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The Carletonian

An Arab NATO

<shington Post recently reported on a Trump administration plan to unveil an “Arab NATO” during his upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia. This new military alliance would include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with the United States playing an advisory role, at least in the first few years. Additionally, the new project would include provisions for major arms deals with the member-countries, with the U.S. providing ships, missile defense systems, armored personnel carriers, and various other high-tech material.

The idea for this is not new, nor is it a radical departure from existing U.S. policy in the region. Indeed, the Trump administration just signed a deal with the UAE to sell $2 billion worth of missile defense systems, including the highly technologically advanced Patriot missile systems. Nevertheless, the creation of an overt military alliance in the region is a shrewd and smart foreign policy decision by an administration that has been, on nearly all accounts, floundering since it first got off the ground in late January.

From a military perspective, the consolidation and institutionalization of regional military cooperation is a smart tactic that will ensure continued coordination and cooperation between the Gulf countries as well as Egypt and Jordan long after current military objectives disappear. With joint military exercises and a sharing of intelligence and strategic goals, it becomes increasingly unlikely that member-states will antagonize each other in the future. (We have seen this before; NATO itself, along with the European Union, has helped usher in the longest-ever period of European stability.) Furthermore, emboldening the military capabilities of America’s regional allies will reduce the number of U.S. troops necessary in the region to fight terrorist cells and maintain stability.

American companies will also benefit greatly from an emerging Middle Eastern military alliance. Part of the project spells out an arms deal with Saudi Arabia that will eventually net American arms manufacturers $350 billion over 10 years. And although there are no explicit deals in the project for any of the other proposed allies, there is every reason to assume that expanded military coordination and cooperation will entail more arms shipments. In many respects, the recent arms agreement with the UAE should be seen as just the beginning, rather than a one-off event. This increased investment in materiel will put money in the coffers of both the federal government and major arms manufacturers, who will continue to employ workers in factories throughout the United States.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, instituting an “Arab NATO” will allow the United States to further pursue its interests through soft power. By making foreign militaries in part dependent on the United States, organizations like NATO ensure continued influence over foreign institutions. This is done in part through coercion: with greater cooperation, the threat of withholding a weapons system of withholding a weapons system, removing special training units, or pulling out of the deal entirely threatens the very viability of a foreign nation’s military apparatus, making it more likely that they will comply with the political desires of the U.S. In a less Machiavellian lens, greater coordination allows the American military ethos to take root in foreign militaries. In the United States, the army is seen as a servant of the people, existing solely to protect the nation from external threats. Despite its large institutional power, it understands that it is always under civilian control, and will categorically refuse to interfere in issues of domestic politics. This separation of the military from the civilian sphere helps discourage authoritarian consolidation, which in turn allows for civil society to flourish. Instilling this ethos in the militaries of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE will only help to further the strategic objectives of the United States in the Middle East.

Regional cooperation within the Middle East has steadily expanded in the last few years, and the United States has consistently offered both arms and training to willing partners. Creating an explicit security constellation between those partners will be a necessary extension of that process, creating a more stable and interconnected Middle East.

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