On Arab NATO (1)

Wednesday, August 29, 2018


Interview with Ali Akbar Asadi
Ph.D. in International Relations & Middle East Analyst

Q: About a year has passed since the administration of US President Donald Trump put forth the idea of establishing a military and security coalition known as “Arab NATO.” In your opinion, what is the main reason behind establishing such a coalition by the United States? What is your viewpoint about priorities that Washington and Riyadh have in this regard?

A: Establishment of such a coalition is to be discussed in October during a meeting to be held in Washington themed “the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA).” The meeting is to be attended by the member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council along with Jordan and Egypt. Americans pursue a number of structural goals through establishment of this military coalition, which they have been pursing since several decades ago. The most prominent of those goals is to establish a powerful military coalition in the region in a way to guarantee their presence in the Middle East. On the other hand, this coalition would allow Washington to reduce the cost of the United States’ direct presence in this region. This goal has been pursued at various times and through different policies, but without much success. At the present time, Americans believe that the member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plus Egypt and Jordan are in a state that allows them to take steps toward establishment of such a military coalition. On the one hand, these countries enjoy good financial and military potential for this purpose and most of them are among major buyers of weapons. On the other hand, at the present juncture, there are talks about the faceoff between Trump’s administration and Iran and this is why Americans believe that establishment of this coalition is an operational necessity to curtail Iran’s regional influence. Washington also plans to mount double pressure on Iran from propaganda and psychological standpoints through establishment of this coalition.

At the same time, establishment of such a coalition can increase sales of American weapons to these countries and somehow increase control of Americans on military equipment sold to them, thus dispelling concerns about how these weapons would be used. In my opinion, this coalition can counter the presence of Russia and China in this region by supporting the presence of Western powers, especially the United States. As for the most important goals followed by Saudi Arabia through establishment of “Arab NATO,” one can mention the effort launched by Riyadh to be recognized as the leader of the Arab world, which has been pursued by Saudi Arabia as a goal since many years ago. In addition, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has been putting constant emphasis on the strategy to counter Iran’s regional influence, which can be another goal behind establishment of Arab NATO. In the meantime, establishment of this coalition can do away with doubts about continuation of the strategic partnership between Saudi Arabia and the United States and this military coalition can guarantee this issue for Saudi officials.

Q: In view of Trump administration’s not-so-brilliant track records with respect to remaining committed to the United States’ promises and also given the tension between Trump and leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) during its recent summit in Brussels, can regional allies of the United States be able to trust Trump’s promises on “Arab NATO?”

A: The main criticism that Trump has of NATO is about its high cost for the United States. He wants other NATO members to undertake a large part of NATO’s costs, so that the United States would not be forced to trade its national security for other countries’ security. However, as for the establishment of Arab NATO, the goals pursued by the United States are contrary to that of NATO. Here, Washington’s goal is to reduce the cost of direct military presence and commitments of the United States in this region and, on the other hand, task its allies in the Middle East with those commitments. Whether these countries can or cannot trust Trump’s administration is not clear and must be discussed along with other factors. In my opinion, Arab leaders who want to join this coalition have certainly done necessary assessment on the degree to which the US government can be trusted with regard to such a sensitive issue.

Q: In your opinion and in technical terms, how likely is establishment of this military coalition? How efficient do you think this coalition will be in fulfilling its duties in view of the existing high tension between Saudi Arabia and Qatar?

A: A certain degree of potential as well as good grounds always existed among regional Arab states for the establishment of this (Arab NATO) coalition, including relative convergence with regard to common threats, especially what they described as the Iran threat. One can claim that unanimity among these countries with regard to this threat has increased during the past ten years. In addition to that, their financial, military and weapon capabilities, along with the United States’ aid for them, have also increased. This process helps establishment of such a military coalition. On the other hand, the existing challenges to this coalition are much more numerous than opportunities. Without a doubt, differences among Arab countries of the Persian Gulf, especially differences that Qatar has with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and even Egypt, are considered a major challenge as these differences do not seem to be surmountable in the near future. In the meantime, the attitude of these countries toward what they describe as the “Iran threat” is not the same, because this threat is taken more seriously by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. However, Qatar, Oman and even Egypt and Jordan do not feel much threat from Iran. This issue can be another important obstacle to establishment of this military coalition. When it comes to operational efficiency, “the war on Yemen” is a good example where Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are stalled by major problems and have not been able to achieve much in this country. There are many doubts that military forces of these countries would be able to launch further operations in other areas. These armies are facing serious problems from the viewpoint of manpower and even control and use of their military equipment. Apart from Egypt, which has a good number of infantry troops, no other members of a would-be Arab NATO have a remarkable number of infantry troops. Doubts about future political stability of these countries is another major challenge to establishment of this military coalition. Egypt and Jordan are grappling with many economic problems while there are doubts about future political stability in Saudi Arabia as well. The issue of trustworthiness of Trump can be another possible obstacle to creation of this coalition. In my opinion, the opportunistic approach, which Trump has usually taken to such agreements, can face the effort made to launch this coalition with more problems in later stages.

Q: It seems that the United States is planning to provide grounds for security and military cooperation between Israel and Washington’s Arab allies in the Persian Gulf. If an Arab NATO is established, to what degree is it possible to cooperate with Israel?

A: There are analyses denoting that Israel is possible to cooperate with this coalition, especially for the provision of intelligence. One of the main goals of this plan is to replace the “Israel threat” with the “Iran threat” in the Arab world and pave the way for normalization of relations between Arab states and Israel to provide grounds for normalization of Tel Aviv’s position in the region.

Q: While one of the most important goals behind establishment of Arab NATO is to counter the Islamic Republic of Iran, what options are available to Iran in order to defend its interests?

A: There are different options for Iran in the current stage and after this coalition is formed. Despite the current differences that Iran has with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, there are no structural and serious problems between Iran and totality of the Arab world and all Arab countries. At the present time, Iran has good relations with Qatar and Oman and, apart from the period of the imposed war with Iraq, it has had historical and amicable relations with Kuwait as well. Even the United Arab Emirates has enjoyed vast trade ties with Iran despite its antagonistic political positions and regional activities. In my opinion, by improving its relations with the Arab world and trying to reduce tensions, Iran can prevent establishment of such a coalition. In addition, Iran can establish coalitions of its own as a countermeasure. Such coalitions can be formed in cooperation with Turkey, Syria and even Iraq at regional level, and in cooperation with Russia and China in a strategic manner at international level. On the other hand, in order to counter Arab NATO, which will most probably be of a Western and American nature, Iran can use Russia and China cards as counterbalance against it.


Interviewer: Ramin Nadimi
 Expert in Defense and Military Affairs

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.
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