Yesterday, on Foreign Policy, Robert Haddick argued that the Persian Gulf – sorry, the Gulf That Must Not Be Named - needs its own NATO, and that the U.S. needs to be a part of it. Essentially, he argues that the current situation in the Gulf, as Saudi Arabia tries to coax the GCC into a closer union, is similar to that in western Europe at the time NATO was founded:
In 1949, Western European and U.S. leaders saw an expansionist Soviet Union that maintained a menacing army and was simultaneously instigating internal subversion in Greece, central Europe, Italy, and elsewhere. Abdullah and his fellow Sunni royals worry about Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its support for proxy forces in Lebanon and Syria and provocateurs in Bahrain, eastern Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. The solution for Western leaders in 1949 was a military alliance based on the principle of collective security. Abdullah apparently wants something similar.
As he sees it, the U.S. could play a similar role in a Gulf NATO:
As an outsider that had no claims in Europe and was largely neutral regarding the internal squabbles among the other members, the United States was seen as a partner all the European leaders could trust and the sole force that could hold the alliance together against its self-defeating instincts. The U.S. claim to leadership was certainly aided by its overwhelming economic and military strength after the war. But Europeans also trusted the United States to lead the alliance because an ocean separated it from Europe.
Without even getting into the logistical feasibility of such an alliance – read Stephen Saideman for what it really means to be like NATO – this argument is problematic at best. In making his case for this treaty, Mr. Haddick declines to address some very major assumptions underlying the whole issue.
For starters, the primary driver of Saudi Arabia’s current bid for closer union – particularly with Bahrain – is internal, not external. It is about quashing internal dissent from the Shia populace in Bahrain, and in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. However much the Kings of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain may try to frame these internal problems as the work of Iranian agitators, they have much more to do with domestic inequalities and repression than with any ties to Iran. And in fact, the security concerns of gulf states generally tend to be internal more than external. Many people already see a U.S. hand in the crackdowns in Bahrain. A formal alliance on the order of NATO would not help this perception in the slightest.
Mr. Haddick mentions the other Gulf states’ concerns about Saudi – “Although the leaders undoubtedly fear revolution and Iran, for the moment they fear the House of Saud even more” – but he doesn’t take the extra step to consider whether or not those fears might be well founded. The other Gulf rulers certainly want to ensure their own sovereignty, and it’s perfectly understandable that when entering into a union with other nations, led by a dominant regional power, they would want “details, and the details of the details” as the Saudi Foreign Minister put it.
Related to that and also not addressed is the possibility that what’s good for Saudi Arabia is not necessarily good for everyone, and this goes for both the other Gulf states and the U.S. Just because King Abdullah wants closer security cooperation doesn’t mean that is in everyone’s best interests. All that tells you is that it is in King Abdullah’s best interests.
Consideration should also be given to the people of the states in question. Do we want to be part of a formal security alliance that, for example, is supported by the Bahraini regime but opposed by the majority of its people? The U.S. has quite clearly been willing to put certain national interests above human rights to a degree in Bahrain and elsewhere, but where should the line be drawn?
I’ve argued before that U.S. support for repressive regimes is not only awkward in terms of our attempts to promote democracy and human rights, but also a potential longterm strategic disaster. Binding ourselves more tightly to these regimes in a security agreement similar to NATO would make later negative repercussions more assured and potentially much worse. And then there’s this:
@smsaideman What’s more concerning is what happens when a Gulf state ties an internal threat 2 Iran and expects us 2 do something about it
— Adam Elkus (@Aelkus) May 19, 2012