Table of ContentsChapter 5Next


Key U.S. Security Issues

Maintaining a Pro-Active U.S. Policy Toward Regional Proliferation
Providing Resources for the Peace Process
Responding to Resurgent Islam
Maintaining Dual Containment and the Regional Balance of Power
Seeking Stability in South Asia

Top of Section

Maintaining a Pro-Active
U.S. Policy Toward
Regional Proliferation

In the past, the WMD threat was not regarded by U.S. policymakers as a primary regional security concern, either in the Levant or in South Asia. Overriding Cold War global security issues took precedence, making Washington reluctant to pressure Pakistan or Israel on their nuclear programs. More recently, however, both the Bush and Clinton administrations have proposed ambitious regional nonproliferation proposals for the Greater Middle East.

The states in the region have not reacted enthusiastically to arms control initiatives. Although the use of chemical arms in the Iran-Iraq war and the fear that chemical or even nuclear arms would be used in the 1991 Gulf War refocused concern on the issue of controlling WMD, formidable obstacles remain to achieving arms control measures. They include:

The Greater Middle East does not lend itself easily to region-wide proposals, because of the distinct identities of the component sub-regions. Further, U.S. nonproliferation policy must be balanced against overall U.S. interests. Clearly, U.S. interests are not affected equally by Israel's and Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Another issue is whether continued reliance on global mechanisms such as the NPT is appropriate. How should Washington respond, for example, if India and Pakistan were to create a new regional nonproliferation regime? Could Washington accommodate such an initiative with its public insistence on NPT adherence, which both parties have rejected?

Finally, Washington must balance its commitment to curbing regional arms proliferation with continued support for conventional arms transfers to key Middle Eastern allies, some of which exacerbate security concerns among states that do not have such relationships with the United States.

Top of Section

Providing Resources
for the Peace Process

Recent successes in the Arab-Israeli peace process offer the prospect for the first time of transforming the security environment of the Middle East. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Arab-Israel front had one of the world's highest concentrations of advanced weaponry. If the peace process broadens to include a Syrian-Israeli accord and deepens with a final status agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, the Levant states are likely to move towards smaller militaries with older weapons. Furthermore, security cooperation patterns could change, as Israel ceases to be a pariah. However, even under the best of circumstances, changes will come slowly. One short-term difference, however, could be a change in Israeli attitudes towards U.S. arms sales to Arab states, as indicated by the end of Israeli objections to Jordanian purchases of weapons systems like the F-16.

In the event of an accord between Israel and Syria, the U.S. may be asked to provide the main component for a new multinational force on the Golan Heights in addition to the 1,200 U.N. forces now stationed there. The new force could be similar to the multilateral forces and observers now in the Sinai Peninsula, which include 1,000 U.S. soldiers. Such a force might be asked to monitor a demilitarized zone, a broader weapons control zone, or restrictions on military operations. It may also establish listening posts that provide intelligence to each side on the other's movements. The force is unlikely to be asked to enforce the peace agreement. Since both sides keep substantial armored forces nearby, the Golan would pose a difficult military challenge for any international force charged with repelling an attack.

In one important way, an Israeli-Syrian agreement is likely to differ from Camp David: there is not much prospect of U.S. security assistance to Syria. However, in the aftermath of any accord with Syria that requires redeploying forces off the Golan, Israel will want to modernize its military equipment. Further, while Israel may be more at peace with its immediate neighbors, Tel Aviv worries about dangers from more distant adversaries like Iran and Iraq. To meet such needs, Israel may therefore request additional security assistance from the U.S. beyond the existing $1.8 billion a year.

Any demands for more U.S. forces and more U.S. money after an Israeli-Syrian agreement could bring a reexamination of the $1.2 billion per annum in military aid Egypt now receives. Cairo will argue that a strong Egyptian force is useful for the U.S. in the event of instability in the Persian Gulf. Further, Egypt's domestic unrest makes this an awkward time to reduce the size of the armed forces, because of both their internal security role and the employment they provide for Egyptian youth.

Top of Section

Responding to Resurgent Islam

The growing Islamic revival raises important questions. Is Islam's resurgence a by-product of a search for spiritual meaning by alienated publics, or is it a politically motivated attempt to remove Western influence from the region? Will such movements make room for secular influences and peaceful dissent, or do they wish to establish an all-embracing ideology and authoritarian regimes? Western analysts are divided on these issues. Some view resurgent Islam as an ideological, xenophobic challenge to the Christian West, with confrontation and conflict the inevitable outcome. Many base this view on the fact that, in its most extreme form, resurgent Islam seeks to overthrow moderate regimes in the Middle East, endorses anti-Western strategies, and advocates Islamic supremacy.

The countervailing assessment is that Islamic groups are not necessarily or primarily anti-Western in orientation. Rather, much of their animosity is directed toward ineffectual governance at home. While the social practices that many Islamic groups wish to see enforced--strict dress codes for women, harsh penalties for theft, and so on--are not congruent with Western values, they do not pose a threat to Western security interests. Saudi Arabia, whose government enforces the strictest interpretation of Islamic law in the Middle East, has been a political-military partner of the U.S. for over half a century.

Two schools of thought have also emerged concerning appropriate strategies to deal with Islamic movements. One, led by a number of secular Middle East states such as Tunisia, Algeria, Syria, and Iraq that have been ruled by a single party or the military, sees little distinction between mainstream and militant movements, and has dealt harshly with both. In essence, such governments have drawn a line between religion and state, and refused participation by the former in the latter. Tunisia, for example, does not permit religious parties to run for election, and has thoroughly cowed a previously active Islamic movement. But Tunisia has also countered Islamic activists by vigorous, ameliorative economic and social actions. Algeria abruptly halted moves to open its political system when Islamic movements appeared on the verge of electoral victory. The result has been an isolated and discredited government struggling to gain control in an underground civil war against a number of Islamic groups.

A second school of thought advocates opening the political door to mainstream but not extremist Islamic groups. Political participation, in this view, will compel movements to become more pragmatic, and will tend to separate moderates from militants. Such an approach requires a conducive political environment and shrewd handling. Jordan, where Islamic forces received 42 percent of the vote in 1989 and three cabinet seats, has tried this strategy, thus far successfully. The Egyptian government, under enormous pressure from Islamic groups, is at a crossroads, but is wary of making Algeria's mistake of opening the system too widely and too quickly.

Policy analysts are at odds over the utility of a dialogue with Islamic movements. Algeria is on the cutting edge of this policy debate. The U.S. has favored a political solution and a dialogue with FIS elements that favor peaceful change. The French, on the other hand, have been more reluctant to talk to Islamic activists. However, the Algerian and French governments have been moving toward a more flexible position on dealing with moderates in the FIS, while still steering clear of terrorists who target foreigners.

Top of Section

Maintaining Dual
Containment and the
Regional Balance of Power

Enunciated by the current administration, the policy of "dual containment" identifies both Iran and Iraq as hostile states and rejects the previous policy of tilting toward one to contain the other as the need arises. Instead, the U.S., with help from its European allies, will strive to prevent either from achieving Gulf hegemony or attacking its neighbors. In Iraq, the policy officially demands fulfillment of all U.N. Security Council resolutions instituted after the Gulf War, which is interpreted by many as tantamount to seeking a regime replacement. The U.S. relies on drastic import and oil export restrictions and no-fly zones in the north and south of the country as instruments to that end. In Iran, a change of regime behavior on six key points is sought, among them cessation of terrorism, overt opposition to the peace process, and attempts to destabilize neighboring states. To this end, the U.S. seeks to deny credit and military technology to Iran.

Dual containment has generated debate on several grounds. Some argue that the oil export embargo on Iraq has penalized its people without producing a regime change, while measures taken to protect the Kurds in the north could result in Iraq's fragmentation. This would dramatically upset the Gulf balance of power in favor of Iran. Hence, these critics argue for less severe measures that would allow some economic recuperation and assure Iraq's territorial integrity.

Supporters of the policy point to Saddam's October 1994 military posturing on Kuwait's border as evidence of the need to continue, and perhaps to intensify, containment of the Baghdad regime. They cite success in compelling Saddam Hussein to submit to international inspection of WMD facilities and to recognize Kuwait and its borders. Moreover, his regime has been gravely weakened by rampant inflation, drastically lowered living standards, and a shrinking power base, making future Iraqi aggression less likely. The question is whether more of the same will produce his overthrow or whether his security apparatus will enable him to hold out longer than the West is willing to maintain sanctions.

In regard to Iran, some have argued that Tehran's objectionable behavior might better be modified by less restrictive economic measures that would open the country to Western influence and strengthen pragmatic elements. They favor dialogue, normalization of relations, and Iran's gradual integration into a regional security framework. However, there is not much evidence that those who determine policy in Tehran are interested in discussions with the U.S. or that Iran would be an acceptable regional partner until its behavior changed. Also, a nettling issue is how to prevent Iran from using increased access to credit to finance additional military expenditures. Another is the question of what instruments of deterrence against renewed aggressive behavior could be used should a more conciliatory policy fail. Advocates of the current policy point to some success in curtailing Iran's military expenditures through constraints on credit: Iran's annual military purchases have declined from $2 billion in 1989-1991 to $800 million in 1993-1994.

Also at issue is whether the U.S. will be willing to shoulder the burden of dual containment as it draws down its forces. The Gulf is already the most heavily armed region in the less developed world, and the arms race there is becoming ever more lethal and burdensome to the countries involved.

The October 1994 Gulf crisis demonstrated the growing expense of the policy to the U.S. and the Arab Gulf states. The cost of sending U.S. troops and equipment to the Gulf to compel a withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait's border may reach one billion dollars. The crisis brought home the need to contain Iraq more effectively and at lower cost. The most critical issue connected with dual containment, however, is how long it can be maintained.

In the Gulf, the U.S. must rely for support on the weakest Gulf element in the triad of powers--Saudi Arabia and its GCC partners. While economically well-off, these states lack the manpower to defend themselves. The GCC states combined have about one fifth of the population of Iran and Iraq and about one fourth the men under arms.

Protection of the GCC is based on a four-tier strategy. The first tier consists of the military forces each GCC state can contribute. These forces are limited. Saudi Arabia possesses a reasonably effective air force and air defense system, but no other GCC state has indigenous air, ground, or naval assets that could do more than act as a tripwire in a military assault by Iran or Iraq. However, in the wake of the Gulf War, GCC forces are improving their equipment, training, doctrine, and joint coordination.

The second tier consists of integrated defense mechanisms constructed by the GCC which can act as a force multiplier. These are also minimal. The GCC joint force, the Peninsula Shield, consists of about 10,000 men, which may be doubled in the next few years. The GCC plans greater progress toward integrated command and control as well as joint operations; however, progress has been slow.

The third tier is U.S. and allied capacity to defend the GCC, which depends on prepositioned stocks in the region, local willingness to host such forces, and U.S. lift capacity. All have improved greatly in the wake of the Gulf War, although the U.S. military drawdown in the Europe may weaken this tier. Governments may also be less willing to host U.S. forces as domestic dissent in the Gulf rises and as local voices, including Islamic militants, demand more government accountability.

The fourth tier is the wider base of support for the U.S. in the Middle East, particularly from Turkey, Israel, and Egypt. These countries are important for:

Regional states may be less willing to support robust containment of Iraq and Iran than the U.S., for example, because Iraq and Iran are still their neighbors with whom they must still do business on many bilateral issues. Turkey and Egypt are more willing to remove sanctions from Iraq than is the U.S.

There has also been serious erosion of support for dual containment among European countries. Russia, France, and Italy are clearly preparing to do business with Baghdad after sanctions, and are anxious to see the export restrictions lifted once Iraq has fulfilled the provisions of U.N. Security Council resolution 687 concerning WMD and Kuwait. However, they are prepared to support limitations on Iraq's re-armament. Many states have not agreed to the credit restrictions the U.S. would like to see imposed on Iran. In 1994, seventeen states agreed to $9 billion of debt rescheduling for Iran.

Iraq's threat to Kuwait in October 1994 highlighted these uncertainties, revealing fissures in the international coalition and differences on how to deal with Iraq. These vulnerabilities will make it a challenge for the U.S. to be able to continue the strict containment measures now applied to Iran and Iraq through the next two to five years.

Top of Section

Seeking Stability in South Asia

India and Pakistan, both de facto nuclear weapons states, have been unable to resolve territorial disputes--or even to sustain a negotiating process--on issues that have created strong nationalist feelings in both countries. For example, there seems little prospect that the issue of Kashmir can be settled to the satisfaction of both sides. Escalation of the Kashmir crisis has, in turn, poisoned the environment for progress in discussions between New Delhi and Islamabad on controlling the spread of WMD. Ironically, this inability to improve their external relationship comes at a time when both countries are enjoying improved prospects for economic growth and political stability at home.

The U.S. relationship with both nations is at a crossroads. India is eager to rehabilitate its bilateral ties with the United States, which deteriorated during the Cold War. Pakistan is anxious to improve its security links with the U.S., but its efforts are frustrated by Washington's overriding concern with Islamabad's nuclear program. The Pressler Amendment has brought to a halt nearly all U.S. assistance to Pakistan, yet the government of Benazir Bhutto believes that its security dependence on the U.S. is likely to increase.

A key policy question for Washington is whether India and Pakistan can be persuaded that the perception of nuclear capability--acknowledged possession of fissile material, a scientific infrastructure, technical proficiency, and means of delivery--is a sufficient deterrent against attack and that actually arming is unnecessary and destabilizing.

Virtually all Indo-Pakistani disputes are affected to some degree by the nuclear question, which has in turn inflamed tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad and increased the cost of precipitous political action. Further, the state of bilateral relations between the U.S. and these two states depends to a large degree on reaching a settlement of the regional nuclear issue.

Table of ContentsChapter 5Next
| Back | Table of Contents | Chapter 5 | Next |