US-GCC Partnership Can Underpin A More Secure Middle East – OpEd
By Arab News
By Dana Stroul*
This week, the Gulf Cooperation Council is hosting a delegation of senior US defense and military leaders in Riyadh to continue the important collaboration of the US-GCC Defense Working Groups.
Two key themes have emerged from our collective efforts: That the US is committed to this region and its security, and to its long-standing partners; and that the US and the GCC share a commitment to expanding multilateral cooperation in order to more effectively address threats to our collective security.
This shared commitment to addressing the threats of today and tomorrow through expanded cooperation is critical. Today’s threats do not respect borders and affect the safety of all our citizens. By working together, we can more effectively patrol our skies, ensure freedom of movement at sea, and push back on illicit and illegal activities, whether drug or arms smuggling, support for terrorism, or cyberattacks.
With a foundation of enhanced security and stability, new diplomatic, economic and people-to-people opportunities will emerge to deliver real results for the citizens of this region.
Our meetings continue the important commitments made by our political leaders last summer in Jeddah, where President Joe Biden met with Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and the GCC and affirmed the US’ commitment to the Middle East. Not only did the president reiterate that the US will remain an active, engaged partner in the Middle East, but he also reminded us that America’s interests are interwoven in the successes of this region. The Jeddah communique reaffirmed the strategic guidance to the GCC-US Defense Working Groups: Our objective is to advance a more secure, stable and prosperous region through integration and cooperation.
The challenge for the defense and military leaders meeting in Riyadh this week is to move from vision to action, realizing our shared goal of increased cooperation to promote security and stability.
We have committed to increase cooperation in two areas: First, by integrating our air defenses and, second, by expanding cooperation at sea. There is no doubt that now is the time to take action — our assessment of the threats is aligned, and the opportunities from new and emerging technology makes integration more cost-effective and faster than at any other time. Importantly, we are approaching this integration as a purely defensive regional measure.
The US will maintain a meaningful force presence in the region in order to support integration and multilateral cooperation. The tens of thousands of US forces stationed at many bases across the region offer an important platform for our efforts to promote stability across the region.
We also discussed the importance of interoperability. We must accelerate steps now to ensure that our militaries can work together jointly in times of peace and in times of crisis. This is how we will increase deterrence and enhance cooperation. We are setting the conditions now for this integration, ensuring that we can share intelligence in real time, monitor a common air picture 24 hours a day and sail together in multinational task forces at sea. And as we take these steps, we also ensure that the US military can dynamically flow in and out of the region and seamlessly integrate with our partners’ navies, air forces and land forces.
Together we laid out our shared understanding and commitment in a summary of this week’s working group activities.
To achieve this vision, the US and GCC militaries will continue the robust schedule of military exercises, subject matter expert exchanges, intelligence and information sharing, and military acquisitions to increase integration.
What might success look like?
We are rapidly working toward the day when a regional air defense system can sense an airborne threat and relay the relevant information in real time to member states, enabling them, in turn, to neutralize the threat. By sharing intelligence and early-warning and procurement systems that talk to each other, the US and the GCC will build a more integrated air defense system to address the gaps that state and nonstate actors exploit through the use of ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial systems.
Similarly, at sea, we will build toward a common operating picture. We are sailing both crewed and autonomous ships and sensors to create a shared picture of a range of activities for the multinational naval coalition in the region to see and use to respond to threats. Already this year, these efforts have resulted in the removal of both illicit drugs and illegal weapons from waters within the region.
Through their unique partnership, the US and the GCC are both willing and able to actualize a security architecture that can underpin a more secure Middle East. This cooperation is needed now more than ever to deter, counter and respond to the most pressing threats facing our nations — in the air, at sea and, increasingly, in other domains. We hope that our initiative will pave the way for similar lines of work among the GCC member states and with others in the region and beyond.
• Dana Stroul is US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East.