There are many reactions to the Munich Security Conference and the speeches of Macron, Pompeo, Laschet and Steinmeier. Two are documented here. Firstly, the more pro-Russian perspective in the person of Dr. Alexander Rahr, who calls for a reinvention of the EU and proposes a Franco-German working group that, based on the eroding power and cohesion of the West, has a more European orientation along Macron’s proposals, wants compromises in adhering to liberal values and seeks a balance with Russia.
The conclusion of this year’s Munich Security Conference is that the US is ruthlessly fighting to maintain its global monopoly on power and the status of the only world order power. The EU-Europeans cling desperately to the idea of the liberal order of values under Western leadership, which is waning every year. China and Russia enjoy their power roles, but are still too weak to put their sole stamp on the new world order.
The EU complains about the lack of multilateralism. But what does the EU mean by this: the sole power of the West? Russians and Chinese complain that the EU only hopes for America’s appreciation, but does not want Russia and China to shape the new world order. Meanwhile, the United States is demanding that Germany and other Europeans mercilessly ostracize Russia and China as opponents and stop all technology and gas deals with them. The American Secretary of State Pompeo spoke of the permanent victory of the West, but meant only „America first“.
The helplessness of the EU results in the fact that it continues to lose its role in shaping world politics. Steinmeier, Kramp-Karrenbauer, Maas – they all complained and complained. But today the EU is militarily weak, meanwhile also economically battered and weakened by internal conflicts. Despite constant calls from French President Macron, it lacks the will to take control of the action itself.
Macron tried to wake up the EU at the Munich Security Conference. He envisions a new European architecture that also includes Russia. But the other EU countries do not follow him; if they move closer to Russia, they fear the weakening of the transatlantic community and the sell-off of their beloved liberal values.
The liberal European elites, the powerful media and the business world lack the imagination to emancipate themselves from America. This reveals what the sovereignty of the EU actually was in the post-war years and the 30 years after the turnaround. The pressure to act is not yet strong enough for the EU. The transatlantic navel show of a western elite at the Munich Security Conference, which is convinced that it is not doomed, reminds outsiders of the warning words of the late Foreign Minister Westerwelle about late Roman decadence.
France and Germany should quickly set up an informal working group to develop the concept of a future European architecture. The prerequisite is that the group is not dominated by transatlantic think tanks or representatives of Soros foundations. After a lively exchange with Russians, Britons and Central Eastern Europeans, the results would then be presented to the heads of state for further use. Time is short: the EU has to learn to think outside the box, even if it has to cut back on its liberal focus on values. “
The second major contribution is from General ret. Wittmann in the Tagesspiegel, who criticizes the speechlessness of the EU and NATO and calls for a new strategic NATO concept in the tradition of the Harmel report:
„President Macron’s description of NATO as“ brain dead „was certainly unsuccessful. But, critical reference to inadequate consultation and coordination in the alliance was justified. This does not only apply to specific occasions, such as the uncoordinated withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria and their invasion by Turkey. There has always been a debate culture in NATO that spares many sensitive issues. On existentially important questions such as Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions or China’s rise there have never been any serious consultations in the NATO Council. The reason appears to be twofold To be concerned: Disagreement leads in public to the assumption that NATO stands before the breaking up or dealing with a region outside of NATO territory creates suspicion that NATO wants to intervene militarily there, and the alliance must free itself from such inhibitions. It should raise „consultation“ on a new core function of NATO – in addition to the three core functions defined in the strategic concept of 2010: collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security.
That would be an explicit revaluation and activation of Article 4 of the Washington NATO Treaty. Already in the short “London Declaration” of the heads of state and government after its meeting on the 70th anniversary of NATO in December 2019, there was twice talk of „consultation“: It was reaffirmed that NATO is the essential forum for security consultations and decisions. And the Secretary General was asked to put forward the proposal for a „forward-looking process of reflection“ to further strengthen „the political dimension of NATO, including the consultations“. This is an emaciated version of the proposal, the president Macron and Secretary of State Maas had done. They wanted a more fundamental strategy debate. So it is to be hoped that the “reflection process” leads to the decision leads to renew the strategic concept of NATO .
This is the basic document of NATO, which has so far been decided about every ten years as the decisive specification of the NATO Treaty. The current one dates from 2010 – long before the Russian aggression against Ukraine, which catapulted NATO „back into the Article 5 world“ to the question of the alliance case. The pendulum moved for more than two decades priorities for NATO and member states‘ armed forces towards foreign missions. Defense of the country and the alliance no longer seemed to be necessary. In 2014, given the concerns particularly in Poland and the Baltic States, it had to be demonstrated convincingly: If NATO could not help its partner Ukraine militarily, every square meter of NATO territory is taboo for Russia. With the Wales Summit in 2014, NATO’s greatest reorientation began since the fall of the Berlin Wall: once again towards national and alliance defense.
The consequences affected aspects such as operational readiness, reinforcement planning, exercise, leadership, air surveillance – up to the „improved front presence“ with multinational NATO battalions in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. All of this and the new look at Russia is not reflected in the current strategic concept, nor is the development of the past ten years in terms of threats, such as new weapon technology, cyber threats, security-related consequences of climate change, militarization of space and “hybrid warfare”. The latter is not a completely new phenomenon, but it is a new challenge: a method that combines open and covert military and non-military resources and that can (and should) make it difficult for the Alliance to respond collectively. In the Ukraine conflict, Russia demonstrated the seamless orchestration of military and non-military instruments: military threats beyond the Ukrainian border, use of paramilitary units without sovereignty badges, cyberattacks against Ukrainian infrastructure and the support of „separatists“ with military equipment.
The threats mentioned are to be countered increasingly by strengthening the “resilience” of societies, military structures and critical infrastructure. This keyword, borrowed from psychology, means resilience and flexible responsiveness. This task of NATO is so crucial that it should also be included as an additional core function in a new strategic concept. Why are you not yet in the process of designing a new strategic concept? Like over ten years ago, there is a fear that this work will be a “divisive process”. Secondly, one wants to avoid a debate on the political and strategic foundations of NATO during Trump’s presidency. On the military side of the headquarters, in the responsibility of the military committee, at least the military strategy policy document MC 400 was revised.
But it cannot remain there, not least because this document is classified as „NATO-confidential“. With the decision at the time to publish the strategic concept of 1991, NATO opted for transparency and confidence-building the public. She owes the world her right to exist, discloses the threats and skills required under the circumstances that have changed since 2010. It is time for a new strategic concept for the transatlantic alliance. This was also intended to counter the nonsensical talk about an „identity crisis“ of NATO. The new strategic concept must analyze the changed conditions in the field of security policy, represent the interaction between institutions and actors, and convincingly explain the continuing importance of the transatlantic link and the growing responsibility of Europe for its own security. „Consultation“ and „Resilience (Development)“ should finally be understood as core functions.
Also needed is a new strategic concept that substantiates the role of the “European pillar” in NATO, based on the “Common Security and Defense Policy” of the EU, which can only be successful, complementary, not competitive with NATO. The strategic challenge should also face up to the challenge posed by China and Russia’s place in the European security order. A Dedicate concept – provided that Russia ends the violation of the rules agreed for them. The range of dialogues offered by NATO based on the harmony philosophy (defense and relaxation, firmness and willingness to talk) should be specified.“
Brigadegeneral Retired Dr. Klaus Wittmann is a senior fellow of the Aspen Institute Germany and teaches contemporary history at the University Potsdam.
A new NATO concept expanded to include the functions of consultation and resilience is certainly necessary, as well as paired with a new version of the Harmel report (the latter has also been suggested by General ret. Kujat). In my opinion, however, this will not happen while Trump is still in office, as the transatlantic relationship after him will no longer be the status quo ante. In addition, the suggestion of Prof. Alexander Rahr is interesting no longer to wait, but to set up a Franco-German working group that at least design an architecture of the European pillar that was in line with Macron’s proposals, so that one finally has a basis for discussion. This is no longer expected under Merkel, but hopefully the next black- green government will tackle this question. Armin Laschet accused the current Merkel government of inactivity in Europe on the MSC, while, despite being invited, Spahn and Merz never even came to the MSC.
However, Merz who is considered to be more transatlantic than Laschet due to his former position as chief of the Atlantic Bridge and member of Blackrock also pointed out that Germany and the EU should now actively react to Macron´s proposal as in the future there won´t be a better and more pro-European French president and Marine Le Pen was just waiting for her chance in the next presidential elections. And Merz is now also a supporter of a China Bridge, a new organization pushed by former CSU minister Friedrichs. At the MSC Laschet and Baerbrock had a panel together, but Baerbrock has no concrete ideas except the normal phrases that she was for „more Europe“ and for human rights. While the Greens would have with Omnid Omnipour or even with Cem Özdemir an excellent foreign minister, their time is over at the Greens. Hopefully, Laschet or Merz as next chancellor will make foreign and security policy a chief issue and not delegate it to green idealists.
Remember the last green foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, who made no significant contributions except for the Yugoslavia war and the Iraq war, and Schröder made clear to him who was the waiter and who was the chief and cook, especially in relations with China and Russia, in which Eurasianist Schröder had even the Eurasiazisation of the G7 to a G9 with Russia and China in mind. The Green Fischer was more the liberal human rights transatlantic and had a strong ally in Madeline Albright, who later included him in her consulting firm and as a lobbyist for the Nabucco pipeline, while Schröder accepted positions with Putin, Gazprom and Rosneft as well as Rothschild, whereby Macron was also employed by Rothschild before he started En Marche.
AKK, which had already unsuccessfully wanted EU or NATO missions in northern Syria, was also speaking at the MSC and their suggestion of an EU mission in the Persian Gulf with German participation was gratefully received by Macron as France is already there with the first warships and Macron proposed a vote in the EU about such a joint mission to get a picture of the mood, as well as sending a Coalition of the Willing as the first European mission to set a precedent. However, the Europeans do not want to participate in the US mission in the Persian Gulf, since they do not share Trump’s maximum pressure policy and the termination of the Iran deal and do not want to be drawn into a U.S.-Iranian war, but first only to secure the international trade routes and their own ships Which position a Brexit-Gb under Johnson will take remains to be seen.
Three comments on General Wittmann’s contribution to a new strategic NATO concept in the Tagesspiegel. The Harmel report proposed a new NATO strategy based on the transition from Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) to flexible response and the willingness to engage in dialogue with the Eastern Bloc. Similarly, one might also have to expand the flexible response, also based on the new weapon systems and new international players
Furthermore, the question arises to what extent a new strategic NATO concept also takes into account the questions that Michael O Hannon raises in his recently published book „The Senkaku Paradox“ – that is, how NATO will react to a limited hybrid warfare of Russia, be it in the Baltic Gaps or on the part of China around Taiwan, the South China Sea or the East China Sea- whether NATO and the USA respond massively to this or contain the local aggression of small stakes and respond with massive economic warfare, as he outlines in his book:
America needs better options for resolving potential crises
In recent years, the Pentagon has elevated its concerns about Russia and China as potential military threats to the United States and its allies. But what issues could provoke actual conflict between the United States and either country? And how could such a conflict be contained before it took the world to the brink of thermonuclear catastrophe, as was feared during the cold war?
Defense expert Michael O’Hanlon wrestles with these questions in this insightful book, setting them within the broader context of hegemonic change and today’s version of great-power competition.
The book examines how a local crisis could escalate into a broader and much more dangerous threat to peace. What if, for example, Russia’s “little green men” seized control of a community, like Narva or an even smaller town in Estonia, now a NATO ally? Or, what if China seized one of the uninhabited Senkaku islands now claimed and administered by Japan, or imposed a partial blockade of Taiwan?
Such threats are not necessarily imminent, but they are far from inconceivable. Washington could be forced to choose, in these and similar cases, between risking major war to reverse the aggression, and appeasing China or Russia in ways that could jeopardize the broader global order.
O’Hanlon argues that the United States needs a better range of options for dealing with such risks to peace. He advocates “integrated deterrence,” which combines military elements with economic warfare. The military components would feature strengthened forward defenses as well as, possibly, limited military options against Russian or Chinese assets in other theaters. Economic warfare would include offensive elements, notably sanctions, as well as measures to ensure the resilience of the United States and allies against possible enemy reprisal.
The goal is to deter war through a credible set of responses that are more commensurate than existing policy with the stakes involved in such scenarios.“
The third question is to what extent such a new Harmel report also considers the possibility of diplomatic solutions in the sense of a New Eastern Policy with Russia, as well as arms control agreements after the terminated INF contract, the possible termination of START and other new weapon systems for which there are still no arms restrictions as cyber or space weapons. At the moment, all the militaries in the world are currently busy modernizing their weapon systems and China has announced that, on the one hand, it wants to increase the scope and, on the other hand, it will only be ready for armaments agreements once the modernization has been completed and negotiations should take place on this new basis.
From our partner RIAC
Nuclearization Of South Asia: Where Do We Stand Now?
Pakistan-India relations have continued to deteriorate since the nuclear test of May 1998. Both the states have faced numerous crisis during which the nuclear weapons have played a very important role. Nuclear weapons have been an effective deterrent force and kept the conflicts from blowing into all-out war. All the recent events suggests that there is a dire need to take transitional measures to reduce the nuclear risks. Nuclear weapons are confusing pieces of technology as their efficiency of destruction is best established when they are not deployed and yet in the same breath, they are to be used when required. This dilemma is further demented when one state is enemy with the other on almost everything. Escalation is both inevitable and perhaps one of the most devastating missteps in nuclear deterrence; one that requires an impressive level of trust. To achieve such a barrier, conventional rivalries need to be revisited, caution needs to be reinstituted and communication needs to be uninterrupted.
From Massive Retaliation of John Foster Dulles to McNamara’s Assured Destruction, nuclear bipolarity changed faces and paved ways for agreements and treaties to replace escalation and deployments. From direct engagements to proxies, from installation of hotlines to breaking ice and bilateralism, even when there was hope the world still endured in fear of an all-out devastation. Still, after all this, what lessons were learnt? How was ‘responsible nuclear weapons state’ defined? More importantly, what was the yardstick beyond which no state possessing such technology dare not tread? States possessing nuclear weapons technology decided not to escalate beyond a certain point and declared that no matter the trust deficit, they were supposed to always adhere to bilaterally settle their disputes. Even after two decades of nuclearization Pakistan and India, admirers of nuclear learning and experts of nuclear deterrence, perhaps were and might still are devoid of such bilateral convictions.
Looking at all the crisis situations in past most importantly the 1999 Kargil conflict, where the things escalated too quickly under nuclear overhang the question arises whether South Asia learnt anything on how close the Kargil was to a showdown of unimaginable proportion? Talking about more recent event ‘Pulwama’, Whatever happened after Pulwama in 2019 cannot be merely set aside as an emotional rhetoric, it was an actual sub-conventional engagement which had the potential to escalate. Like Kargil Pulwama was a chance to reexamine exactly what went wrong for things to go this far. Instead, India initiated overhauling of its force posture and Pakistan played along. South Asia went from Cold Start to Tactical Nuclear Weapons, from asymmetric confrontations to trans-border infiltrations and from hostilities at Line of Control to Abhinandan’s failed leap for glory. Instantly, everyone started crying war with no one to vouch for peace. What we see now is Indian prompted continued escalatory trajectories, distorted sense of stability, a desperate call for third-party mediation and a complete lack of bilateralism.
Nuclear deterrence, in its generic understanding, requires engaging parties to manifest caution while communicating their strategic posture. Confidence Building Mechanisms in that regard are important but as standalone systems are usually inefficient in dealing with their desired results. Soviet Union’s iron curtain is what caused Cuban Missile Crisis but even a man like Khrushchev realized what could have happened and resorted to engaging with Kennedy. For Narendra Modi and his cabinet, the idealized fog of war cast by an iron curtain of fear/ compellence is much more desirable than a chance at cooperation/dialogue. Bilateralism via Track-II might be fruitful but considering how much we distrust one another, it’s highly likely that all such actions would eventually be put to unnecessary speculation of possessing vested interest. Pakistan and India might not resort to an all-out confrontation but their trust deficit is enough to keep low-yield kinetic engagements alive. Pakistan fears for a false flag terrorist activity from India while India is wary of Pakistan trying to internationalize what it considers to be a bilateral issue.
In the past we have seen that issues between India-Pakistan are never resolved instead the hostility has increased so much that mitigation of the conflict looks like a farfetched idea. Both states need third party to get running the wheel of diplomatic engagement. Nuclear strategy is not a circular motion rather it is a spiraling affair with each turn graduating it to a new occasion whilst remaining hinged to a singular immovable point of connection. If nuclear deterrence keeps rotating without graduating, it tends to wear out its capacity to deter. What happens next is either another Kargil or something even worse. Pulwama, like Pathankot was a chance for both states to engage positively whilst maintaining their adversarial relationship and even now things are, in a way, plausible for this to occur. Threat, in this context, is how the current trajectory is moving from trust deficit to zero tolerance which can lead to incalculable repercussions.
If both India-Pakistan do not learn any lesson from the past then the future might not be very welcoming. . Nuclear deterrence is as important as it is frightening and Mutually Assured Destruction is almost certainly a final outcome if bilateralism is sacrificed at the altars of diplomatic inflexibility. An arms race without restraint is as dangerous as an uncontrolled escalation of sensitive flashpoints and both strategies are corrosive if taken without mutual consent.
22 Years of Nuclearization of South Asia: Current Doctrinal Postures
May 2020 marks the 22nd anniversary of the overt nuclearization of South Asia. The evolved nuclear doctrinal postures of both India and Pakistan have been a key component of their defence and security policies. During this period; India has undergone gradual shifts in its nuclear doctrinal posture. The Indian posture as set out in the 1999 ‘Draft Nuclear Doctrine‘ (DND) was based on an assertion that India would pursue the ‘No First Use’ (NFU) policy. The first amendment to this posture, which came out in January 2003, was based on a review by the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) of the nuclear doctrine. It stated that if India’s armed forces or its people were attacked with chemical and biological weapons, India reserves the right to respond with nuclear weapons. This review could, therefore, be considered a contradiction to India’s declared NFU policy at the doctrinal level. On the basis of this notion, it could be assumed that India has had an aspiration to drift away from its NFU policy since 2003.
Subsequently, the notion of a preemptive ‘splendid first strike‘ has been a key part of the discourse surrounding the Indian and international strategic community since the years 2016-2017. According to this, if in India’s assessment, Pakistan was found to be deploying nuclear weapons, in a contingency, India would resort to such a splendid first strike. With such a doctrinal posture, India’s quest for preemption against Pakistan seems to be an attempt to neutralize the deterrent value of Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities. In this regard, India has been constantly advancing its nuclear weapons capabilities based on enhanced missile programs and the development of its land, sea, and air-based nuclear triad thus negating its own NFU policy. This vindicates Pakistan’s already expressed doubts over India’s long-debated NFU policy. Such Indian notion would likely serve as an overt drift towards a more offensive counterforce doctrinal posture aimed at undermining Pakistan’s deterrence posture. This would further affect the strategic stability and deterrence equilibrium in the South Asian region.
India’s rapid augmentation of its offensive doctrinal posture vis-à-vis Pakistan is based on enhancing its strategic nuclear capabilities. Under its massive military up-gradation program, India has developed the latest versions of ballistic and cruise missiles, indigenous ballistic missile defence (BMD) systems in addition to Russian made S-400, nuclear submarines, and enhanced capabilities for space weaponization. In the same vein, India’s aspiration for supersonic and hypersonic weapons is also evidence of its offensive doctrinal posture. Furthermore, India has been carrying out an extensive cruise missile development program having incredible supersonic speed along with its prospective enhanced air defence shield. Through considerable technological advancements India has shifted its approach from a counter-value to a counter-force doctrinal posture, as it demonstrates its ambitions of achieving escalation-dominance throughout the region. These technological advancements are clear indicators that India’s doctrinal posture is aimed at destabilizing the existing nuclear deterrence equilibrium in South Asia.
Pakistan, on the other hand has been threatened by India’s offensive postures and hegemonic aspirations. Consequently it has to maintain a certain balance of power to preserve its security. Pakistan’s doctrinal posture is defensive in nature and has over the years shifted from strategic deterrence to ‘full spectrum deterrence’ (FSD) by adding tactical nuclear weapons which, it claims, falls within the threshold of ‘minimum credible deterrence’. In this regard, Pakistan too has developed its missile technology based on; short, intermediate, and long-range ballistic missiles. Pakistan’s tactical range ‘Nasr’ missile is widely regarded as a ‘weapon of deterrence’ aimed at denying space for a limited war imposed by India. The induction of ‘multiple independent reentry vehicle’ (MIRV), the development of land, air and sea-launched cruise missiles and the provision of a naval-based second-strike capability have all played a significant role in the preservation of minimum credible deterrence and the assurance of full-spectrum deterrence at the strategic, operational and tactical levels.
Contrary to India’s declared NFU policy, Pakistan has never made such an assertion and has deliberately maintained a policy of ambiguity concerning a nuclear first strike against India. This has been carried out to assure its security and to preserve its sovereignty by deterring India with the employment of Full Spectrum Deterrence (FSD) within the ambit of Credible Minimum Deterrence. This posture asserts that since Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are for defensive purposes in principle, they are aimed at deterring India from any and all kinds of aggression. This has been evident from recent crisis situations as well during which Pakistan’s deterrent posture has prevented further escalation. Therefore, even now Pakistan is likely to keep its options open and still leave room for the possibility of carrying out a ‘first strike’ as a viable potential deterrent against India if any of its stated red lines are crossed.
Hence, the security dynamics of the South Asian region have changed significantly since its nuclearization in 1998. The impact of this has been substantial and irreversible on regional and extra-regional politics, the security architecture of South Asia, and the international nuclear order. As has been long evident India has held long term inspiration to become a great power. There have been continuous insinuations about the transformations in India’s nuclear doctrinal posture from ‘No First Use’ to counterforce offensive posture. The current security architecture of South Asia revolves around this Indian behavior as a nuclear state. In contrast, Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine is based solely on assuring its security, preserving its sovereignty, and deterring India by maintaining a credible deterrence posture. Based on the undeniable threats from India to its existence, Pakistan needs to further expand its doctrinal posture vis-à-vis India. This would preserve the pre-existing nuclear deterrence equilibrium and the ‘balance of power’in the South Asian region.
Israel Shines in the Gulf Where Big Powers Falter, but That Could Prove Tricky
The Firefly, an Israeli-built loitering kamikaze drone, part of the Spike family of missiles that the Jewish state has sold to various European nations, may be one reason why Gulf states, and particularly Saudi Arabia, have cozied up to Israel in a seeming reversal of their past support of Palestinian rights.
If there is one lesson that Gulf states have learned from the United States’ reduced commitment to the region and the strains in US-Saudi relations, it is that putting one’s eggs in one basket is risky business.
That has not prevented the United States from continuing to secure its place as the region’s foremost arms supplier as this month’s arms and related commercial deals prove.
The US Defense Department announced a $2.6 billion USD Saudi deal to acquire 1,000 air-to-surface and anti-ship missiles from Boeing. Within days, Saudi Arabia’s Al Tadrea Manufacturing Company tweeted that it had reached agreement with Oshkosh Defense to establish a joint venture to manufacture armed vehicles in the kingdom.
The Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, disclosed separately that it had recently taken a $ 713.7 million USD stake in Boeing at a time when the company, already suffering major setbacks because of its 737-Max fiasco, took a significant hit as a result of a collapse of the civilian aviation industry.
The continued Saudi arms focus on the United States has not deprived China of opportunities. China has stepped in to help Saudi Arabia produce unmanned military vehicles after the United States refused to sell its MQ-9 Reaper killer drone to the kingdom. Saudi Arabia expects production to start next year.
Like China, Russia has been urging Saudi Arabia to purchase its acclaimed S-400 anti-missile defense system. So far, the kingdom, having watched the United States cancel NATO-member Turkey’s purchase of US F-35 fighter jets and its co-production agreement of some of the plane’s components after it acquired the Russian system, has been reticent to take the Russians up on their offer.
The limitations of Saudi-Russian cooperation have since become obvious with April’s price war between the two major oil producers that sent oil markets into a tailspin from which they are unlikely to recover any time soon.
Israel, like China and Russia and unlike the United States, puts no problematic restrictions such as adherence to human rights and use of weaponry in accordance with international law on its arms sales.
But Israel has one leg up on its Chinese and Russian competitors who maintain close ties to Iran. Israel shares with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) a perception of Iran as an existential threat and a destabilizing force in the Middle East that at the very least needs to be contained.
To be sure, that is a perception that Saudi Arabia and the UAE see reflected in the United States’ maximum pressure policy towards Iran which aims to force the Islamic Republic to “change its behavior,” if not change its regime.
The problem is that maximum pressure two years into the imposition of harsh US economic sanctions has produced little result.
Add to that the fact that the United States has proven to be an unreliable ally when the chips are down, persuading the UAE and other smaller Gulf states to reach out to Iran to ensure that their critical national infrastructure does not become a target in any future major US-Iranian military conflagration.
The watershed moment for the Gulf states was when the United States failed to respond forcefully last spring and summer to alleged Iranian attacks on key Saudi oil facilities as well as oil tankers off the coast of the UAE.
The Trump administration, in a bid to reassure Gulf states, weeks later sent troops and Patriot anti-missile defense systems to Saudi Arabia to help it protect its oil installations, although the United States withdrew two of those systems earlier this month.
It took the killing of a US military contractor in December 2019 for the United States to respond to tens of Iranian-backed attacks on American targets in Iraq. And when it did, with the killing in January of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, Gulf states privately celebrated the demise of their nemesis, but also feared that it was overkill, bringing the Middle East to the brink of an all-out war.
Gulf states are likely to find that cooperation with Israel has its limits too. Israel may be eager to sell weaponry and have the capability to push back at Iran in Syria. If need be, Israel can also severely damage, if not take out, Iranian nuclear and missile facilities in military strikes that Gulf states would be unable to carry out.
But ties to Israel remain a sensitive issue in the Gulf and elsewhere in the Arab and Muslim world. And Israel has so far restricted sales to non-lethal equipment and technology. That could change with a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the establishment of formal diplomatic relations.
Public opinion, however, may be one reason Gulf states have refused to turn unofficial relations into diplomatic recognition, suggesting that there may be greater public empathy for Palestinians than Gulf rulers wish to admit.
That could count for more with Gulf rulers finding it increasingly difficult to provide public goods and services, among which first and foremost jobs, as a result of the global economic crisis and the collapse of oil prices.
Author’s note: This story was first published in Inside Arabia
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