Toward a New Middle East Security Framework
By: Melissa Dalton
President Obama plans to convene a Camp David summit with key Arab partners this spring to discuss U.S. security cooperation efforts in the Middle East. Following the P5+1–Iran nuclear framework agreement, U.S. partners worry that international pressure on Iran will lessen, spurring Tehran to increase its destabilizing activities in the region. The U.S. administration plans to strengthen its security cooperation efforts with Arab partners to reassure them.
The United States has pursued security cooperation with Middle East countries for 60 years, building partner capacity, conducting military exercises, and securing critical base and posture access for U.S. forces. Over the last two years, following the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, the tumultuous aftermath of the Arab uprisings, and perceived distancing of the United States from the Middle East, regional partners have increasingly taken security matters into their own hands, conducting unilateral airstrikes in Libya, striking targets in Syria and Iraq, and leading a military intervention in Yemen. Regional partners now not only have the military capabilities to address shared threats but also the political will to use them. However, this increased assertiveness may come with a price if partners’ actions do not always align with U.S. interests.
The United States should lead its allies and regional partners in creating a multilateral, normative framework for the use of force in the Middle East, actualized through an annual defense ministerial meeting and regular diplomatic and military engagement. Through these engagements, allies and partners could develop common threat assessments, determine desired outcomes and objectives, identify comparative advantages in military capabilities, and build trust and transparency among members. Over time, such a framework would raise the political costs of unilateral action. While creating momentum for this top-down approach, the United States and its allies and partners can work toward building security approaches to knit together countries that share common interests. Force posture, counterterrorism, strike, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, maritime security, missile defense, cyber, and information sharing hold the most promise for these efforts. Through a phased approach, connecting security cooperation with a normative framework will enable the United States, its allies, and partners to secure their interests in a coherent and enduring manner.