GCC Nations Create New Joint Command
In the face of a weakening US presence in the region and a potentially stronger Iranian presence, the GCC nations approved the creation of a joint military command structure last week. The three key areas of cooperation will be missile defense, Gulf maritime security, and counter terrorism.
The US quickly responded positively. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who was in the Gulf in recent days, outlined steps to increase security cooperation in the Gulf region and maintained that the US would continue to base forces in the Gulf region, “We have a ground, air, and naval presence of more than 35,000 military personnel in and immediately around the Gulf,” he said. This includes 10,000 US Army troops with tanks and Apache helicopters, roughly 40 ships at sea including an aircraft carrier battle group, missile defense systems, radar, surveillance drones and warplanes that can strike at short notice, he said.
In addition, this week Obama signed an order that opened the door to sales of missile defense and other weapons systems to the GCC as a bloc. This places the GCC in the same select group of organizations as NATO and the UN in terms of receiving military assistance.
The joint GCC command isn’t a new era of GCC military cooperation. In 1984, the GCC decided to create a joint military force of 10,000 soldiers divided into two brigades, called the Peninsula Shield Force (PSF), based in Saudi Arabia near the Kuwaiti and Iraqi borders. It currently contains about 40,000 troops.
However, the military role of Peninsula Shield in the last 30 years has been scant. A force of about 3,000 men from the PSF, in addition to forces of its member states, took part in the U.S. (and other coalition forces) military campaign to force Iraqis out of Kuwait in March 1991. 10,000 troops and two ships of PSF were deployed to Kuwait in February 2003, prior to the invasion of Iraq, to protect Kuwait from potential Iraqi attacks. It did not participate in operations against Iraq.
Its most active military role was in March 2011, Peninsula Shield forces, requested by the Bahraini government, entered Bahrain via the causeway from Saudi Arabia. The forces were from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Improving GCC Military Cooperation
Although the populations of the GCC nations aren’t great, their combined military forces are (on paper) a formidable force for the region. The nations rely on technology to act as a force multiplier for their smaller military forces. In fact, the GCC put $130 billion into military spending in 2012. “Our estimates showed that there was a real-term increase of over six per cent in 2012, reaching around $130 billion,” said Jeremy Binnie, Middle East and Africa editor at the London-based Jane’s Defense Weekly. The big ticket items were missile defense systems, ships, and aircraft.
In terms of the new GCC military cooperation, the biggest impact in terms of spending will be an integrated missile defense system for all the nations. Although each GCC country could develop its own system, the cooperation will allow for an integrated early warning system and deployment of missiles and radar where they would best meet the needs of the GCC – without consideration of national boundaries. Expect increased interest in a major, integrated Patriot/THAAD (Theater High Altitude Air Defense System) purchase.
However, purchases will be a minor part of the new integrated system. Each nation will insist on purchasing its own ships, armor, and aircraft. Counter terrorism and maritime protection are less a function of large military purchases and rely more on cooperation between the various organizations.
Clearly, the GCC nations have been coordinating their efforts. However, an integrated command can boost that coordination. It can also give the GCC a chance to expand its roles and specialize the respective national military forces of its members.
In terms of maritime strategy, the GCC nations have to move from simple coastal protection to the protection of their economic zones inside the Arabian Gulf. Key among these are convoy protection, countering Iranian potential retaliatory threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, monitoring Iranian presence in the Gulf, and projecting GCC power along the Gulf shoreline and onto oil platforms.
Historically, convoy protection has required considerable coordination. The GCC nations have focused on this with the creation of CTF152, which provides maritime security throughout the Gulf. However, that isn’t enough if faced with an Iranian attempt to choke maritime shipping within the Gulf.
Assuming that GCC nations will be committed to protecting all maritime shipping in the Gulf, the various ships of the GCC fleets will have to improve their command and control, their close maneuvering skills, and their defensive plans for convoy protection. To maximize their reliance on Washington, they are cooperating considerably with the US Navy, which has considerable skill in convoy protection.
The GCC navies also need to focus on keeping the Strait of Hormuz open in the face of Iranian opposition. From a passive point, this includes convoy protection, but from an active point of view, this means being able to neutralize Iranian anti-ship missiles on several islands in the Strait, most notably Abu Musa. This was done with the Islands of Loyality Exercise last year where the GCC nations focused on neutralizing Iranian military power on the Tunb islands and Abu Musa.
Another active role for the GCC nations will be counter-mine exercises, since Iran has previously deployed anti-ship mines to hamper shipping in the Gulf. Every year the GCC nations and 24 other countries hold an International Mine Counter Measures Exercise in the Gulf.
Counter mine warfare is also an area of high technology cooperation between GCC nations. Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), including larger unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) and smaller tethered remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are being used more and more in finding and neutralizing enemy mines. Coordinating the type of robotic vehicles to be used, developing a system to share the information amongst the GCC navies, and developing tactics would be critical to keeping the Gulf mine free during any clashes .
One area of weakness for the GCC nations’ maritime strategy is projecting power along the Gulf coast. Although air power can hit anywhere in the region within hours, naval ships have “staying ability” and can act as the base for amphibious landing that can land the heavy equipment that airborne forces can’t deploy. They can also land on the numerous oil platforms in the Gulf. According to former American military officers served in the region, the UAE has the best amphibious forces among GCC Countries and is best prepared to conduct landing from the sea in support of military operations. They (former officials) are claiming that the UAE also has the ability to seriously damage Iran’s oil exporting infrastructure thanks to its investment in cruise missiles.
Another area of GCC military cooperation could be logistics, which has been a weak point of the GCC. This is a field where NATO was a major benefit during the Cold War. Not only did it standardize munitions and calibers of small arms, it had a unified logistics system of joint storage and stocking so an American unit could order a similar item from a British logistics system using an identical stock number.
The GCC nations have focused more on the major weapons systems and not the munitions needed to make them operational for long times. Three years ago, Saudi Ara¬bia committed to the purchase of nearly 800 air-to-air missiles (AAMs), 1,000 anti-shipping and anti-air defense missiles, and 4,000 guided bombs. The last need was prompted by Saudi Arabia’s rapid expenditure of its entire guided bomb arsenal in fighting against the Houthi rebels on the Saudi-Yemeni border in the summer of 2009, requiring emergency resupply from U.S. operational reserves. Between 2007 and 2011, the UAE likewise purchased over 400 U.S.- delivered AAMs and 2,800 guided bombs.
In addition, there have been recent purchases of large numbers of anti-tank missiles. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency has notified Congress that Riyadh will be given permission to buy 14,000 tube-launched, optically tracked missiles and other weapons in two separate deals valued at nearly $1.1 billion dollars. Saudi Arabia will also eventually receive more than 1,700 similar missiles. This indicates that Saudi Arabia has realized the need to deepen its munitions reserves.
American military experts advise that a better integrated logistics network would allow munitions to be shifted quickly and a centralized GCC reserve to be maintained. In addition, GCC purchases of commonly used munitions could allow for larger orders, lower prices, and greater availability.
Same experts advocate that the GCC nations needs to coordinate their military reaction to a whole spectrum of threats, ranging from simple terrorism to the perceived (but not realistic) threat of a nuclear Iran. This not only includes planning, but assigning areas of responsibility to various GCC nations
This brings us to:
The Major Threats Facing the GCC Integrated Military Command
Protecting Economic Centers. The GCC nations have some of the world’s most economically important targets in their region – ranging from financial centers to oil production facilities. They aren’t only threatened by other countries, but many terrorists whose goals may be very different, but would seek to cause severe economic disruption from a shutdown of the Gulf oil industry.
Obviously, the biggest targets are in Saudi Arabia – The Ras Tanura oil export terminals and Abqaiq refin¬ery in Saudi Arabia. And, this is where improved counter terrorism coordination between GCC nations, the US, and European intelligence services is expected.
From a military point of view, protecting economic centers requires the development and coordination of elite, highly mobile Special Forces skilled in counter terrorism. The GCC nations have developed such groups and have received training from both US and British Special Forces. However, specializing and coordinating these groups would prevent the supplication seen today. For instance, Saudi Special Forces could specialize in protecting and retaking petroleum facilities on land. Meanwhile, UAE forces, who have more seaborne experience, would focus on defense and retaking oil platforms in the Gulf.
Air and missile defense. This is one area which has received a lot of attention and will probably receive the greatest attention with the new military integration. In 2006, the Saudi Arabian deputy minister of Defense and Avia¬tion, Prince Khaled bin Sultan, laid out Riyadh’s think¬ing that Iran’s missiles were the key threat facing his country, noting that the threat “won’t be the Iranian Air Force, or Navy. It won’t be ships or boats. It will be missiles.”
The US will remain a critical player in the ballistic missile defense. US secretary of Defense Hagel said last week that the Pentagon “will better integrate with GCC members to enhance missile defense capabilities in the region,” adding “the United States continues to believe that a multilateral approach is the best answer for missile defense.”
The US Navy also deploys several cruisers with anti-missile capabilities in the region.
Perceived (or imagined) Iranian Threat. This is the major worry for GCC nations – not a nuclear threat, but a threat to their economic security through a blockade of the Strait of Hormuz and harassment of shipping throughout the Gulf.
This is where coordination between the GCC nations is the most critical. Clearly Iran is outgunned with modern armaments by the GCC nations, but they will have to wield it as a coordinated force if they are to be successful.
The Iranian Navy lacks modern equipment and most of Iran’s abilities lie with the Revolutionary Guards fleet of gunboats that can swarm the Gulf. They will rely upon numbers to overwhelm the GCC navies
The GCC nations rely on more modern, more capable fleets that can project power further and stay at sea longer. Their air forces are better able to provide critical air cover. They also have the advantage of having worked with the larger American, British and French fleets.
All the GCC states have invested heavily in the last decade in a new generation of power¬ful offshore patrol vessels that combine good seaworthiness and the ability to stay on station longer. They are well-armed, fast attack naval vessels with day and night sensors and effective offensive weapons systems, such as lightweight precision missiles and robotic stabilized cannons. These ships can out-see and out-shoot any Iranian counterpart. And, their ability to stay at sea longer makes up for the greater numbers of smaller Iranian craft that can’t travel far or stay at sea for long times.
In case of an Iranian threat to the Gulf shipping as result of retaliation to an attack on Iranian targets or interests by US or its allies, the GCC nations have to decide on what action to take and move aggressively. Convoy protection is passive and cannot win – it merely slows the damage to the commercial shipping fleet.
Used aggressively, the GCC nations have a powerful maritime threat if they can or know how to use it. Their ships and aircraft can strike key Iranian naval facilities like those on Abu Musa and neutralize them. They can use guided munitions to strike and destroy Iranian commercial oil facilities. And, they have the ability to carry out amphibious operations against smaller Iranian targets along the coast.
This is where political will and military integration comes in. If the GCC nations see the threat and decide to react aggressively, they have the tools. They however, need the integration necessary to carry it out.
That’s why the GCC announcement to develop a joint military command can be a positive aspect of the regions defense. The GCC nations have developed the capabilities for air and missile defense, maritime strategy, and counter terrorism (even selectively). However, national pride has often stood in the way of using them effectively.
The US and Iran: Sanctions, Energy, Arms Control, and Regime Change
By Anthony H. Cordesman, Chloe Coughlin-Schulte and Bryan Gold
Center for Strategic and International Studies
December 17, 2013
The interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear programs reached between the P5+1 and Iran has made this a major policy issue for the US, the other members of the P5+1, Iran, Israel, and the other states in the region. It raises major question about the extent to which sanctions drove Iran to negotiate, the impact of the agreement, prospects for broader forms of arms control, and how reaching an agreement affects the real world options for changing the behavior of Iran’s regime. The report provides an in-depth analysis of US and Iranian competition focusing on four interrelated areas – sanctions, energy, arms control, and regime change. It shows this competition has been steadily building since the fall of 2011, when the IAEA issued a new report on the possible military applications of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has continued to issue threats to “close the Gulf,” and has stalled negotiations, spurring a renewed round of sanctions that have had an increasingly significant impact on Iran’s economy throughout 2012 and continuing into 2013.
Shaping Iraq’s Security Forces
By Anthony H. Cordesman, Sam Khazai and Daniel Dewit
Center for Strategic and International Studies
December 13, 2013
Two years after the withdrawal of all US military forces from Iraq, the Iraqi military is facing major challenges as it seeks to confront a resurgence of Islamist violence. The failure to maintain any residual US force in the country to train and support Iraqi counterterrorism operations has placed heavy constraints on the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces and on US policy options for confronting terrorism spilling into Iraq as a result of the deepening crisis in Syria. The development of the Iraqi Security Forces has proceeded haltingly, and as a result Iraqi military and police units are ill-equipped to confront the non-state threats currently operating inside Iraq.
Year Four of the Arab Awakening
By Marwan Muasher
December 12, 2013
How will history judge the uprisings that started in many parts of the Arab world in 2011? The label “Arab Spring” proved too simplistic from the beginning. Transformational processes defy black-and-white expectations, but in the end, will the awakenings be more reminiscent of what happened in Europe in 1848, when several uprisings took place within a few weeks only to be followed by counterrevolutions and renewed authoritarian rule? Or will they more closely resemble the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, after which some countries swiftly democratized while others remained in thrall to dictatorship? Whatever the case, it is clear that the process of Arab transformation will need decades to mature and that its success is by no means guaranteed. The movements driving it are more unanimous about what they are against than about what they are for. But the debate to define this awakening has begun.
Tunisia’s Constitutional Process: Hurdles and Prospects
By Duncan Pickard
German Marshall Fund
December 18, 2013
Three unsettled and related issues — the completion of the constitution, the legal framework for elections, and the replacement of the current government — jeopardize progress that has been made in Tunisia’s democracy so far. The chief political parties of Ennahda, currently in power, and Nidaa Tunis, a leading secular party led by long-time politician and former prime minister Beji Caid Essebsi, are currently negotiating the terms of a deal that would cover these three contentious issues. The fundamental socio-political tension in Tunisia can be boiled down, if somewhat crudely, into these two camps: for Nidaa Tunis and a return to the progressive, French-style secularism of former president Habib Bourguiba, and for Ennahda and the rebirth of a Tunisian political identity rooted in Islam. This divide is the theme of the current crisis and likely will remain even in the new constitutional order.
The Fractious Politics of Syria’s Kurds
By Barak Barfi
December 18, 2013
On November 12, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian Kurdish group affiliated with the Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), announced the creation of an interim government in areas under its control in northeastern Syria. The plan has the potential to increase rifts within the opposition and exacerbate regional tensions. To minimize them, Washington should help forge a pan-Kurdish coalition that can devote all of its attention to fighting al-Qaeda elements seeking to exploit Syria’s civil war.
The Syrian Regime’s Military Solution to the War
By Jeffrey White
December 18, 2013
It has become commonplace to say that “there is no military solution” to the conflict in Syria. That claim, invoked by Western officials including the U.S. secretary of state, is used to justify an emphasis on diplomacy (the Geneva II process) and limitations on assistance to the armed opposition. The war could indeed have a military outcome, and in light of current trends, that outcome could be a regime victory. The outlines of a regime strategy for winning the war are visible. This strategy hinges on the staying power of the regime and its allies, the generation of adequate forces, operational success, and continued divisions within rebel forces. It is subject to serious constraints, especially limitations on the size and effectiveness of regime and associated forces, and “game changers” could alter its course. But a regime victory is possible — and that is what the regime is counting on.