The Real Challenges of Security Cooperation with Our Arab Partners for the Next Administration

The next Administration faces serious problems and issues in its security cooperation with its Arab allies that cannot be papered over with reassuring rhetoric. Some problems are all too obvious results of the rise of ISIS; the legacy of the U.S. invasion of Iraq; and the problems in the fighting in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. Other problems, however, are less obvious, but equally or more important.

A new report by the Burke Chair addresses these problems, and is available on the CSIS website at

One such problem is the need for effective cooperation in the civil dimension. This need is largely ignored or downplayed in the current focus on war and counterterrorism, but is as important as any aspect of cooperation in the military and counterterrorism dimensions.

Events since the beginning of the Arab Spring have shown with brutal clarity that there can be no security without stability. Military and security solutions are only half the solution to bring an end to terrorism, extremism, insurgency, and conflict.

So far, however, all of the civil forces that have shaped the Arab Spring and regional upheavals and violence— failed governance, corruption, failed secularism and the resulting rise of extremism, breakdowns in the rule of law, poor economic development and gross overreliance on the state sector, unfair distribution of income, hyperurbanization and population migration, massive pressure from population growth, and poor youth employmen t—remain key problems. In fact, most have grown steadily worse since studies like the UN’s Arab Human Development Report for 2002 began to warn that they were pushing the region to the crisis point.

The combined impact of extremism and civil war in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Libya are all cases in point. All of the forces that create civil instability and sources of internal anger and conflict have grown far worse since the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011.

The challenges in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia have also grown sharply. Moreover, the Gulf and other oil exporting states are now only beginning to fully react to the impact of a nearly 50% cut in petroleum export revenues. Additionally, only a few MENA states have attempted the kind of comprehensive reform program Saudi Arabia has with Vision 2030, and no state has yet shown it can deal with its growing civil problems.

More, however, is also needed by way of security cooperation. The U.S. Department of Defense is all too correct in stating there is no military solution to any major source of extremism and conflict in the MENA region. “Nation building” may present major challenges, but foreign aid is potentially a key tool in helping states like Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen create effective governance, restore their economies, and offer all their people hope and development.

Read the entire report on the CSIS website at

Photo credit: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Stephane Belcher