Supporting our allies is the foundation of United States’ strength as a democracy, and is a reflection of our nation’s values. By helping countries defend themselves against common threats, we become stronger ourselves by creating a unified team for collective defense. Through support and cooperation, even the smallest nation can become a pillar of regional stability and strength. The United Arab Emirates is a premier example of this, and is poised to lead the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) towards a more holistic alliance for collective defense and deterrence of the region against Iran.
Iran is the destabilizing threat to the region that continues both in their military proliferation of offensive capability and belligerency fueled by longstanding cultural and religious differences from the Arab countries of the GCC, as well as disputed territories in the region. The ongoing pursuit of nuclear capability with multiple ballistic missile delivery means is Iran’s force projector and defense against the GCC and U.S. forces who are embedded in the region. Iran’s strong relationship and transfers of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons technology is evidenced in both the similarities between North Korean and Iranian ballistic missiles, as well as the presence of Iranians at North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear tests over past several years.
Furthermore, Iran’s recent acquisition of a sizable amount of 19 BM-25 North Korean medium to intermediate range missiles is a serious concern. The warheads on these missiles could be interchangeable with nuclear warheads once the technology is developed or acquired. This North Korean-Iranian material relationship along with the continual proliferation and development of their ballistic missile technology leads to a very serious threat should Iran acquire nuclear weapons.
This eventuality would lead to strategic imbalance that would likely force a nuclear arms race in the region. Addressing this concern today are major diplomatic efforts by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to get an agreement with Iran to slow down its nuclear development in exchange for easing sanctions. Based on past experience, any agreement would at most would slow down Iran’s development, but not ultimately prevent Iran from acquiring or developing nuclear weapons. Therefore, it is just too much strategic risk for any of the six GCC countries or the United States to rely on such agreements with Iran to prevent nuclear proliferation and to defend their populations and territories.
A more reliable solution and one that is being done today to deter Iran and prevent regional nuclear proliferation is to ensure that ballistic missile defense systems, integrated with air defense and offensive air power, are deployed and expanding in this region. This includes all but one country in the GCC, and the United States forces in this region. Taking strong steps to implement this strategy is the UAE, which has become the foremost leader in the GCC in missile defense capability and partnership with the United States.
Currently, the UAE has nine Patriot Batteries that are outfitted with Patriot Advanced Capability 3’s and have two forthcoming THAAD batteries – one of the newest missile defense systems in the world today that provides an upper tier layer in space and the atmosphere to their Patriot systems. Beyond UAE’s capabilities in hardware and capacity, missile defense has become embedded in the UAE’s military culture. Missile defense is seen and valued as an exclusive skill set that the Emiratis can fully participate in and play a primary role in the defense of the UAE and eventually support the broader GCC defense. This has motivated a sense of urgency, and sense of pride in leadership in its desire to acquire greater missile defense capability, both in capacity and partnership, training and interoperability that will continue into the future.
As the UAE capacity grows, greater partnership of systems between U.S. air and missile defense forces deployed in UAE is needed to maximize the efficiency of both U.S. and UAE missile defenses. Better integration and interoperability make for more efficient use of interceptors between the nations. Even more important, integration and interoperability provide a clear picture between nations and joint services of friendly and non-friendly air and space breathing platforms that could be deemed a threat or not. Having an open link of information shared for air and missile defense by UAE and the United States would set a precedent for full GCC participation. A similar arrangement to what the United States has with NATO member countries is the desired outcome for both proficiency and safety with the UAE and the GCC.
It is essential for the United States, the UAE, and the GCC to pursue a common, long-term strategy to build out the region’s missile defenses. An “Arabian Phased Adaptive Approach” type model should be adopted, with Phase 1 starting in the UAE, and building out that common architecture in other GCC nations.
The more the GCC team understands how they play together and their respective roles, the better they play and the better they can contribute to their joint goals both tactically and strategically to deter and defend against Iran. When you have all of these assets together jointly and with a partnering nation that you can continually enable, train, and become interoperable with you increase partnership capacity to mitigate the risk exponentially while reducing costs, and becoming more effective in preventing nuclear proliferation, deterring conflict and defending the region.
The United Arab Emirates is a great partner in its example and leadership in air and missile defense with the United States.
We are extremely honored to have visited their country this past week to meet their military officers and airmen that defend their nation, and to recognize their excellence and leadership.