Although collective security in the Gulf is the topic of numerous policy publications, most of the available literature focuses on the political environment without considering the operational requirements of this scenario. This monograph offers an evaluation of Gulf defense cooperation programs in order to stir the discussion on the future of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as the “NATO of the Gulf.”
The idea to deny sanctuary to terrorist groups lies at the heart of contemporary U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Violent extremist organizations in North Africa, most notably the group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), have used remote and sparsely populated areas in the Sahara for protection from security forces to perform a range of activities such as training, planning, and logistics in order to conduct terrorist operations like kidnapping, murder, and bombing. Even after 16 years since the September 11 attacks and the resources dedicated to efforts to deny sanctuary, the concept of sanctuary remains largely unexplored. To deny sanctuary requires an understanding of what sanctuary is as an object and how sanctuary is used by terrorist organizations. This monograph proposes a functional understanding of sanctuary and offers fresh ideas to control sanctuary using a detailed case study of the most notorious of the North African terrorists, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, from his arrival to Mali in the late 1990s until the French intervention in early 2012. This multi-disciplinary inquiry utilizes a wide range of open-source documents as well as anthropological, sociological, and political science research, including interviews with one-time Belmokhtar hostage, Ambassador Robert Fowler, in order to construct a picture of what a day in the life of sanctuary-seeking terrorists is like. Belmokhtar and other violent groups remain active and at large in the Sahara in spite of a large French military presence, a small U.S. military presence, and local security forces conducting counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. Additionally, the Islamic State movement could be viewed as the emergence of mega sanctuaries for terrorists and other violent extremist organizations. These threats require a new strategy to isolate, contain, or defeat terrorists and violent extremists in their sanctuary areas.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have often behaved as serious rivals for influence in the Middle East and especially the Gulf area since at least Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. While both nations define themselves as Islamic, the differences between their foreign policies could hardly be more dramatic. In most respects, Saudi Arabia is a regional status quo power, while Iran often seeks revolutionary change throughout the Gulf area and the wider Middle East with varying degrees of intensity. Saudi Arabia also has strong ties with Western nations, while Iran views the United States as its most dangerous enemy. Perhaps the most important difference between the two nations is that Saudi Arabia is a conservative Sunni Muslim Arab state, while Iran is a Shi’ite state whose senior politicians often view their country as the defender and natural leader of Shi’ites throughout the region. The rivalry between Riyadh and Tehran has been reflected in the politics of a number of regional states where these two powers exercise influence including Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Bahrain and others.
The 2011 wave of pro-democracy and anti-regime protests known as the “Arab Spring” introduced new concerns for both Saudi Arabia and Iran to consider within the framework of their regional priorities. The Saudi-Iranian rivalry is therefore likely to intensify as a central feature in the Middle Eastern security landscape that reaches into both the Gulf region and the Arab-Israeli theater. This is a reality that will touch upon the interests of the United States in a number of situations. In many instances, Saudi opposition to Iran will serve U.S. interests, but this will not occur under all circumstances. Saudi Arabia remains a deeply anti-revolutionary state with values and priorities which sometimes overlap with those of Washington on matters of strategic interest and often conflict over matters of reform and democracy for other Middle Eastern states. Additionally, in seeking to support Middle Eastern stability, the United States must be prepared to mediate between Riyadh and Baghdad, and thereby help to limit Iranian efforts to insert itself into Iraqi politics.
The explosive growth of China’s economic interests in Africa—bilateral trade rocketed from $1 billion in 1990 to $150 billion in 2011—may be the most important trend in the continent’s foreign relations since the end of the Cold War. In 2010, China surpassed the United States as Africa’s top trading partner; its quest to build a strategic partnership with Africa on own its terms through tied aid, trade, and development finance is also part of Beijing’s broader aspirations to surpass the United States as the world’s preeminent superpower. Africa and other emerging economies have become attractive partners for China not only for natural resources, but as growing markets. Africa’s rapid growth since 2000 has not just occurred because of higher commodity prices, but more importantly due to other factors including improved governance, economic reforms, and an expanding labor force. China’s rapid and successful expansion in Africa is due to multiple factors, including economic diplomacy that is clearly superior to that of the United States. China’s “no strings attached” approach to development, however, risks undoing decades of Western efforts to promote good governance. Consequently, this monograph examines China’s oil diplomacy, equity investments in strategic minerals, and food policy toward Africa. The official U.S. rhetoric is that China’s rise in Africa should not be seen as a zero-sum game, but areas where real U.S.-China cooperation can help Africa remain elusive, mainly because of Beijing’s hyper-mistrust of Washington. The United States could help itself, and Africa, by improving its own economic diplomacy and adequately funding its own soft-power efforts.
The nuclear talks between Iran and P5+1 following the most stringent sanctions against Iran to date have opened new prospects for relaxation of tensions between Tehran and the West and for a U.S.-Iranian détente in the long run. The coming to power of new presidential administrations in both the United States and Iran, the additional sanctions, major geo-economic and geopolitical trends, and U.S.-Iranian economic and security cooperation imperatives all contributed to these dynamics. Some view the talks as a new beginning in U.S.-Iranian ties, which could herald the emergence of a U.S.-Iranian strategic relationship in the next 15 years. This work has developed three such possible strategic relationships:
1) strategic engagement involving a nuclear weapons-capable Iran;
2) comprehensive cooperation following a “Grand Bargain”; and,
3) incremental strategic engagement after a nuclear deal.
These relationships deliberately focus on constructive engagement, skipping the status quo and a strike on Iran as two other possible outcomes. If they pull it off by 2030, a U.S.-Iranian détente would advance external integration of the region, aiding the U.S. strategy of fostering global connectivity. It would promote resolution of conflicts and development and reconstruction of countries ravaged by wars and sectarian violence. It would also enable Washington to deploy select military assets to other locales to address other challenges while repurposing remaining forces to face new threats in the Greater Middle East.
This monograph examines the possibility of Egypt leading the Arab world again, and how that effort, if successful, will present opportunities and challenges for U.S. policy. At the present time, Egypt is not in a position to do so given its many domestic problems stemming from its turbulent politics since 2011 and the challenges facing its economy, which is currently experiencing high unemployment, weak tourism revenues because of terrorist incidents, and high rates of inflation as it implements an International Monetary Fund (IMF) economic reform package. However, Egypt has faced similar problems in the past and has recovered from them, enabling it to pursue an Arab leadership role. Hence, the United States should be prepared to deal with Egypt’s longstanding leadership quest, which this monograph argues will generally be a positive development for the United States in the region, though there will be some issues where the United States and Egypt will not see eye-to-eye. Given the intense Sunni-Shia conflicts in the region that are fed in large part by the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, having Egypt (a moderate Sunni Muslim country not pushing a religious agenda) in a leadership role in the region will help to dampen this sectarian strife. Moreover, because of its large and competent military, Egypt can be a source of stability and reassurance when other Arab states, particularly the Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, are feeling vulnerable because of outside threats. Furthermore, Egypt can play a moderating influence in the region by being a bulwark against the radical extremist ideologies of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), al-Qaeda, and like-minded groups. The United States can help Egypt succeed by continuing military assistance, offering counterterrorism training of whole units, and resuming military exercises like Bright Star. This monograph also argues for a boost in U.S. economic assistance to past levels—given Egypt’s strategic importance—to help it cope with economic reform measures even under U.S. budgetary woes. Although the United States and Egypt will continue to differ on the nature of Egypt’s domestic politics, particularly with regard to human rights and dissent and recognizing that the United States has limited influence in this regard, Washington should use whatever leverage it has to persuade the Egyptian Government to be less repressive, because an easing of authoritarian policies and practices will help Egyptian stability in the long run.
The primary shortcoming of U.S. policymakers since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, has been a consistent inability to translate tactical and operational military successes into sustainable strategic political outcomes. This was objectively true for both former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama as evidenced by the long and tragic history of the continued conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq that has yielded wholly unsatisfying strategic outcomes. It remains to be seen if President Donald Trump and his senior officials can successfully reverse this trend. Doing so will require a long-term strategy that first establishes realistic and attainable objectives and then skillfully marshals all instruments of national power—military and non-military alike—to accomplish those goals.
Arab military cooperation has been, over the past century, mostly a history of failures. Whether the Arab League’s Defence Pact or the Middle East Command, ideas for collective security in the region all failed to move beyond the state of declarations. Most of the time, Arab states were either at open war or in cold peace. Since the Arab Spring has toppled not only regimes but also brought insecurity, new momentum has come into regional security. From joint exercises to the announcement of first an Arab and more recently an Islamic military alliance, states begin to move further into cooperation. As this Letort Paper shows, several obstacles will have to be overcome before collective security in the Middle East and North Africa can become a reality.
This monograph focuses on the geopolitical and economic drivers for the renewed Moroccan interest in West Africa and examines how Morocco is conducting its foreign and security policy in a variety of Western African countries. It highlights Morocco’s contribution to counterextremism in West Africa and Sahel regions through the provision of training to the imams and preachers of African Mosques. It concludes with recommendations on how Morocco could be supported by the U.S. defense community to mutual benefit, tackling some of the key security challenges that are facing these sub-regions of Africa. Given the common interest between the United States and Morocco in preserving peace and stability in Morocco’s surrounding region, Rabat’s growing assertiveness in West Africa presents an opportunity, not a challenge, for U.S. interests. Morocco’s geographic location, political stability, and deep and long-standing cultural ties with sub-Saharan states provide a potential bridgehead for U.S. efforts to promote its security objectives in Africa. At a time of severe defense budget constraints, bilateral cooperation with reliable and moderate regional partners can provide an effective multiplier and augment the U.S. reach into otherwise challenging regions.
This monograph examines the new Arab regional order that has emerged over the past few years and analyzes opportunities and challenges for U.S. strategic interests. The regional order encompasses: 1) an anti-Islamist grouping of countries that came about largely in reaction to Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt in 2012-2013; and, 2) an anti-Shia grouping which solidified in the aftermath of the Houthi takeover over much of Yemen, but which includes other areas of Sunni-Shia conflict in the region. Saudi Arabia is a leader in both orders and has important allies in them, like Egypt. Although the United States has extensive ties to a number of the countries in these alliances, and has assisted many of them in recent conflicts, it has tried to avoid getting involved in the larger Sunni-Shia conflict (having equities with both Sunni and Shia countries) and does not share the views of many secularists in the region that all Islamist groups pose a threat to regional stability. The monograph argues that U.S. policymakers should continue to promote inclusivity of all nonviolent political groups in the political systems of these countries, regardless of whether these groups are secularist or Islamist, with the understanding that there are limits to U.S. influence. In addition, U.S. policymakers should continue to avoid taking sides as much as possible in Sunni-Shia conflicts and should use its influence in the area to try to dampen such conflicts, as they are a main source of instability in the region and help extremist groups, like ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and al-Qaeda, exploit these conflicts. The monograph also recommends that the U.S. Army should assist countries of the region in counter-terrorism training and operations where possible, but Army officers should avoid being drawn into discussions about the Islamist-secularist and Sunni-Shia disputes.