A new security structure for the Persian Gulf ?

Posted in Broader Middle East , United States | 26-Jul-10 | Author: Dieter Farwick

- Book review written by Dieter Farwick, Global Editor WSN -

In his new book, " Building Security in the Persian Gulf," Robert E. Hunter, a renowned expert on worldwide security affairs - as a senior analyst at RAND and a former U.S. Ambassador to NATO -- concentrates on a region which is of crucial significance for worldwide security and stability.

Beyond the current hot spots - e.g. Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel/Palestine - he develops a mid-term and long-term perspective for this volatile region. His twin goals: "increasing the likelihood of long-term stability in the region and reducing requirements,, over time, for U.S. and other Western engagement." He paints a big picture of the region, its regional neighbours, and important "outside" stakeholders like the U.S.A., China, Europe, India, and Russia. It becomes obvious that all these players, each with its own vital interests, will have a say in the possible future development of the region.

All current problems in the region are interrelated and interwoven. Therefore, there is no surgical solution for a single problem. That is one lesson -- learned very late -- from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. This complexity makes any progress and success more difficult.

Hunter's analysis focuses on setting parameters for a regional security structure that is designed to cover all the key factors in play. In his view, eight region-specific sets of parameters need to be considered in designing a new security structure for the Persian Gulf region: the future of Iraq; Iran; asymmetric threats; regional reassurance; the Arab-Israeli conflict; regional tensions, crises, and conflicts; the role of other external actors; and arms control and confidence-building measures. All these sets of parameters contain ambiguities and complexities of their own, which makes the task difficult but nonetheless necessary.

There is one crucial assumption: All players could or should have vital interests in enhancing security and stability for the region overall. That is even true for Iran, which plays a vital role. In Bob Hunter's view, Iran's acquiring nuclear weapons would kill the prospect of a security structure with Iran as a possible member. Iran would be seen as even more "hostile" and "out" than it is today, with many ramifications for the region and beyond. But before that happens, the U.S.A. needs to engage in serious negotiations with Iran that include offering to swap Iranian "good behaviour" for security guarantees. There are similar problems in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan: If things go wrong in these countries, a new security architecture would be more difficult to achieve, though even more necessary. Here, too, individual policies need to be integrated into the overarching goal of creating a regional security structure.

An important issue is the future role of the U.S.A. in the region. In U.S. domestic politics and public opinion, it is a dance on a tightrope. It is obvious that the new structure should have a "regional face." But at the same time, many countries in the region regard the U.S.A. as the guarantor of their national security. Thus current U.S. politics should not lead to the perception that U.S. troop reduction in the area is the beginning of the end of U.S. engagement in the area. But "How much U.S. commitment is enough? " for the region, and how much will be accepted by the American people? How can the U.S.A. meet its interests and those of allies and partners at reduced costs in blood, treasure, and opportunities lost elsewhere -- such as in dealing with China, Russia, and the global economy?

The author does not stop with the analysis. It is the special value of Bob Hunter to offer a great number of recommendations. They form a framework for the way ahead. All stakeholders will find here realistic and pragmatic proposals for action.

This complex security structure cannot be formed over night. There are too many tensions and conflicts, but history shows some "blueprints" - e.g. CSCE, ASEAN, and a role for the OIC.

Confidence building measures are crucial as first steps, based upon enhanced transparency, including an Incidents at Sea agreement for the Persian Gulf, regional political and military commissions, and counter-piracy and counter-terrorism agreements. There can also be some role for outside institutions, both for NATO and its Istanbul Cooperation Initiative and for the EU.

To turn this vision into long-term reality is a very ambitious mission for all players involved.

But this vision deserves the attention of all players and the courage to start. The book is a "must read" for all people interested in mankind's future.

The book offers some maps of the area and a well-collected bibliography.

Robert E. Hunter "Building security in the Persian Gulf", Rand National Security Research Division, 2010. Free download at http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG944.pdf.