The Biden Administration’s Security Challenges in the Gulf

The U.S. needs to make fundamental changes to its security efforts in the Persian/Arab Gulf and the Middle East. The U.S. has done more to destabilize Gulf security over the last four years than to establish a stable structure of deterrence and defense. At the same time, the threat in the region has evolved far beyond extremist groups, such as ISIS, and past assessments of Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts.

If the Biden Administration is to succeed in creating a new structure of deterrence and defense in the Gulf, it must look beyond extremism and issues like the Israeli-Palestinian peace process – important as they are. It must rebuild and strengthen its security partnerships with Arab states and address a wide range of new security issues.

There are no easy, “good,” or simple solution to these challenges, and many will require years of patient efforts meant simply to contain the problems involved, rather than to solve them. The U.S. does, however, have a wide range of options, and it can make progress in many areas. There is still much to build upon even if the Biden Administration acts promptly and consistently to address the full range of challenges involved.

The broader issues in Gulf security include:

  • Restoring Trust in the U.S. as a Strategic Partner

  • Expanding the Role of USCENTCOM to Help Create a Real Gulf Cooperation Council Defense Posture

  • Restoring the U.S. Emphasis on Human Rights and the Rule of Law, But Making These Efforts in a Practical Context

  • Reassessing the Strategic Importance of the Region and the Gulf

  • Looking Beyond Terrorism and Extremism

  • Dealing with Competition from China, Russia, and Turkey

  • Developing a Clear Strategy Towards Syria and Lebanon

  • Focusing on Iraq as a Strategic Keystone

  • Addressing the Need for a Real-World Solution to the War in Yemen – How Does This End?

Meeting each of these challenges is critical to dealing with the threats posed by Iran. The U.S. also, however, needs to find as many practical ways as to deal with Iran that not only establishes a stable structure of deterrence and containment but also encourages Iran to change its behavior and focus on its development and the welfare of its people.

These efforts must include:

  • Trading Sanctions, Aggression, and Threats for Regime Security and Development

  • Dealing with Iran’s Growing Axis of Influence

  • Reassessing the Iranian Nuclear Threat

  • Focusing on the Broader Iranian Missile Threat

  • Meeting the Challenges from Iran’s Naval-Missile-Air Forces

This report entitled, The Biden Administration’s Security Challenges in the Gulf, is available for download at

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He has served as a consultant on Afghanistan to the United States Department of Defense and the United States Department of State.