February 11, 2013
Credit: TONY OSBORNE-AW&ST
Middle Eastern governments have been busy recapitalizing their armed forces in recent years with the latest technology.
New fighters, main battle tanks and intelligence-gathering capabilities have been snapped up from defense companies eager to sell, given the historic lows in their traditional U.S. and European markets. Key to this strengthening is concern about Iran—which continues to make noises about its nuclear program and wield major political influence in the region despite heavy sanctions—and perhaps about U.S. involvement in the region.
In 2011, when President Barack Obama announced a “strategic pivot” in U.S. foreign policy toward the Asia-Pacific region, he was also signaling a turning point for U.S. energy policy. Improved techniques for extracting shale oil mean the U.S. could potentially become the world's largest oil producer and thus be almost self-sufficient in terms of energy production.
“The governments in the Middle East have known this was coming for a long time, but were slow to recognize its significance,” says Jonathan Eyal, a Middle East expert with the U.K.-based Royal United Services Institute defense think tank. “Of course, the U.S. has some strategic allies in the region, but these countries are realizing that they increasingly have to do more for themselves.”
While the U.S. mulls how it will re-distribute its forces after the pull-out from Afghanistan, it is likely that the huge number of U.S. troops, aircraft and ships deployed in the region is likely to shrink significantly, leaving those Middle Eastern countries to deal with problems on their periphery.This may require greater cross-border cooperation or even joint military operations.
“Military cooperation lies at the very core of the [Persian Gulf Cooperation Council] agreements, and the countries do work together, albeit on a relatively small scale,” says Eyal.
He suggests the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations may need to take a greater role in operations in which the U.S. and European navies have invested in the past decade, such as anti-piracy or surveillance of the Straits of Hormuz, through which one-fifth of the world's oil supply is transported.