Hagel Urges Expanded Cooperation in Gulf Region
By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, May 14, 2014 The importance of expanded cooperation in the Gulf region was the theme of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s remarks here today at the U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council defense ministerial conference.
Defense ministers from all six member nations -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- joined Hagel at the meeting, which was hosted by Saudi Arabia.
Noting that this is his third trip to the Gulf in a little over a year, Hagel said the visits all have been aimed at encouraging greater collaboration in the region.
“I hope [this meeting] becomes an annual security consultation, and the backbone for renewed cooperation among all the nations of the GCC,” he said. And despite setbacks and challenges, he added, the Gulf Cooperation Council has fostered a common identity and common interests in the region.
“And it has helped protect your common security,” Hagel noted.
The United States is determined to support the Gulf countries as they continue to develop their roles on the world stage, the defense secretary said.
“This has been demonstrated by the United States Central Command’s continued forward military presence, which includes 35,000 personnel; our Navy’s 5th Fleet; our most advanced fighter aircraft; our most sophisticated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets; and a wide array of missile defense capabilities,” he said. “It has also been demonstrated by recent defense sales agreements, including some of the largest in American history.”
But bilateral ties with the United States and American military presence are not enough to guarantee regional security, the defense secretary told the council’s defense leaders. “As I said at the Manama Dialogue last December, America’s engagement with Gulf nations is intended to support and facilitate, not replace, stronger multilateral ties within the GCC.”
The most pressing security challenges threaten the whole region and demand a collective response, the defense secretary said. By strengthening the GCC, he added, the member nations will ensure their collective defense is more than the sum of its parts.
“You will strengthen your ability to prevent and deter aggression,” the defense secretary told the ministers. “You will strengthen, not weaken, each of your nations’ sovereignty. And you will expand your common interests –- not just in defense, but in a more stable and prosperous future.”
This approach is also how the region must address threats posed by Iran, he said.
Today also marks the start of discussions in Vienna between Iran and P5-plus-1 member nations regarding Iran’s nuclear program, Hagel noted. “We got to Vienna thanks to our collective efforts to isolate Iran diplomatically and economically, and to deter it militarily,” the defense secretary said.
As negotiations in Vienna progress, he said, two things should be clear.
“First, these negotiations will under no circumstances trade away regional security for concessions on Iran’s nuclear program,” Hagel said. U.S. commitment to Gulf security and stability is unwavering, he added.
“Second, while our strong preference is for a diplomatic solution, the United States will remain postured and prepared to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon -- and that Iran abides by the terms of any potential agreement,” the defense secretary said.
“No one nation can address these threats alone,” Hagel said. “Our efforts must be coordinated and complementary.”
Hagel made proposals today in several areas, each focused on this coordinated approach -- including integrated missile defense, maritime security and cybersecurity:
-- He proposed designating the Gulf Coordination Council’s Air and Air Defense Chiefs Conference as the GCC’s primary military forum for regional air and missile defense policy.
-- He called on the GCC to assume and maintain command of the Combined Maritime Force’s Gulf operations, Combined Task Force 152, and to commit to a regular heads-of-navy conference.
-- He proposed the establishment of a U.S.-GCC cyber defense cooperation initiative to jump-start collaboration.
-- He suggested that the GCC develop a Foreign Military Sales case, which could “advance regional defense priorities by accelerating the GCC’s progress toward greater interoperability and more sophisticated multinational force development.”
In addition, proposals to expand joint exercises and activities were part of a discussion led by Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command.
“At the conclusion of our dialogue,” Hagel said, “we should publicly declare our shared resolve, our shared goals, and our shared vision for stronger U.S.-GCC multilateral defense coordination. We must demonstrate our unity at a critical time. And we must send a message of strength to adversaries.”
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @RouloAFPS)