US Defense Treaty with (P)GCC: A Dream or Reality?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Javad Heirannia

A recent meeting between the US President Barack Obama and heads of the member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC] in Camp David, Washington, was wrapped up without Arab participants of that meeting obtaining strong security guarantees from the United States.

At the end of the Camp David Summit, Obama, the emirs of Qatar and Kuwait, as well as the officials of Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, issued a final statement in which they noted that the United States and the member states of the (P)GCC will work together to counter what they called “Iran's destabilizing activities” in the Middle East region.

The meeting came to an end with the final statement without Arab leaders seeing their demands met and this was quite evident in the level at which Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain had taken part in the summit.

According to a paragraph in the final statement, “The United States shares with our (P)GCC partners a deep interest in a region that is peaceful and prosperous, and a vital interest in supporting the political independence and territorial integrity, safe from external aggression, of our (P)GCC partners. The United States policy to use all elements of power to secure our core interests in the Gulf region, and to deter and confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War, is unequivocal.

The next paragraph says, “The United States is prepared to work jointly with the (P)GCC states to deter and confront an external threat to any (P)GCC state's territorial integrity that is inconsistent with the UN Charter. In the event of such aggression or the threat of such aggression, the United States stands ready to work with our (P)GCC partners to determine urgently what action may be appropriate, using the means at our collective disposal, including the potential use of military force, for the defense of our (P)GCC partners.

To see to what extent the joint meeting between the (P)GCC countries and the United States has been able to meet the goals of these countries, a review of those countries’ expectations and demands before the meeting is necessary.

The main goal that Arab states of the Persian Gulf sought to achieve through the meeting was to conclude a mutual defense treaty with Washington. However, they did not manage to achieve that goal. What has been mentioned in the aforesaid paragraphs of the final statement is, in fact, simple security guarantees that the United States has offered these countries, which, of course are not new. In fact, the member states of the (P)GCC were trying to achieve the highest degree of security cooperation with Washington in the form of a “joint defense treaty,” but just fell short of meeting that goal.

In fact, with regard to security matters, they were trying to upgrade the level of cooperation with Washington from simple “partnership” to the higher level of “coalition,” but failed to do so. We know that coalition is the highest level of cooperation between two sides in international system. However, the question is why a joint defense treaty with the United States is of such a high importance to the (P)GCC?

Quite recently, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) carried out a study on the United States’ effort to boost its ties with the Persian Gulf littoral countries. Part of that study, which has been published under the title of “Beyond Camp David: A Gradualist Strategy to Upgrade the US-Gulf Security Partnership,” has pointed to challenges, concerns, benefits and opportunities for upgrading cooperation between the United States and Arab countries. The authors have proposed that the United States should take a gradualist and step by step approach to upgrading its relations with the Persian Gulf littoral states, so that, on the one hand, security and military relations between the two sides are strengthened, while on the other hand, challenges in this regard are reduced as much as possible.

In short, one may claim that the main goal of offering this proposal is to upgrade relations between the United States and the Persian Gulf Arab countries from simple partnership to coalition. This has happened at a time that such a joint defense treaty actually exists between the United States and several countries, including Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Australia. According to those treaties, the United States is required to take advantage of all its power to establish stability and security in the region where those countries are located. NATO believes that establishment of such a coalition with the Persian Gulf Arab states would entail certain risks and, as such, needs more careful study.

As said before, the United States believes that conclusion of a joint defense and military treaty with the member states of the (P)GCC will have consequences for Washington.

One of the consequences of such a treaty is that in case of a direct military conflict between Iran and Arab countries, the United States will be obliged on the basis of its obligations as per the aforesaid military treaty, to engage in war and military measures against Iran. On the other hand, Iran's reaction to the United States’ intervention in such a conflict would be very quick and firm and it would probably lead to an all-out war. Iran is capable of targeting the United States’ interests in the region directly or indirectly.

One of the risks that the United States will face after signing a joint defense treaty with Arab countries is possible involvement of Washington in ethnic wars in the Middle East region. This development would pose a direct threat to the United States’ interests in the entire region. As a result of such a coalition, the United States may finally have to enter into direct confrontation with Iran in order to help its Arab allies. This is a very complicated scenario for Americans to handle and nobody under any conditions can predict its exact consequences for the region.

Conclusion of such a treaty with the member states of the (P)GCC could be also costly for the United States from another angle. Although maintaining the stability of the Persian Gulf littoral state has been always on the United States’ agenda, Washington has been also facing pressures in this regard.

Some circles both inside and outside the United States have been questioning and even challenging Washington’s support for dictatorial regimes in the Middle East region. Although the United States follows a policy of “balance of powers” in the Persian Gulf region, which is based on a realistic approach, existing threats in the region have clearly proven that inattention to subnational groups in these countries as well as the quality of governance by regional regimes have been among major sources of threat.

Therefore, the United States cannot ensure its security in the long term by following the policy of “stabilizing” dictatorial regimes in the region. This is why in his recent interview with the New York Times, Obama warned that the United States should not ignore those threats that have their roots in certain countries of the Persian Gulf. Addressing the Persian Gulf littoral states in this interview, he explicitly said, “I think the biggest threats that they face may not be coming from Iran invading. It’s going to be from dissatisfaction inside their own countries.... That’s a tough conversation to have, but it’s one that we have to have.” During the same interview, Obama emphasized that he would try, in parallel to bolstering security relations with Arab countries in the Persian Gulf, to encourage these countries to implement reforms within their borders.

Such explicit remarks, even when considered as a mere announcement of US position, show that if these reforms are not implemented, the United States and its Arab allies in the (P)GCC will have to pay a higher price in coming years. Continuation of developments in North Africa and the Middle East and persistence of the Arab Spring developments in countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain can impose a great cost on the United States in its effort to establish its purported order in the region. The wave of such developments has already started in countries like Bahrain.

It was for this reason that the United States came up with the “Greater Middle East” initiative in 2004, which in one way signaled the failure of the realistic approach in realizing the United States’ purported security order in the Middle East region. This means that the realistic order put the highest emphasis on the need to provide unquestioning support for ruling regimes. However, the quality of threats that existed in the region, including terrorism, presence of extremist and terrorist groups, and widespread domestic dissatisfaction… called for more attention to the internal situation of these governments as the black box of regional situation, and it was this idea that was put forth through the Greater Middle East initiative.

Regardless of the real goals that Washington sought behind that initiative and also regardless of whether such a plan is really pursued or not, the mere talk of this plan shows that regional threats could not have been handled through the policy of suppression that was followed by regional regimes and the United States’ support for that policy on the pretext of establishing “stability.”

Therefore, when it comes to providing all-out support to the Persian Gulf littoral countries, the United States is under heavy pressure from the public opinion. Of course, this does not mean that the United States is very serious about the public opinion. From the viewpoint of Washington’s interests in the region, entering into a joint defense treaty with the member states of the (P)GCC can have a negative impact on the United States’ relations with Iran within framework of the ongoing nuclear talks. It may also lead to the emergence of new regional blocs, which at the end of the day will not meet the interests of the United States.

On the other hand, it should be noted that conclusion of a joint defense treaty between countries is the last step in security cooperation between those countries. This means that countries can define various levels of security and military relations between themselves, but entering a joint defense treaty would mean that if one member of that treaty is attacked, all members must take action to defend it. It will also imply that all members of the treaty have a common definition of “threat,” and all of them share a single viewpoint on how to fend off that threat.

It seems that the United States and the member countries of the (P)GCC have still a long way to go before reaching such a stage of close cooperation and their security cooperation may never enter this phase.

The unwillingness of the United States to give more serious security assurances to the member states of the Persian Gulf is quite evident in this paragraph of the final statement that was issued by Washington and the (P)GCC countries, where it says, “The United States is prepared to work jointly with the (P)GCC states to deter and confront an external threat to any (P)GCC state's territorial integrity that is inconsistent with the UN Charter.”

Making this cooperation conditional on an external threat that would be “inconsistent with the UN Charter,” clearly proves that the United States has refrained from giving any serious security guarantees to the member states of the (P)GCC. Otherwise, it could have announced its support for these countries without this condition because the absence of this condition would have been a sign of Washington’s determination to upgrade its cooperation with the (P)GCC countries to the level of a security coalition.

Key Words: US, Defense Treaty, (P)GCC, Camp David Summit, Barack Obama, Final Statement, Arab States, NATO, Middle East, Heirannia

Source: Mehr News Agency
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

*Photo Credit: SUSRIS, Aljazeera America

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