Washington, DC (NEO) – Anyone under the impression that the US is really a ‘peace loving State’ or that it cares about democracy anywhere in the world must be living in an imaginary world. The US, as it stands, has been and will always be guided by one simple principle: keeping the US hegemony intact, unchallenged, unscathed and resilient enough to tackle any untoward situation anywhere in the world. It is not a broker of peace; for, peace does suit its interests. It maintains an anarchical situation, a conducive geo-political environment, whereby it can sell things manufactured in its military industrial complex. No wonder thus, the probable US-Iran deal has been followed by a ‘generous’ offer by the US to the Gulf State to create a region-wide missile defence system. By offering this ‘generous’ protection to the GCC against Iran, the US is actually perpetuating rivalry between them, with placing itself at the heart of the Middle East. This deal, in nutshell, is a part of the problem than a part of the solution. The US wants to achieve two immediate objectives out of it: it will keep a conflict situation in the Middle East and it will also help it ensure its “commitment” to the security of the GCC countries. In simple words, by offering two separate deals to the GCC and Iran, the US is trying to have its cake and eat it too.
Notwithstanding the US’ own ambitions, the Gulf States, too, are neither interested in any “peace deal” nor do they contemplate such a scenario in the Middle East as dominated by Iran—hence, the Arab states’ military extravaganza. For them, the US’ ambitions do not matter so much as their own position vis-à-vis Iran. However, ironically speaking, it cannot be gainsaid that normalization between the Gulf States and Iran does not happen to coincide well with the US’ core interests in the ME. The US’ twenty-first century global strategy requires these states to be at loggers head with each other so that these state can be dissuaded from, for instance, using Oil as a weapon against the corporate “Western world.”
As a matter of fact, this rivalry benefits the US and its allies in the Europe; for, it directly helps in keeping oil price at a suitable low. By maintaining this state of rivalry, the US has effectively diverted Middle Eastern States’ energy towards each other instead of the West, as it was, for instance, in the mid 1970s. This policy of “divide and rule” therefore continues to guide the basic principles of the US policy, and provides the linchpin for its domination over the most oil rich region in the world.
On May 10, The US media reported that besides offering an advanced missile defence system, the Obama administration might also offer a range of sophisticated weapons to Saudi Arabia to assuage its fears with regard to Iran-US deal. It was also reported that President Obama will also assure his Arab allies that the United States remains `determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, ` senior officials told various US media outlets. As a matter of fact, the GCC countries, specifically States which are concerned over the US-Iran deal, are demanding more than verbal assurances.
On Friday May 8, the US Secretary of State John Kerry met foreign ministers of the Arab nations attending the Camp David summit `to lay the groundwork for the Washington summit.’ In Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the US, was reported to have said that members of the Gulf Cooperation Council were looking for more than “verbal assurances.” He also said, “We are looking for some form of security guarantee, given the behaviour of Iran in the region [and] given the rise of the extremist threat.” Following this (probable) demand expressed by the UAE minister, Obama administration officials told the media that Washington is willing to oblige with new “arms sales and more joint military exercises.”
But diplomatic sources in Washington say that the GCC is mainly looking for something more concrete, such as a NATO like agreement that would require the US military to defend its Arab allies if they are attacked by Iran. It did not, however, appear plausible that the US would commit to any such proposal because it will have serious repercussions that may go beyond the region. And the conclusion of summit has unmistakably established that the US is more than willing to co-operate with the GCC but without any formal defence treaty whatsoever.
Much to the satisfaction of the GCC states, however, reiteration of commitment to their defence by the US is, under the given circumstances, a “fair deal” because both the US and the GCC States do realize the need for staying friends in the wake of growing strength of Russia-China led block in Eurasia. However, for the GCC, the situation is not so simple as it appears to be. The fact that the Saudi King did not attend the summit speaks volumes about the growing distance between the US and its erstwhile allies in the ME. Indeed, only two of the six countries’ heads of state ended up arriving at all. On the morning of the summit an unnamed Arab leader was reported to have said that if—as seems likely—Iran is allowed to retain significant nuclear capabilities, including 5,000 centrifuges for producing enriched uranium, then the Gulf’s Arab states would feel obliged to build their own nuclear programmes. Arab officials briefed other American news outlets that they greatly feared that once sanctions on Iran’s economy were lifted, the Iranian regime would use the sudden flood of riches to fund destabilising mischief across the Middle East.
“Building their own nuclear programmes” is a scenario that, under the current situation, suits the US more than committing herself to the GCC’s security through a bi-lateral treaty. And, it is precisely here that the core of the problem lies. If the GCC states start taking the “building their own” principle on, it would certainly lead to, rather greatly intensify the already going on, arms race in the ME. An arms race in the ME would benefit the US all the more because these states, especially the GCC, are infatuated with American weapons and love to have these “toys” in their stockpiles.
As it stands, the US would provide the GCC state with weapons and missile systems under the guise of what Obama called, “our iron-clad commitment to the security of our Gulf partners.” Obama stopped short of offering a formal defense treaty that some Gulf countries had sought and instead announced more modest measures, including helping them to integrate ballistic missile defense systems, streamlining weapons sales and increasing military training. It is quite evident that the US was more ‘concerned’ over the GCC State’s own internal differences than on their concerns vis-à-vis Iran. “The United States will stand by our GCC partners against external attack and will deepen and extend cooperation that we have,” Obama told reporters, with Gulf leaders standing by his side at the end of the talks.
But he then told a news conference it was a “two-way street” and Gulf countries, which have differences among themselves, must also cooperate among themselves, thereby implying the need for some “joint” defence mechanism. Not surprisingly, the Gulf States did fall into the trap set by the US. A summit joint statement showed the GCC states committing to develop a region-wide missile defense system, something Washington has long advocated.
On the other hand, Obama did actually fail to convince the GCC states of the ‘benefits’ of nuclear deal with Iran. Although the joint summit statement did say that a nuclear deal with Iran is in the security interest of the GCC; however, it is quite clear that the GCC states are far from practically backing this deal. They stopped short of actually endorsing a framework nuclear deal reached early last month that envisages sanctions relief in return for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program. The Summit has, in a way, left the cracks between the US and its ‘allies’ wide open. The mood of the GCC leaders before and the after the summit failed to reflect any change in their desire to keep Iran under the radar of sanctions. The question of Iran’s future, therefore, continues to be the bone of contention between them.
The US’ double-edge policy is cutting at the heart of the Middle East. By making a deal with Iran, the US not only hopes to ‘win’ an old ally back to its block, but also gets a way to control the whims of its Arab allies. On the other hand, by offering the GCC “iron-clad” commitment against any aggression from Iran, the US is basically paving the way for long term geo-political rivalry in the region that would lead to further proxy wars just like the currently going wars in Syria, Iraq, and now in Yemen too.
With the US now placed as the balancer between Sunni and Shia states, it can play an even more devastating role in keeping the region immersed in conflict. The US stands to gain out of this conflict both politically and economically. Politically, a conflict situation in the ME would keep the oil rich states’ attention away from the West; economically it would keep oil price low; for, both Iran and Saudia tend to use oil as a weapon against each other. The Western economy, dependent upon oil from the ME, therefore stands to benefit from such rivalry since low oil prices help them save billions of dollars annually—hence, the classic Western stratagem of Divide & Rule.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”