The so-called Arab Spring has proven to be a serious security crisis in the Arabian Gulf and has brought members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) closer together; Coupled with the growing Iranian threat, GCC states are now unified more than ever. What is most vital to the GCC now is more flexibility from the United States in its export policies to facilitate the integration of GCC military forces and provide them with a strong deterrence capability. This is what senior Arab officials and defense experts emphasized in the one-day conference that was organized by INEGMA North America on June 3, 2013 at the Stimson Center in Washington D.C. American defense officials at the INEGMA North America inaugural event presented the U.S. point of view on developments in the Middle East and engaged with participants in a fruitful dialogue regarding the U.S. Government’s latest efforts in reforming the process of U.S. export controls. Various views and concerns were raised from both the American and Arab perspectives about remaining technical hurdles and political-bureaucratic challenges.
Sponsored by Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, ATK and Boeing, the conference brought together an array of high-level political and military officials from the United States and the Arab Gulf region, along with senior U.S. defense industry representatives. The event provided a unique platform for U.S.-Gulf policymaking and defense communities to deliver unparalleled insights, exchange views and concerns in a candid fashion, and explore opportunities to enhance U.S.-Gulf cooperation efforts in matters of defense and security. Such a diversity of participants facilitated a rich, engaging, and honest discussion on the successes and shortcomings of U.S.-Gulf defense, security, and political cooperation efforts, while at the same time highlighting areas for improvement.
One Arab speaker pointed out that the focus of cooperation between the United States and the panelist’s government has risen dramatically in the post-9/11 era. The speaker added that even though the relationship with the United States is rooted first and foremost in defense cooperation, it has grown in depth and breadth over the years, touching on areas such as education, technology, health and cultural exchange. For instance, with support from the United States, one Arab Gulf ally played a major tactical role in carrying out operations in Libya following the uprising in the country, as well as in Afghanistan targeting violent insurgents, actions that are without precedent in the history of U.S.-Arab relations.
With regard to the factors most influencing U.S.-GCC relations, one senior American government official stressed that threats ensuing from general instability in the Middle East as well as from Iran require the United States and GCC nations to work closely together and collaborate on defense and security. Over the past few years, efforts on this front have been highly successful, according to the same official. The United States and the UAE, for instance, recently performed the largest joint naval drill in the Middle East and regularly conduct cooperative air defense and other military exercises. Such exercises serve as critical measures in enhancing the overall capacity to cooperate and should be expanded to other countries in the GCC, not just the UAE, according to the same official.
From left to right: Dr. Matthew Spence, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy, U.S. Department of Defense; Riad Kahwaji, Founder and CEO, INEGMA; His Excellency Yousef Al Otaiba, Ambassador of the UAE to the United States of America; Ellen Laipson, President and CEO, Stimson.
On how the Arab uprisings have affected U.S.-GCC political relations in recent years, one American speaker said that while U.S.-GCC relations on security affairs have strengthened since 9/11 there are certain “overt disagreements” on the state of the region after months of civil unrest, and particularly on the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the growing role of political Islam. In other words, while the United States and GCC countries are in strategic agreement on the vital importance of order and security in the region, they differ on a tactical level of how exactly to ensure peace and stability. Despite these differences, however, U.S.-GCC relations remain strong and are likely to continue to grow due to mutual respect and existing partnership between the two sides, said the same speaker.
On the challenges and opportunities surrounding U.S.-GCC defense and security cooperative measures, one Arab speaker said that more than ever, the two sides today have a strong incentive to work together and understand each other’s interests. For example, U.S. citizens reading headlines from the Middle East might wonder how the threat of a nuclear Iran, civil unrest in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, and the mobilization of violent extremists in domestic conflicts could affect Americans at home. Likewise, Arab leaders reading about increased U.S. shale gas production, movements towards energy self-sufficiency, and fiscal restraint in Washington within areas of defense and security might be curious how these new developments could affect their own interests. In light of these current opportunities and challenges for cooperation, one American speaker made it clear that the United States remains committed to maintaining a steadfast partnership with its GCC allies.
From left to right: Bilal Y. Saab, Executive Director and Head of Research, INEGMA North America; Brigadier General Guy “Tom” Cosentino, Deputy Director for Political-Military Affairs for the Middle East, Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate (J5), U.S. Department of Defense; Major General (Ret.) Khaled Abdullah Al Bu-Ainain, President, INEGMA, and former Commander of the UAE Air Force and Air Defense.
While defense and security are critical measures that ensure strong U.S.-GCC partnerships, these areas are not the only metrics for measuring collaboration, the same speaker said. The “prism of collaboration” must also be observed through education, energy, and cultural interaction. Further opportunities in these domains are extremely ripe, and in looking forward the United States hopes to strengthen the bonds of the regional partnership in all aspects of collaboration, according to the same official.
Statistics on U.S.-GCC arms trade compared to other states in the region emphasized the opportunities available for cooperative measures, as well as challenges in coordinating weapons trading. Positive efforts in cooperative developments were seen in the stark contrast in arms trading between the GCC and other nations like Iran in the Middle East. Collectively, the GCC spends on arms four times more than any other nation in the region. In doing so, the GCC demonstrates a strong capacity to carry out military and counterterrorism operations, in concert and partnership with the United States. At the same time, however, a certain number of critical shortcomings in institution-building still exist in defense relations with the GCC, such as GCC force planning exercises and developing a joint intelligence unit. One American participant cautioned the GCC states to develop capabilities in strategy and doctrine and focus less on what the participant called “the glitter factor.”
From the Arab perspective, the GCC has only become more robust through the continued support and partnership with the United States. The arms trade, military seminars, operational training centers, etc…, have allowed the GCC to strengthen its tactical capabilities. The GCC is committed to the concept and reality of partnership with the United States and believes that collaborative efforts will only increase in the future. Looking at the GCC itself, however, one Arab official emphasized three major areas the organization must improve in to heighten the overall U.S.-GCC alliance. First, there needs be a greater understanding amongst GCC nations on the “bureaucratic standing” of the U.S. government’s process of export controls. Second, there is a need for increased “transparency” of policy between GCC states. The GCC must work together to become a stronger, more unified unit. And third, there is a critical need for the GCC to diversify its own economy rather than relying solely on petroleum revenues. By constructing a degree of cooperation on this front, the GCC will only become a stronger ally and partner to the United States.
The conference devoted a good amount of time and effort to encouraging U.S. and Arab participants to engage on the topics of U.S. export control reforms, foreign military sales (FMS), foreign military financing (FMF), and efforts to make the process more streamlined for GCC partners. In his remarks, one Arab speaker highlighted the strong history of U.S.-GCC relations, emphasizing the U.S.’s continued role in supplying Arab partners with the appropriate military capabilities to address threats ensuing from the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Iran. Even though the GCC has continued to build its own capacity to operate independently, one Arab speaker noted that the GCC still is heavily dependent upon U.S. support. The capability to create a sense of self-sufficiency or “superiority” in the Middle East region is not there yet for the Gulf, according to one Arab speaker.
Within this process of arms trading between the United States and GCC states, however, perhaps the biggest frustration for Arab officials in the audience was the time it took to approve weapons sales to Arab allies. If the United States and the GCC are such strong strategic partners, why do GCC allies, for instance, not have certain types of military aircraft, missiles, or radars? As one Arab speaker noted, “We feel like strangers when buying a weapon system from the United States” largely due in part to the cumbersome licensing process. To strengthen U.S.-GCC relations moving forward, Arab leaders are increasingly counting on the United States to streamline this process and continue their military support, said the same Arab speaker.
From left to right: His Excellency Mohamed Bin Abdulla Al Rumaihi, Ambassador of the State of Qatar to the United States of America; Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield, Jr., Chairman of the Board, Stimson.
In response to these criticisms, American government officials present in the conference readily acknowledged the problems surrounding the export control process. The problem has become increasingly worse, one U.S. industry representative noted, as “jurisdiction disputes” between Congress and the State Department have hindered the process from facilitating timely and flexible cooperation. Officials from working practitioners, decision makers, and industry representatives recognize the tension the laborious export control process causes with U.S. allies; there needs to be a “bright line” to delineate responsibilities on the oversight process, one senior defense industry representative said. To address this issue, the Department of Defense’s reform efforts have focused on a comprehensive set of linked initiatives including: export control reform, security cooperation reform, and tech security and foreign disclosure reform. In addition, one U.S. official suggested enacting an “anticipatory policy” as a way to begin thinking about what Arab allies might seek to purchase in the future to further streamline the export control process. At the same time, U.S. officials emphasized to their Arab allies that this reform and licensing process takes time. Because the United States does not design systems for mass production, but rather on a request or contract basis, the process is already lengthy. Nevertheless, U.S. government officials were confident in the new reforms recently enacted and in U.S. President Barack Obama’s executive leadership on the issue.
Similarly, industry representatives from the U.S. defense and security community expressed their own frustrations with the overall government oversight process. One American industry representative noted that there are now over 20 different compliance organizations in the United States. More so than in the government, “time and money are two imperatives of industry” and so there is a strong strategic incentive on the industry side to act now to streamline the export control process, particularly with respect to the transfer, co-development and release of arms. As Congress refuses to concede on this issue of export control, the United States is in effect “denying a market for itself,” which in turn affects the worldwide supply chain of arms sales. Recent reforms by the Defense Technology Security Administration (DTSA), in concert with other agencies notably the Defense Security and Cooperation Agency (DSCA), are seen as crucial steps by the government to alleviate this issue on the industry and consumer side.
In conclusion, the conference succeeded in meeting its objective of providing a venue for Arab and American policy-making, defense, and security communities to engage each other and express their views, hopes, and concerns in a detailed and transparent fashion about strategic relations and defense and security cooperation after the recent dramatic changes that have swept the Middle East. Finally, INEGMA seizes this opportunity to thank Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon International, and ATK, the event’s sponsors for their considerable support.