Sunday, October 24, 2010

The impact of U.S.-Arab arms deal: Balancing competing interests - ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’

by M. Ulric Killion

McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F-15 Eagle Air Superiority Fighter. DESCRIPTION: Forseeing the need to replace its fleet of F-4 Phantoms, the US Air Force issued the FX requirement for a long-range air superiority fighter in 1965. Performance requirements called for beyond visual range air-to-air capability, close-in dogfighting capability, twin engines, an internal gun, sufficient ferry range to deploy to Europe without refueling, and a maximum speed of Mach 2.5. McDonnell Douglas was selected over rivals North American and Fairchild Republic to build what would become the F-15 Eagle. . . . 

Although the Air Force had originally intended to order some 730 F-15A single-seat fighters and F-15B two-seat combat-capable trainers, only about 410 were built before production switched to the more capable F-15C/D models. . . .  Later F-15C/D models also received more powerful F100-220 engines plus the faster APG-70 radar with better resolution and greater memory when compared to the earlier APG-63. Older F-15A/B and F-15C/D models have also been progressively upgraded through an ambitious Mid-Service Improvement Program (MSIP). . . . The potential of the basic F-15 airframe has been further exploited through the development of the two-seat F-15E strike model that adds a potent surface attack capability. Older F-15A/C vehicles will begin to be replaced by the F-22 by about 2010. . . . ( Museum – F-15 Eagle).

Arab states transition from defensive to offensive capability

On October 20, 2010, the Obama administration gave notice to the U.S. Congress of its “plans for a multiyear, multibillion-dollar weapons deal with Saudi Arabia.” By doing so the Obama administration, according to Andrew Shapiro (U.S. State Department) intends to further “align the Saudi military relationship with the United States and allow the kingdom to better protect its security and oil structure, which is critical to our economic interests.”

The proposed arms deal is estimated to be worth up to $60 billion over a 20 year period, which is a deal that also includes the sale of “F-15 fighter aircraft and almost 200 helicopters, and the upgrading of 70 older-model F-15s” (Adam Levine, US plans $60 billion, 20-year arms deal with Saudi Arabia, CNN, October 20, 2010). Notwithstanding Congress exercising its right to raise objections within 30 days, the Obama administration will likely succeed in pushing its plan through Congress.

Additionally, the plan also includes “trainers, simulators, generators, spare and repair parts, and other related elements of program support, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the Pentagon unit charged with executing the program and processing the transaction. Some of the prime contractors involved are Boeing, Lockheed Martin and General Electric, according to DSCA Public Affairs Officer Charles Taylor.”

Members of the U.S. Congress presently appear divided on this issue. The concerns are many and vary. For instance, some members of Congress are prioritizing the issue of Israel maintaining military superiority in the region, other members of Congress are emphasizing the possibility of sparking an arms race in the region (i.e., raising the level of military technology), and then other members are flatly against arms sales. This is because of Saudi Arabia’s alleged history of financing terrorism (See; letter of objection by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), the lead author of the letter, and other members of Congress; Hilary Leila Krieger, Some Congressmen come out against US-Saudi arms deal, The Jerusalem Post, September 17, 2010).

In support of Krieger’s position, the United States 9/11 Commission report did earlier find that, “Saudi Arabia has been a problematic ally in combating Islamic extremism” (Cade Wallace, Record breaking U.S.-Saudi Arms Sale Likely to happen, deal likely to Happen, September 15, 2010). There is also the concern about oil and/or access to oil, securing sea-lanes for oil transport, or simply, the geopolitics of oil. Then there is the added benefit of the arms sales creating an additional 75,000 U.S.-jobs (Wallace, 2010).

The U.S. intends to rearm its Arab allies in the Persian gulf. Photo/Deutsche Welle/Oct. 21, 2010.

Arms sales to Saudi Arabia, however, constitute only a part of the total arms sales package. This is because the arms deal as struck is actually between the U.S., Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, and Kuwait.

The total arms deal is estimated at up to $122.88 billion (88.4 billion euros) over the next four years and will be among the largest rearmament exercises the Persian Gulf has ever seen if and when it is approved by the U.S. Congress.

For instance, notwithstanding arms sales to Saudi Arabia, though the largest component of the proposed Gulf deal at an estimated $60 to $67 billion, the UAE will spend up to $40 billion on Lockheed Martin’s THAAD high-altitude missile defense system and join Kuwait in upgrading its existing Patriot missile batteries.

Further, Kuwait will also replace and upgrade its warplanes and command and control systems to the tune of $7 billion, while Oman will spend $12 billion to do the same with 18 new F-16 jet fighters and upgrades for another 12 thrown in for good measure. (Nick Amies, US takes calculated risks with Arab arms deals in volatile Persian Gulf, Deutsche Welle, October 21, 2010).

Assessing the Impact of the Arab Arms Deal

The objections to the intended Arab arms deal or sales are many and problematically as couched have a tendency to over-simply the many issues that are actually at stake.

A short article recently authored by Anthony H. Cordesman, which is titled, U.S.-Saudi Security Cooperation and the Impact of U.S. Arms Sales (Center for Strategic and International Studies, September 14, 2010),  provides an excellent summary of these many issues, as well as the need to balance these many competing issues and attendant interests.

All of which, admittedly, can also be said to justify divergent opinions coming from the halls of the U.S. Congress on whether to approve or disapprove of the Arab arms sales.

An excerpt from Anthony H. Cordesman’s (2010) article follows.
U.S.-Saudi security cooperation is becoming steadily more important as Iran expands its capabilities for asymmetric warfare in the Gulf, increases its long-range missile forces, and moves toward a capability to build and deploy nuclear weapons. The same is true of the enduring threat from terrorism, dealing with Iraq’s weakness and uncertain political leadership, the problems of Yemen, and instability and piracy in the Red Sea area and Indian Ocean.
The United States needs all the friends it can find in the Gulf. It faces serious uncertainties in reshaping its security posture in the region as its forces depart from Iraq. These include Iraq’s uncertain future political stance and government, the inability to predict Iranian actions and alignments, the uncertain outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and uncertainties surrounding the success or failure of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. . . .
Meeting the Challenge of Iran
Large as these arms transfers may seem, it is important to understand that the weapons numbers involved are relatively limited, given the overall size of forces in the Gulf. Moreover, their actual cost and size will only become clear once firm contracts are signed, and major deliveries will occur over at least a five-year period. They meet key Saudi concerns in force expansion and modernization, provide the basis for full interoperability with U.S. forces in a crisis or conflict, and give Saudi Arabia a significant “edge” in air superiority against Iran. Moreover, they given the kingdom the ability to improve the overall protection of its borders and coasts, assist in countering any serious terrorist attacks, and deal with any attacks or challenges in Yemen and the Red Sea area.
From a U.S. viewpoint, these arms transfers are part of a new post–Iraq War security structure that can secure the flow of energy exports to the global economy. They reinforce the level of regional deterrence rather than threaten it; and they help reduce the size of forces the United States must deploy or be ready to project into the region. They also help ensure the U.S. strategic position in the region at time when other powers like China are becoming key players in global energy and when recycling “petrodollars” is even more important than in the past.
Hopefully, a combination of such U.S. and Saudi efforts will create an effective deterrent and not have to be used. The United States also can never take Saudi willingness to support U.S. military operations for granted, particularly after U.S. miscalculations in Iraq. The fact remains, however, that U.S.-Saudi ties are critical to both deterrence and defense, to any effective effort to check Iran’s expanding military capabilities, and to any hope that regional security structures can advance to the point where the United States can create a far more limited and “over-the-horizon” military presence and set of contingency capabilities. . . . (Source: U.S.-Saudi Security Cooperation and the Impact of U.S. Arms Sales | Center for Strategic and International Studies).
Conclusion: ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’

What Cordesman’s insightful article reveals more than anything else is the inherent uncertainty of any actions taken by the U.S., other non-Middle East countries, or Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia. As Cordesman observed, “At the same time, neither the United States nor its Gulf allies have any reason to seek open confrontation with Iran. This is particularly true of the Gulf states. ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’ may not be an old Arab proverb, but Arab leaders have long practiced this with considerable success.”

Indeed, Cordesman’s prescription for addressing these issues – compelling needs and interests – is both intuitive and practical. In other words, as concerns peace and security in the Middle East, the new order of the day may well be many needs and interests and an ability to juggle these many competing needs and interests, while in the same instance avoiding an open confrontation with Iran.
Copyright © Protected - All Rights Reserved M. Ulric Killion, 2010.
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