US Policy Priorities in the Gulf: Challenges and Choices

Martin S. Indyk
Martin S. Indyk
Martin S. Indyk Former Brookings Expert, Distinguished Fellow - The Council on Foreign Relations

December 1, 2004

This article constitutes Chapter 4 in the book titled International Interests in the Gulf Region, published in 2004 by the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), P.O.Box 4567, Abu Dhabi, UAE. It has been published with special permission from ECCSR. Copyright belongs to the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research. All rights are reserved. Except for brief quotations in a review, this material, or any part thereof may not be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher.

United States (US) security strategy in the Arabian Gulf has been dictated by its vital interest in ensuring the free flow of oil at reasonable prices from the oil fields of that region.1 With the elimination of the Iraqi army and its replacement with American forces, the United States is now the dominant power in the Gulf. With bases and access rights in Iraq and most of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states (with the notable exception of Saudi Arabia), the United States is capable of maintaining this dominance for the foreseeable future, even if its efforts to stabilize the situation in Iraq prove hapless.

Its greatest challenges are likely to stem from two sources: first, a potential failure to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, which could in turn trigger an Israeli preemptive strike and a destabilizing arms race in the region; and second, a ripple effect from instability in Iraq that could impact on the stability of its smaller Arab neighbors, which could in turn undermine the foundations on which America’s security policy is based.

To deal with these potential challenges, the United States needs to develop a security architecture for the Gulf that will take into account the legitimate security concerns of all the states in the Gulf, including Iran, and thereby defuse the potential for nuclear proliferation in this volatile region. At the same time, it will need to stabilize the situation in Iraq in ways that ensure its ability to maintain a security presence in the region for the foreseeable future. This paper will review the various ideas for developing a new security architecture in the Gulf and suggest a comprehensive security policy for the United States to pursue.

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