Security Challenges and Threats in the Gulf
September 8, 2008
The next President and Congress will have to deal with all of the security issues that affect the Gulf, not just the Iraq War and Iranian proliferation. The attached briefing provides a summary overview of the issues that the US and its allies need to address, with supporting graphics and maps. This presentation is available on the CSIS web site at:
The presentation shows that the policy challenges go far beyond the US. Both Gulf and US policymakers need to reassess the priorities in dealing with the threats to the Gulf.
Regardless of the outcome of the war in Iraq, the US, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, and other US allies with interests in the Gulf will need to adapt their forces to deal with the real-world threats in the region. They need to make more effective efforts at cooperation, creating forces that are focused on real-world needs for deterrence and defense, and that examine the full range of threats and not merely the most obvious military and security issues.
The Evolving Range of Threats
The Gulf does not face abstract threats or abstract potential enemies. At this point in time, it faces seven very real security challenges:
• Conventional Military Threats and the Lack of Unity and Mission Focus in the GCC
• Asymmetric warfare and “Wars of Intimidation”
• Iranian Missiles and Proliferation
• Iraqi Instability
• Energy and Critical Infrastructure
o Region-wide impact of Neo-Salafi Islamist extremism. Franchising of Al Qa’ida, Sunni vs. Shi’ite tension, and its impact inside and outside the region
o War in Afghanistan, potential destabilization of a nuclear Pakistan, and impact on proliferation and Islamist extremism in the Middle East
• Demographics, Foreign Labor, and Social Change
In every case, the GCC states have the resources to develop an effective mix of deterrent and defensive capabilities that will be reinforced by support from the US, UK, and France. The key issues are whether they will act and whether they will act with the necessary degree of unity.
Conventional Military Threats and the Lack of Unity and Mission Focus in the GCC
The present lack of internal unity and effective leadership are more of a threat to the GCC states than Iran or any outside power. Their key problem is not the risk that they will face a dominant foreign enemy, but rather that they will continue to bicker and fail to develop a proper degree of integration, interoperability, and effectiveness in performing key military missions. The main threat that the GCC states now face does not consist of Iran, Yemen, or terrorism, but their own leaders and their failure to look beyond petty feuding, fears of their own military and security forces, an obsession with buying different and better “glitter factor” weapons than their neighbors, and an unwillingness to come to grips with the details of creating effective joint forces.
This is not the fault of the GCC military, but rather of heads of state. Ever since the founding of the GCC, Gulf military officers have raised the need to look beyond national boundaries and create effective deterrence and defense throughout the Gulf, and have done so with active US encouragement. No nation can really defend itself unless its neighbors have equally effective capabilities. Maritime traffic, offshore facilities, borders and ports, and coastal facilities are all too vulnerable. Flight times from Iran and Yemen are a matter of minutes, and missile flight times are even shorter. National defense in depth is far too limited to be effective without integrated defense in breadth along the entire coastal area of the Gulf.
The problem is that Gulf heads of state have failed to properly react to these realities ever since the founding of the GCC, and have either ignored military advice or penalized those officers who speak out in favor of more realistic military and national security policies. This has been coupled with a de facto acceptance of dependence on the US, rather than efforts to create an effective partnership based on creating effective local deterrent and defense capabilities mixed with reinforcement and support by US forces.
At the same time, it would be almost absurd to describe Iran as a potential hegemon, or Yemen as a major threat, if the GCC states develop integrated battle management and command and control; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (IS&R), and mission-oriented interoperable or joint standing forces in critical areas like maritime security, mine warfare, and air and missile defense.
Yemen’s forces are now relatively small, poorly equipped with increasingly obsolescent equipment, lacking in readiness and sustainability, and are not trained or organized for power projection.
Yemen’s forces are now relatively small, poorly equipped with increasingly obsolescent equipment, lacking in readiness and sustainability, and are not trained or organized for power projection. Iran has a military advantage in only one largely meaningless area: total manpower. Iran cannot effectively use this advantage. It cannot hope to deploy large ground forces across the Gulf unless the GCC states and their allies remain passive. Unless the GCC states fail to act to keep Iraq unified and under a national government, Iraq will act as a major buffer to any Iranian move to the West. Kuwait will present a major water barrier that any Iranian force concentration would have to cross. And any meaningful Iranian preparations for such action would be highly visible, provide extensive strategic warning, and be extremely vulnerable to air and missile attack.
The GCC states have a lead in every other aspect of force building and conventional warfare capability. It has an almost incredible lead in military resources, and one that has steadily accelerated over time. During the last decade, the GCC states have spent an average of more than seven times as much on national security as Iran. They have signed new arms import orders that are some 16 times larger since the end of the Gulf War ($89 billion for the GCC versus $5.6 billion for Iran).
In terms of ground forces, Iran not only faces major barriers in using its ground forces, it is sharply inferior in modern tank strength even if one uses a very generous definition of what is “modern” for Iran. The GCC has an even larger lead in overall armored vehicle strength, and its inferiority in total artillery strength is offset by the fact that most of Iran’s inventory is towed artillery purchased for relatively static warfare in the Iran-Iraq War; the GCC states have parity in self-propelled, maneuver weapons.
The GCC states have a striking advantage in combat capable fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft, and air force modernization (Again, even if a very generous definition is used of “high quality aircraft” for Iran.) The GCC states also have an advantage in modern air control and warning aircraft, IS&R aircraft, and other special purpose aircraft and enablers. This advantage is compounded by the fact that most Gulf states have much more modern and capable surface-to-air missiles – some with limited ballistic missile defense capabilities – and in national sensor and battle management systems. If they choose to do so, the GCC states have the resources to create fully integrated air and missile defense systems that will remain far more sophisticated than those Iran can afford, and to develop an interoperable and integrated mix of air capabilities that will preserve a decisive edge over Iran in air-to-air, AirLand warfare, and sea-air warfare and surveillance.
The GCC states’ lead in naval capabilities is less striking in ship numbers, and the GCC states have often wasted large amounts on over-designed surface warfare vessels, while ignoring the need to deal with mine warfare and the defense of offshore and coastal facilities. The fact remains, however, that much of the Iranian navy is obsolete, its submarines are vulnerable to US and British Navy attack, and its shore facilities are vulnerable to air and cruise missile attack. This is an area where the GCC states need to maintain an effective partnership with the US, British, and French navies to deal with worst-case naval threats, but have ample resources to deal with the more probable lower level and asymmetric threats discussed in the next section.
Moreover, all of the previous comparisons do not count US, British, or French forces in the balance, or talk about the rate of technology transfer open to the GCC states. As the brief shows, the US is committed to maintaining a decisive edge in military weapons and technology that will both enhance its own forces – particularly in areas like littoral warfare, IS&R, and the ability to penetrate any future air defenses Iran may acquire – and to give the GCC states the ability to buy superior weapons and technology for their own use. Europe offers a wide range of additional weapons and technology, some in areas where the US does not have systems as well suited to GCC needs, and the GCC can buy from Russia and China. Moreover, the US is making major improvements in its ability to project ground forces into areas like the Gulf. Regardless of the outcome of the Iraq War, this will improve a key area of US ability to support the GCC states.
In short, the highest single priority for Gulf security is for the US, the GCC states, and other US allies GCC heads of state to work together in ways that make the leaders of the GCC states focus on the following priorities:
• Leaders must take deterrence, conflict prevention, and defense as seriously as their militaries.
• End pointless intra-state feuding; create a real GCC.
• Interoperability and standardization versus glitter factor and prestige buys. Coordinated requirements and procurement planning.
• Focus on key mission needs.
• Integrated battle management and IS&R.
• Standardized, demanding, real-world CPX and FTX training, contingency plans and doctrine.
• Joint warfare planning, end stove piping, and prepare for real time defense in breadth and width.
• Establish partnership with US, UK, and France; not just accept de facto dependence.
Asymmetric Warfare and “Wars of Intimidation”
The fact that the GCC states now pose the main security to their own interests does not mean that Iran does not pose real and tangible threats, or that the Southern Gulf states can ignore the risk that other neighboring states or non-state actors pose in the form of asymmetric warfare.
The most likely real-world threats do not come from formal conflicts, but rather from a wide range of low level conflicts, threats or “wars of intimidation,” and unofficial wars of attrition. Many of these potential conflicts have already taken place in a previous form.
The US, the GCC states, and other US allies cannot afford to ignore the particular threat posed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards, particularly its naval branch and Al Quds force. These latter forces are particularly important because a number of their exercises – although nominally defensive – practice tactics and actions that lend themselves to the use of threats and asymmetric warfare against Southern Gulf states. While such threats are not most severe to the Strait of Hormuz, they affect the entire Gulf. There is no need to break a bottle at the neck.
The US, the GCC states, and other US allies states also need to pay careful attention to the worst-case scenario for such Iranian action: major efforts to limit maritime traffic through or into the Gulf. As is the case with less severe scenarios, the problem is not that Iran has any clear intentions to initiate such conflicts today. It is rather that these are the most likely forms of Iranian attack in some unforeseen crisis, represent the most severe challenges to forces organized to meet more conventional threats, and are the highest priority in terms of maintaining a high level of deterrence and rapid response capability.
Iranian Missiles and Proliferation
US intelligence estimates, and IAEA reports, indicate that there will probably be several more years in which to attempt diplomatic solutions to Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, although Iran is already actively acquiring long-range missiles and may be developing chemical and biological weapons for them.
While Iran has denied that it has a nuclear program, and has described its missile programs largely as threats to Israel and the US, it is clear that most of its current forces have ranges suited to strike targets in the Gulf. Its efforts to strengthen such forces are largely directed towards enhancing its security presence in the Gulf region, and giving it more deterrent capability and leverage against the US and GCC states.
Accordingly, US, the GCC states, and other US allies need to start now to address these threats and to examine their options for doing so. They also need to understand that the US NIE in no way said that this threat is less real because Iran seems to have abandoned a formal nuclear weapons program in 2003. Substantial new evidence has emerged since the NIE was issued. Moreover, the US Director of National Intelligence has provided important clarifications to the NIE that make it clear that this remains a key security problem. There are also key features of Iran’s enrichment activities that raise a strong probability that they were designed for military purposes.
As for Iran’s missile programs, it is clear that this is one of Iran’s highest military priorities. What is not clear is what missile forces Iran will create, or what their capabilities will be with or without a nuclear warhead. One key issue is how precise they will become in the future, and whether they will become accurate enough to hit critical targets in the Gulf with a conventional or non-nuclear warhead.
In short, the US and its allies need to begin military contingency planning, and to examine several major options:
• Active and passive defense,
• Acquiring own nuclear weapons, and/or
• US extended deterrence.
The US and GCC states can wait for diplomacy to determine whether there is a nuclear threat for time being, but its need to start considering the following alternatives now:
• Ballistic and cruise missile defenses maybe cost-effective simply to deal with conventional threat.
• A number of systems offer both improved air and missile defense.
• Need quiet talks with US on containment options; extended deterrence.
• Open support for IAEA and diplomatic options key passive approach.
Regardless of what the GCC states think of the US invasion of Iraq, they will face a massive increase in their future threat level if Iraq does not remain unified, if the US fails to help Iraq achieve security and stability, and if Iraq does not move forward in political accommodation and development.
There has been major military progress in Iraqi during the last year, although it is uncertain and could be reversed. Sectarian and ethnic divisions remain a major threat, and one that could create a power vacuum for Iran to exploit and/or lead to much broader sectarian tension between Sunni and Shi’ite outside Iraq.
Helping Iraq build up its own forces, actively supporting efforts at political accommodation from within Iraq, and foreign aid are all key steps the GCC states could take to enhance their security and help the Iraqi people.
Energy and Critical Infrastructure
Energy is the key source of revenue to the Gulf states, and the driving force behind US and other strategic interests in the region. The GCC states face special security problems because of the location and nature of their critical infrastructure. This increases their vulnerability to Iranian threats and use of asymmetric warfare, but also to terrorists and states using non-state actors as proxies. It is also critical that GCC states recognize that if they do not create effective deterrent and defense capabilities, outside states will come under extreme pressure to intervene to protect their energy supplies. For all the reasons discussed earlier, GCC energy facilities and exports will also grow steadily more vulnerable with time, as will ships carrying Gulf cargoes, and Gulf crude, product, and LNG exports.
Energy is also only part of the problem. The GCC states already have an extraordinary vulnerability because of their dependence on desalination and electric power facilities located on or near the Gulf coast. This vulnerability will increase readily, growing by some 60% by 2020.
As a result, the US, the GCC states, and other US allies need to give the active and passive defense of critical infrastructure, and suitable response capability, higher priority in the future, and examine ways to cooperate to reduce the vulnerability of any one set of facilities or GCC state.
The threat of terrorism remains a major problem, and one that requires steady improvements in cooperation, on a bilateral basis between the US and each friendly Gulf state, within the GCC, and with other outside states. It also requires a steady improvement in “jointness” between military, paramilitary, law enforcement, and intelligence forces.
Region-wide impact of Neo-Salafi Islamist extremism. Franchising of Al Qa’ida, Sunni vs. Shi’ite tension, and its impact inside and outside the region.
While counterterrorism capabilities in the GCC states have improved strikingly since 2001, there is still a wide range of hostile organizations in the region. Al Qa’ida in the Peninsula also remains a serious problem, particularly in Saudi Arabia. Further major action is needed to:
• Directly engage in ideological struggle for the future of Islam and religious legitimacy.
• Continue to strengthen counterterrorism forces and capabilities.
• Improve cooperation in GCC in counterterrorism and intelligence.
• Strengthen border, coastal, and port security.
• Reduce sectarian tensions and discrimination.
• Fairer treatment of foreign labor.
• Strengthen bilateral cooperation with U.S. and Europe.
• Strengthen cooperation with Interpol, UN, and other regional counterterrorism centers.
• Aid Yemen and poorer regional states.
War in Afghanistan, potential destabilization of a nuclear Pakistan, and impact on proliferation and Islamist extremism in the Middle East
US intelligence estimates indicates that the center of Al Qa’ida activity remains in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the fighting in Iraq is now almost peripheral to the broader threat that Al Qa’ida poses to the region. The situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is also deteriorating in spite of NATO/ISAF and US tactical victories in Afghanistan.
The Gulf states cannot intervene in this situation in a military sense, but they do have several options that can reduce this threat from outside the region:
• Help Afghanistan and Pakistan directly engage in ideological struggle for the future of Islam and religious legitimacy.
• Development aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
• Continued support for US and NATO/ISAF deployments.
• Act to prevent transfers of funds, “volunteers,” and suspect personal movements.
Demographics, Foreign Labor, and Social Change
Finally, the US, the GCC states, and other US allies should not see security solely in terms of military threats or terrorism. Gulf security depends at least as much on successful development, job creation and productive employment, and equitable income distribution. Much therefore depends on meeting two key challenges: finding jobs for a wave of native young men and women that will steadily increase the size of the labor force through 2050. The second is to ensure that foreign labor is given proper wages and protection.
The Gulf states face a steady near term population growth. Their population rose by 5 million during 2000 and 2005 and will rise by 6.6 million more between 2005 and 2010. At the same time, the Gulf states already have the lowest native participation in the labor force in the world, and a nearly 40% overall dependence on foreign labor, There are also gross differences in per capita income even from state to state and these are even more acute within given states.
More broadly, population growth will continue to be a major problem through 2050, and a youth bulge will present major problems for job creation through at least 2030.
This presentation is very large at 232 pages and almost 8 Megs, to make it easier to download this presentation the file has been broken up into three aproximately equal sized parts.