines associated with the U.S. security agreements in the Gulf, like elsewhere. The United States should make clear that states must not use arms procured from the United States against their own people engaged in peaceful assembly or exploit the U.S. security umbrella as protection for belligerent action against their neighbors.

The United States should seek to remain a central part of the Gulf security framework. The Administration should encourage the development of institutions like the GCC and Arab League, while seeking to strengthen bilateral ties. However, the GCC is not a monolith, and a multilateral architecture must accommodate the significant differences among the Gulf states. The United States has a unique diplomatic and security role to play in the GCC. To protect its regional security interests, the United States should seek to reinforce its position as a core interlocutor around which intra-GCC security is organized, through robust diplomatic and economic engagement, military-to-military cooperation, and security assistance. However, there is some concern in various GCC capitals that the United States has not been forthcoming enough in communicating its vision of how it would like this cooperation to evolve amidst the political turmoil of the Arab Awakening. American officials should seek to ameliorate these concerns by more clearly articulating to its GCC partners the United States' vision for a Gulf security framework, as well as its strategic priorities for the broader region.

The United States should work with GCC states to promote economic reform and diversification, as well as increased trade relations. The Gulf states have recognized this dilemma and to varying degrees have sought to diversify their economies and better prepare their workforces for the global marketplace. To help the GCC countries tackle their structural unemployment and underemployment, the United States should focus on educational and labor reforms, as well as the promotion of entrepreneurship.

The United States should preserve the model of "lily pad" bases throughout the Gulf, which permits the rapid escalation of military force in case of emergency. The Obama Administration has adopted this architecture by retaining only essential personnel in the region while ensuring access to critical hubs such as Camp Arifjan, Al Udeid, Al Dhafra, Jebel Ali, and Naval Support Activity Bahrain. An agile footprint enables the United States to quickly deploy its superior conventional force should conflict arise, without maintaining a costly and unsustainable presence. Sustaining physical infrastructure and enabling functions such as intelligence, surveillance, and logistics, while keeping certain war reserve materiel forward positioned, is more important than deploying large numbers of U.S. forces.

The U.S. government should continue to cultivate the capabilities of GCC partners in select defensive missions, such as missile defense, combat air patrol, and maritime security, while building capacity through deployments in other theaters such as Libya and Afghanistan. Burden-sharing does not imply that the United States is abandoning the region or relinquishing its role as a security guarantor. Rather, it is intended to deepen strategic ties with the Gulf by improving the competencies of the GCC states through joint exercises, security assistance, and training. Over time, these partnerships can improve the effectiveness of Gulf militaries, promote trust, and instill professional military values such as respect for civilian authority, human rights, and the rule-of-law. However, the Obama Administration should carefully consider what missions it expects the Gulf states to execute effectively.

The United States should continue to supply Gulf partners with security assistance that supports a comprehensive strategy for regional arms sales to ensure a stable security architecture. The United States derives a number of benefits from supplying the GCC states with defense materiel and training: interoperability, access, leverage, relationships, and regional balance. But the United States should be scrupulous in determining which weapons systems to sell in order to 1) ensure that sales contribute to regional security and do not weaken the position of Israel, 2) support the legitimate defense requirements of Gulf partners, 3) prevent a regional arms race, and 4) protect its technological superiority.

The United States should promote the gradual political reintegration of Iraq into the Arab fold. Iraq's Arab League presidency in 2012 is an opportunity for the United States to promote a gradual rebalancing of the Gulf's security architecture, improved counterterrorism cooperation between Iraq and the GCC, and a reduction in sectarian tensions. In particular, in light of reciprocal visits by Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, there may be opportunities for progress on the outstanding bilateral issues dating to the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, including border demarcation, war reparations, and the disposition of missing Kuwaiti citizens.

The report has been shared with the State Department and the Department of Defense.


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