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Building Security in the Persian Gulf

Building Security in the Persian Gulf by Robert E. Hunter. RAND, 2010, 202 pp.

In Building Security in the Persian Gulf, Robert Hunter analyzes current conditions and challenges, explores opportunities for improving security, and provides a comprehensive list of criteria and recommendations for building a new security structure for the region. He emphasizes the need for the United States, its allies, and other key players to plan for that new security structure as circumstances change in the near future. Hunter draws on his extensive experience in diplomacy, public policy, and international relations research to create a concise discussion of the issues, and his experience in developing and implementing Middle East policy lends great credence to his work.

The monograph seeks to define and develop the ways and means for achieving an end state of long-term security in the Persian Gulf region while also reducing the risks and costs to the United States. It takes a longer view without stating specific, detailed solutions to current challenges. While the discussion centers predominantly on opportunities, actions, and implications for the United States, Hunter does acknowledge significant challenges for the nation acting unilaterally and discusses roles and opportunities for other actors. Although the stated focus is the Persian Gulf region, he widens his aperture to include most of the major actors in the Middle East that obviously impact Gulf security.

Hunter organizes his analysis and provides a framework for the monograph by dividing the areas for opportunity and action into eight key parameters: the future of Iraq; interaction with Iran; asymmetric threats; regional reassurance; addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict; regional tensions, conflicts, and crises; the role of external actors; and arms control and confidence-building measures. Together, this wide array demonstrates just how complex it will be to develop a successful, long-term security structure in the region. Before launching into his analysis and recommendations, he provides a synopsis of regional history for background and context, albeit a bit Iran-centric.

Perhaps the biggest challenge noted throughout the monograph is the precise role the United States can and should play. On one hand, Hunter makes it clear that the United States must be the central player and take the lead in providing interim security and shaping the future security structure. He makes it clear, however, that some nations, most notably Iran, will see any involvement by the United States as an impediment to progress. This extends to US involvement in multinational organizations, like NATO, that might support solutions. Continuing to avoid specific policy proposals, Hunter devotes most of chapter 5 to discussing five key elements of US activity that would reassure security, including Iraq, Iran, regional defenses, and formal security and nuclear guarantees. He strongly emphasizes any solutions must be rooted in the region and not driven by US actions.

Weaving through his discussions are the two lingering challenges of Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Iran is at the center of most of the deepest challenges and most of the roadblocks to progress. The nature of its nuclear program, how it supports or curtails terrorism, and the approach it takes with its neighbors will determine whether Iran’s neighbors perceive it as a threat or potential partner. Hunter defines several opportunities for including Iran or keeping the door open for future cooperation. The Arab-Israeli conflict presents an equally challenging, widely acknowledged roadblock to progress, particularly as others perceive US efforts for a solution. This conflict is the clearest example of extra-Gulf issues that deeply affect security solutions in the Gulf region.

The strongest and most useful discussions define the building blocks of a new security structure and the importance of arms control and confidence-building measures. Analyzing the various threats is the essential element of determining the right responses and framework for the structure. Hunter correctly recognizes that the wide range of regional threats require more than military-oriented solutions, including economic, political, and cultural. This argument points out the sheer complexity of any new structure and lends support to his proposal for multiple approaches and the extensive list of recommended criteria for success.

If there is any bias in the analysis, it is the reliance on multinational organizations and multilateral approaches. While Hunter acknowledges the opportunity for bilateral agreements and cooperation, he underplays the value of bilateral efforts as an alternative to failures in multilateral approaches. For the United States and the Persian Gulf states, a bilateral approach could resemble the web of post–World War II agreements made in East Asia that in part now underpin expanding multinational organizations in Asia.

The value of this work is the consolidation of a wide range of issues and the framing of a diverse set of criteria for potential solutions. The monograph is particularly useful for readers with only a basic knowledge of Middle Eastern politics and diplomacy and who want to develop a deeper understanding, such as congressional staff, defense officials, and proponents of grand strategy. I strongly recommend it to those seeking appreciation of the intricacies of building security in the Persian Gulf.

Lt Col W. Paul Mazzeno, USAF

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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