Editor’s Note: In an interview with the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research on emerging developments in warfare and defense technologies, Peter Singer sheds light on some of the pressing security concerns facing the Gulf Cooperation Council region and the need for greater defense coordination.
ECSSR: In your enlightening lecture, you raised very important questions about leadership issues regarding selecting and investing in the right kind of military technologies. What kind of new approaches and technologies should peace-loving countries like many GCC states with relatively small militaries invest in to ward off threats posed by big nations in their vicinity, like Iran, to strike a balance of power?
Peter Singer: I think there are several important issues to be put on the table here. First, while GCC member states are small countries, they do have relatively powerful defense budgets, when you sum them together. So while individually they may not be a match for the size of a large neighbor, like an Iran, collectively that is certainly within their power; particularly when you add in the advantage that they have of being able to purchase high technology.
In most areas, they are a generation ahead of Iran. For example, in terms of jet fighters they are literally a generation ahead. Secondly, they can have partnerships with allies like the US and France that aren’t accessible to a nation like Iran. So that gives them certain opportunities.
The challenge for the GCC, as I see it as a defense analyst from the outside, is a couple of issues. There hasn’t been as much cooperation and coordination as there might be both within the states of the GCC and with their allies, like the US and France. We can see this when it comes to areas like air defense and missile defense, where we still don’t have a well-integrated relationship despite the very clear threat from an Iran, particularly when it comes to missiles.
Another area of cooperation will be if you look for a low level threat from Iran. There is fear that they may not engage in direct hostilities but do something like mine the seaways nearby, which is something they had done previously in their history. And yet we don’t see the kinds of investment being made in mine-detection and mine-clearing at sea by the local states here that might match that threat. The United States, for example, has had to push almost all of its mine-sweeping capacity into the Gulf right now.
The second issue is focusing on spreading out your investments. There is a clear amount of technological change going around in the world today, ranging from the rise of unmanned systems to directed energies etc., and so each of the nations —whether it is the United States or the states of the GCC —have to figure out how to make smart investments. In many ways, like an investor on the stock market, you don’t put all you money in one place but spread out the risks. Again, you particularly don’t put all your money in the thing that is most shiny and most appealing. That’s a challenge, which is facing many militaries and we see that playing out in the market today. So I think that given the amount of transition that is going on, locking into any one program, or locking into any single system is not the way to go. There is enough uncertainty right now that you spread out the risk.