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U.S. Security Interests

Ensuring the Free Flow of Oil at Reasonable Prices
Preserving and Protecting the State of Israel
Maintaining a Regional Balance Favorable to U.S. Interests
Controlling WMD Spread
Containing Radical Movements and Fostering Human Rights and Democracy
Promoting Stability in Peripheral Areas

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Ensuring the Free Flow of Oil
at Reasonable Prices

The U.S. wants to ensure that Persian Gulf oil flows without supply disruptions that could inflict considerable cost on the U.S. economy. The U.S. also wants the price of oil to be relatively stable at a level that does not throw the world into recession. Finally, the U.S. seeks to prevent any restraints on free shipping of oil along the sea lines of communication to the U.S. or its allies.

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Preserving and Protecting
the State of Israel

From the date of Israel's founding, the U.S. has been committed to protecting the territorial integrity of that state from the threat of aggression. The context for this commitment is changing as the Arab-Israeli peace process progresses and redefines the extent of Israel proper (as opposed to the occupied territories), and as the Arab rejectionist community is reduced. Israel's pursuit of the peace process is dependent upon U.S. guarantees of its security, including the annual appropriation of significant levels of military and economic assistance.

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Maintaining a Regional
Balance Favorable to
U.S. Interests

Maintaining local military and political balances of power favorable to U.S. friends and allies can help prevent the outbreak of major regional conflicts that could entangle U.S. forces, and will also provide some leverage in containing transnational threats, such as massive refugee flows.

One way of achieving this goal is to prevent the emergence of a hostile regional hegemon in any sub-region of the area. Any domination of the Persian Gulf by one state, especially a hostile state like Iraq or Iran, would threaten vital U.S. interests, because that state would be in a position to manipulate oil prices and to use its enhanced oil revenues to develop weapons of mass destruction--even if high oil prices could only be sustained for a few years until alternatives were developed. The domination of the Arab Fertile Crescent (Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon) by one state could endanger the Arab-Israeli peace process. The domination of North Africa by a radical Muslim regime could produce large-scale emigration to Western Europe and threaten a key U.S. ally, Egypt.

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Controlling WMD Spread

The spread of WMD and the technologies to support them is inimical to U.S. security interests. With the exception of the Israeli program, the U.S. has not condoned the acquisition of nuclear weapons by any Middle Eastern state, and has universally condemned the spread of biological and chemical arms. In pursuing a policy of nonproliferation, Washington will also have to balance worries over the destabilizing effect of uncontrolled WMD spread with sensitivity to the security concerns of Middle East countries, whose leadership is increasingly convinced that weapons of mass destruction enhance security.

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Containing Radical
Movements and Fostering
Human Rights and Democracy

The U.S. has a security interest in countering extremist movements--whether religious or secular--that can destabilize states that currently support U.S. goals in the region. At the same time, the U.S. has an interest in fostering democracy and supporting adherence to internationally accepted standards of human rights. However, the Greater Middle East has little tradition of Western-style democracy, except in India. Experiments in democracy could be short-lived, as was the case in Algeria, if elections are held before the establishment of a solid foundation of civic institutions and respect for human and minority rights.

The U.S. faces a delicate task in keeping these two interests--containing radicalism and supporting democracy--in balance. Pressure on friendly regimes to improve their records on human rights and to move toward democratic processes must be handled with sensitivity, lest it contribute to destabilizing fragile governments on which the U.S. relies. On the other hand, turning a blind eye to the domestic abuses of such governments can leave the U.S. open to charges of supporting repressive regimes, thereby reducing U.S. credibility in the region.

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Promoting Stability in
Peripheral Areas

The destabilization of the Caucasus republics of the former USSR could spill over into Turkey, a NATO ally. Increased Russian control over the Caucasus or Central Asia could become a point of friction between Russia and the U.S., undermining a key U.S. global interest. The U.S. therefore has an interest in helping to defuse tensions among outside powers interested in exercising influence in these regions, and supporting the stability of the newly-independent states.

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