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Armed to the teeth, Part II

Armed to the teeth, Part II

GCC states are stockpiling high-tech weapons. They say it’s for protection. This two part series looks at the potential conflicts in the region, and how regional governments are preparing for them.

October 21, 2008 11:06 by

Ian Munroe

It’s as if the same sense of vulnerability that plagued the Gulf in the early 1990s is back again. The GCC countries now have a whack of money to spend on defense (or anything else) if they want to. But they also have a lot more to lose than they did even a decade ago, as their economies have grown by leaps and bounds. To some security experts, that means even more armaments will probably flow to the Gulf over the next several years.

“A lot of this is just standard, textbook military modernization after beginning to accrue significant wealth,” Sharp explains. “If it’s a country by a body of water, it has to protect its ports, it needs to protect its shipping lanes. … Economic interests play a pretty big role.”

If the stakes have changed, so have the players. Iraq’s still in tatters five years after the US destroyed the old Ba’athist government. The Bush administration, which launched the invasion, is on its way out in November and the next group to move into the White House may not be as enthusiastic about helping pick up the pieces. For Iran, both the war in Afghanistan and the one in Iraq have been great news, because they erased two of its neighborhood rivals.

These seismic changes have left the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the other GCC countries between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, the US is keen to supply weapons to its allies in the region. Washington hopes that Gulf states will become a strong military buffer while it seeks to subdue, or at least impede, attempts by Tehran to expand its influence in the Middle East.

So the Gulf countries have been hedging their bets by trying to keep relations with Iran friendly, while building up their militaries in case anyone breaks the peace. Since the GCC houses about 40,000 American troops, and because its governments are seen as friendly toward the US, Tehran has threatened to do whatever it can to destabilize them if tensions boil over.

Luckily, the odds of that happening anytime soon are probably very slim. But the GCC has a lot to gain by staying on Tehran’s good side – and vice versa. Official figures suggest that Iranians have sunk between $250 billion and $500 billion worth of investment into the Gulf economies (they also make up a sizeable chunk of the UAE’s workforce).

“The GCC countries do not wish any military confrontation with Iran,” says Brig. Gen. Musa Qallab, a retired Jordanian air force commander and research fellow at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai. “They might need to be ready and prepared to defend their populations and economic assets. [But] they believe in deterrence, only.”

How to iron out the tensions that have renewed an arms build-up along the Gulf without firing any of the accumulating bombs and guns is any one’s guess. But the reasons behind those growing tensions are very real. “When you build a military, you have to think of what you’re building it for,” Shapir says. “You’re under a certain threat. Otherwise investing the money in other venues would be much more productive.”

First seen in Trends magazine

Read Armed to the teeth, Part I

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