Thursday, August 02, 2007

Gulf Arms Deal Poorly Veiled Attempt to Mask American Policy Disaster

The proposed US arms deal to the Gulf Cooperation Council countries – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman – is a poorly veiled attempt to mask the disaster of American policy in the region that has boosted Iran and weakened popular support for Arab regimes. At the announcement of the deals, US officials acknowledged that the common goal of the military aid packages and arms sales is to strengthen pro-Western countries against Iran as it seeks to extend its power in the region. Citing the Iranian threat as the main rationale for this deal is a convenient approach for the Administration to receive Israeli and Congressional acquiescence for selling the significant new military technology, meanwhile bolstering profits for US defense contractors.

The proposed US arms deal with the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries, as well as the new military aid packages to Egypt and Israel would have disastrous consequences in Iran. After the fall of Sadam Hussein, Iran became the most conventionally superior force in the Gulf region. Iran currently spends around $4 billion on its military forces each year. The proposed arms deal would provide such a huge inflow of arms into the region that it could tip the balance in Tehran in favor of those who want to pursue nuclear weapons. They will argue that the only way for Iran to survive is to have a nuclear deterrent.

The reality is that the proposed arms deal to the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries may not produce much real military capability for many years, if at all. Iran’s military capability improvements thus far have focused on unguided rocketry, guided anti-ship missiles, coastal warfare and perhaps mines. It is essentially a capability to deter a US attack on Iran. If the US were to attack Iran, it could respond by using its force to significantly raise the costs of shipping in the Gulf and cut off oil exports from countries in the region. If the US does want to attack Iran in the future, it would need to significantly ramp up the forces of allies in the Gulf to quickly neutralize any Iranian response. Thus, the proposed arms deal is not so much “defensive” as it is strategically offensive, but it will take many more deals to ramp up the capabilities required.

The arms sales will only undermine true dialogue and diplomacy. Rather than ratcheting up tensions through arms sales in the region as has been US policy for the last two decades, the US should devote its resources to sustained dialogue with Iran on the range of issues at the core of tensions between the two countries. And instead of rewarding Saudi Arabia with a massive arms contract, the US should negotiate with the country to stop its sponsorship of terrorism in Iraq.

There is still time to prevent the arms deal as it must still go through Congress. Several House members, including Nadler (D-NY), Weiner (D-NY), Engel (D-NY) Woolsey (D-CA), Lee (D-CA) and Ferguson (R-NY) have announced their intention to try to block the sale. Congress can block major arms sales by passing a joint resolution of disapproval that the President has to sign.

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