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Research Report

ARTFUL BALANCE: Future US Defense Strategy and Force Posture in the Gulf

Bilal Y. Saab
Barry Pavel
Copyright Date: Mar. 1, 2015
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 28
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-2)

    A strategic review of US defense strategy and force posture in the Gulf is long overdue. A number of factors suggest the need for a comprehensive reassessment of the strengths and weaknesses of US politicalmilitary designs in the Gulf, including: uncertainty over Iran’s nuclear ambitions; the US departure from Iraq in 2011 and subsequent return in 2014; President Barack Obama’s determination to withdraw the last US troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016; new and significant fiscal constraints on the US defense budget; and widespread turmoil and violence in the broader Middle East, including the rise of the Islamic...

  2. (pp. 3-8)

    Tightening fiscal constraints in Washington, evolving US global priorities, worsening security challenges in Europe, and increasingly worrying trends in the Middle East all hamper the military effectiveness and political sustainability of the US force posture in the Gulf. Specifically, a downsized US military and an increasingly constrained US defense budget—along with closer US diplomatic attention and commitment of more resources to the Asia-Pacific region—are likely to restrict Washington’s plans and freedom of action in the Gulf. That, in turn, will force the Pentagon to think more creatively about ways to protect collective

    Another set of complex regional challenges...

  3. (pp. 9-12)

    For US defense strategy in the Gulf to be effective, Washington must clearly articulate its core interests in the region. US foreign policy specialists often debate what constitutes a core US interest in the Gulf (and, more broadly, in the Middle East), and the best means to preserve it. Some argue that US interests arise primarily, if not solely, from the energy resources concentrated in that part of the world. Any other interests are presumed to be secondary, or else related to the protection of global energy supplies and freedom of commerce.

    The strategic importance of the region’s energy resources...

  4. (pp. 13-18)

    The basic principle of any future US force posture in the Gulf, regardless of what happens on the Iranian nuclear front, should be the continuation of US military access to the Gulf. Indeed, instead of fixating on force structure, Washington should focus on identifying measures that help maintain and enhance military access, and it should not be shy about explaining to its Gulf partners why the latter is more strategically significant and mutually beneficial than the former.

    Successful realignment of US force posture in the Gulf, and elsewhere, also must emphasize military capability. Indeed, any serious discussion of this topic...

  5. (pp. 19-19)

    The Middle East has been enormously challenging and costly for the United States during the past two decades, in terms of blood, treasure, and international reputation. Despite this, Washington can afford neither to lessen its involvement nor address the problems of the region only from afar.

    The United States should no longer delay the development and implementation of a strategically driven redesign of its force posture in the Gulf. With so many evolving global demands and complex, multifaceted, and unpredictable security challenges, Washington cannot afford to waste its efforts on less-than-core strategic priorities.

    Thus, it is more critical than ever...