Arms race in the Gulf lacks unified plan

28 September 2010

Despite arms purchases, GCC states continue to lack a coherent strategy when it comes to dealing with Iran

Sometimes you have be careful what you wish for. The removal of Saddam Hussein and the elimination of Iraq as a military threat seven years ago was a welcome development for many in the Gulf region. But in removing Saddam, the US took out the only real counter-weight to Iran.

The new strategic environment of the Gulf is unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

Under these circumstances, the GCC states could be expected to work together more closely for defence. So far, this has not happened. It is easy to forget that the GCC is not a homogenous bloc. Each of its members comes with its own often competing agenda.

Perceptions of an Iranian threat differ from state to state, and not all view it through a prism of distrust

Despite a region-wide drive to bolster air and naval forces to counter the perceived threat from Iran, each state has pressed ahead with its own procurement programmes independently. The only common factor so far, has been reliance on the US as the region’s ultimate guarantor of security. 

Even GCC perceptions of an Iranian threat differ from state to state, and not all view it through a prism of distrust. Iran may rival Saudi Arabia’s influence in the wider region, but sitting just across the Hormuz Strait, the view from Oman is of an important political and economic ally, one that is too powerful to ignore, let alone antagonise.

That the GCC has established a lead in military spending is hardly surprising. Iran is the third highest spender in the region, but its budgets are dwarfed by Saudi Arabia.

Over the past decade, the kingdom has accounted for half of all military spending on both side of the Gulf.

Increasingly isolated, Iran has had to rely heavily on its old allies, Russia, China and North Korea for the technology it needs while it seeks to develop an indigenous weapons industry. Even this is becoming more difficult.

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