Challenges and Opportunities in the CENTCOM AOR
March 4, 2013
The US needs to comprehensively reexamine its strategy and force posture in the USCENTCOM area of responsibility (AOR). America faces multiple challenges with a fiscally constrained environment at home, and a demanding mix of rising strategic concerns across Asia and the Middle East. This requires a level of strategic triage where the US does not overcommit its resources, as well as a new emphasis on cooperative security efforts with both traditional allies and emerging regional partners.
The Burke Chair at CSIS has developed a comprehensive new briefing that highlights the key issues involved. This report is titled “Challenges and Opportunities in the CENTCOM AOR”, and is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/130304_challenges_opportunities_centcom_aor.pdf
The USCENTCOM AOR now involves four major functions where the US must modernize and adapt its current force posture:
- The US must shift away from a focus on terrorism per se to the much broader mix of threats posed by Islamic extremism and the struggles within the Islamic world. These no longer are driven by Al Qa’ida central, or by terrorism. They involve civil conflicts, insurgencies, symmetric warfare, and uncertain mixes of state and non-state actors. They are driven by struggles between more secular and more religious elements, struggles between Sunni factions, and struggles between Sunnis and Shi’ites.
- The US must withdraw from Afghanistan and reshape its role in Central Asia, the Caspian, and Pakistan. The new strategy the US issued in early 2012 recognized that the US is now sharply overcommitted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia. The US needs to rethink its posture in the entire region, and probably reduce its role to one where strong country teams work to help individual countries reach stability and security while making the necessary political reforms. The US has little to gain from attempting to play a new “Great Game” in a natural Russian and Chinese sphere of influence, or becoming indirectly involved in Pakistan and India in ways that could affect a future conflict in South Asia.
- The US must adopt its military and political posture to deal with the instability and ongoing upheavals in the USCENTCOM parts of the Middle East and North Africa. In contrast, the US does have major strategic interest in the strategic alignments and stability of the nations in the MENA area – which include key oil exports, critical trade routes, and commitments to both Arab friends and allies and Israel. It needs to preserve its present military ties if possible, and shape a military role that will help regional powers in developing more modern and democratic governments with as much stability as possible.
- The US must work with its Gulf Arab allies and other neighboring allies to preserve the security of the Gulf and the world’s flow of oil exports, and deal with the rising threat Iran poses in terms of asymmetric warfare, missiles, and potentially nuclear weapons. The US needs to work with its Arab allies to create a structure of deterrence and defense that will do as much as possible to deter Iran, and push it towards negotiations. It must also, however, engage the GCC states, the UK, and France to be able to defend the Gulf against Iran, rapidly restore the flow of trade and petroleum, and deal with Iranian asymmetric attacks and missile strikes. It must be ready to carry out preventive strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities and persist, if necessary, to ensure Iran does not become a nuclear power.
These topics are unpacked and discussed at length in Burke Chair’s new report, "Challenges and Opportunities in the CENTCOM AOR”, available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/130304_challenges_opportunities_centcom_aor.pdf.
Other recent Burke Chair Reports include:
Securing the Gulf: Key Threats and Options for Enhanced Cooperation
The Uncertain Role of the ANSF in Transition: Establishing Real World Criteria and Metrics
U.S. and Iranian Strategic Competition: Turkey and the South Caucasus