UAE soldiers load their vehicle with rockets during maneuvers in the desert of Abu Dhabi. US officials urge greater security cooperation among Arabian Gulf states. (Agence France-Presse)
WASHINGTON — The Defense Department views increased partnerships between Arabian Gulf state allies as key to expanding security in the region, according to the Pentagon’s top international security adviser.
The Pentagon’s top priority is ensuring that “all have the capabilities that we agree they need to defend themselves,” Derek Chollet, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, said at the DefenseOne conference in Washington Nov. 14. But to make that process happen, the Pentagon is focused on encouraging the sharing of military capabilities between allies.
“What we’re trying to do is help them all lift themselves up even more in terms of capabilities on the military side, but also to find ways that they can work more closely together,” Chollet said. “That’s often difficult, but it’s a project we’ve had some modest success on, and I think there’s enough to build on. That’s the biggest shift I would say over the last several years, the work to have them work together.
“They have many shared interests, when they think through their own security, and we share many of those interests with them,” Chollet said. “We’re working with them through the presence in the region, which you all know is quite robust, to try and have them work more closely together on things like maritime security and missile defense, so they can leverage the capabilities each other has so they are not looking at these issues through their own individual lenses but through a collective lens.”
A unified, integrated missile defense system shared by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states is seen as a priority by outside observers. A recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies urged the GCC to create an interface with American assets in the region.
“No single area presents a more serious military threat to the GCC than Iran’s acquisition of long-range missiles and movement towards acquiring nuclear weapons,” the report reads. “The GCC needs to expand its air defense capabilities to develop a common and integrated approach toward missile defense in cooperation with the US — the only real-world provider and integrator of such a system.”
Without an integrated system, a launch could result in several missile defense systems going off at once, creating a potentially dangerous situation.
Traditionally, sharing assets has not been how the gulf region operates. Chollet credits the rise of the United Arab Emirates as a regional power with helping cooperation among the gulf states.
“If you just step back, one thing that has clearly changed over the last decade-plus is the rise of the United Arab Emirates,” Chollet said. “Think of where Dubai or Abu Dhabi were 20 years ago. They are in a much different place today. Their capabilities are all getting better, and we are helping them do that while also maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, which is very important to us and is also the law of the land.”
Recently, some GCC allies have complained about communication with the US, citing a lack of clarity about Syria, Egypt and Iran. Chollet dismissed the idea that there has not been communication between the US and its allies, pointing out there has been plenty of direct contact from high-level US officials.
“We have a very, very strong relationship with Saudi Arabia and we have for many years, and with our other gulf partners and the United Arab Emirates in particular,” said Chollet, who pointed out that both Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry have made trips to meet with GCC allies this year.
“That engagement at a high level is constant, it is important and it allows us to have the kind of conversations about strategic issues we need to have,” Chollet said.
He also pointed to a recent string of major arms sales, such as selling F-15s to Saudi Arabia and F-16s to the UAE, as proof that the security relationship remains strong.