US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel addresses the International Institute of Strategic Studies conference in Manama, Bahrain, on Saturday. (Mark Wilson / AFP)
MANAMA, BAHRAIN — US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the United States will attempt to sell weapons to Gulf Cooperation Council members as a block as opposed to individually as has been the case in the past.
Speaking at the Manama Dialouge international security conference here, Hagel encouraged GCC members to create a military alliance and said he’d like to better integrate the US missile defense systems with those of the GCC to enhance collective capabilities.
“We would like to expand our security cooperation with partners in the region by working in a coordinated way with the GCC, including through the sales of U.S. defense articles through the GCC as an organization,” he said. “This is a natural next step in improving U.S.-GCC collaboration, and it will enable the GCC to acquire critical military capabilities, including items for ballistic missile defense, maritime security, and counterterrorism.”
Hagel said the Pentagon “will better integrate with GCC members to enhance missile defense capabilities in the region,” adding “the United States continues to believe that a multilateral approach is the best answer for missile defense.”
Hagel also confirmed the US military posture in the region will not change, despite the recent interim multinational nuclear agreement with Iran.
“The DoD will continue to maintain a strong military posture in the region,” he said. “As we have withdrawn U.S. forces from Iraq, are drawing down our forces in Afghanistan, and rebalancing toward the Asia Pacific, we have honored our commitment to Gulf security by enhancing our military capabilities in the region.
“We’ve deployed our most advanced fighter aircraft throughout the region, including F-22s [fighters], to ensure that we can quickly respond to contingencies. Coupled with our unique munitions, no target is beyond our reach.”
As part of that commitment, a $580 million construction-expansion program is under way for the US 5th fleet in Bahrain in what he described as the continuation of their advancement of presence in the region.
“The United States military has made this commitment in resources, personnel and capabilities because of our nation’s deep and enduring interest in the Middle East. That will not change,” he said. “Although the Department of Defense is facing serious budget constraints, we will continue to prioritize our commitments in the Gulf, while making sure that our military capabilities evolve to meet new threats.”
“Even with new budgetary constraints, the United States will continue to represent nearly 40 percent of global total spending. The U.S. military will remain the most powerful in the world, and we will honor our commitments, and the United States is not retreating, not retreating from any part of the world”.
He said that in the past 10 years, the sale of advanced military weapons from the US to GCC nations has shifted the military balance away from Iran.
“I know that Iran’s nuclear program is only one dimension of the threats Iran poses in the region,” he said. “I’m briefed virtually every day about these threats. That’s why we remain committed to ballistic missile defense for our partners here in the region and for Europe.”
He stressed that no strategy is risk-free and that diplomacy takes courage and vision. “Our emphasis on diplomatic tools should not be misinterpreted. We know diplomacy cannot operate in a vacuum,” he said.