Regional Security Problems
The Persian Gulf is a relatively constricted geographic area
of great existing or potential volatility. The smaller states
of the gulf are particularly vulnerable, having limited indigenous
populations and, in most cases, armed forces with little more
than symbolic value to defend their countries against aggression.
All of them lack strategic depth, and their economies and oil
industries depend on access to the sea. Conflicts involving the
air forces and navies of the larger gulf powers inevitably endanger
their critical transportation links. Closure of the Strait of
Hormuz--which was threatened but which never actually occurred
during the Iran-Iraq War--would have a catastrophic effect on
regular ship movements.
The oil drilling, processing, and loading facilities of the gulf
states, some of them on offshore platforms, are vital to their
economies. In an era of highly accurate missiles and highperformance
aircraft, the protection of these exposed resources against surprise
attack presents enormous difficulties. Even those states that
can afford the sophisticated weaponry to defend their installations
can ensure their effectiveness only through proper training, manning,
Most of the Arab gulf states, although vulnerable by air and
by sea, are relatively immune from ground attack. Because of their
geographic position on the Arabian Peninsula, they are exposed
on their landward side only to vast desert tracts controlled by
Saudi Arabia, with which they are linked by security treaties.
Potential aggressors in the region, although heavily armed, lack
the equipment or experience to project their forces over long
distances. The only realistic possibility of overland attack seems
to be in the north, where Kuwait has no natural line of defense
and its oil facilities are near both Iran and Iraq. In early 1992,
Kuwaiti officials disclosed plans to construct an electronic fence
stretching more than 200 kilometers along the Kuwait-Iraq border.
Although some obstacles might be emplaced to obstruct an Iraqi
crossing, the main purpose of the fence is to prevent infiltration.
Border guards of Kuwait's Ministry of Interior are to patrol the
In the south, reunited Yemen had inherited large stocks of military
equipment from the Soviet Union's earlier support of the PDRY.
The PDRY's political support of Iraq in the Kuwaiti crisis caused
the GCC states to regard it as a potentially hostile neighbor.
Although offensive operations against Oman or Saudi Arabia, with
which it shared long, undefined borders, seem unlikely, the encouragement
of border infiltration by all three countries cannot be ruled
The Iranian Revolution of 1979 introduced a new threat to stability
in the gulf. Shia form a majority of the population of Bahrain
and an important part of the foreign labor force in Kuwait and
are considered potential dissidents in any future hostilities.
Numerous terrorist actions in Kuwait during the 1980s were attributed
to domestic Shia instigated by Iran (see Kuwait: Internal Security
, this ch.). Iran is one of the strongest military powers of the
region and has historically sought to extend its influence to
the Arab shore of the gulf. Nevertheless, fears of military confrontation
subsided after the Iran-Iraq War ended. The influence of the more
extremist elements within the Iranian government appears to have
declined; Iran also had opposed Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
In spite of Iraq's defeat in 1991, Kuwait remains the most vulnerable
of the gulf states. Despite the crippling of Iraq's offensive
military capabilities, it continues to be a formidable military
power in the region. Its postwar manpower strength is estimated
at 380,000, including at least three intact divisions of the elite
Republican Guard, as well as large stocks of armor, artillery,
and combat aircraft. Only with the assurance of outside support
can the GCC states be confident that they can successfully resist
renewed Iraqi aggression.
The gulf Arabs believe that a settlement of the Arab-Israeli
conflict will enhance gulf security. Direct conflict with Israel
was a remote contingency in early 1993, although Israel's doctrine
of preemptive attack and its demonstrated ability to hit distant
targets must be reckoned with in their strategic planning. Because
the northwestern areas of Saudi Arabia are well within range of
Israeli attack, air defense units that would otherwise be available
to the GCC for gulf defense must be positioned there. Efforts
of the Arab gulf states to upgrade their air defense systems have
often been viewed by the United States Congress and by the public
as hostile to Israeli interests.
In early 1993, one year after Saddam Husayn's defeat in the Persian
Gulf War, the region's security appeared more stable than in many
years. The fear of a communist encroachment or of a superpower
confrontation has evaporated. Iran seems to be seeking greater
accommodation with its gulf neighbors, although the Tehran government
is continuing its military buildup and insists that it has a role
in regional mutual security. Iraq, although still hostile, does
not present a significant military threat. The United States and
other Western powers have indicated that they will act against
any new instability in the gulf that endangers their interests.
Data as of January 1993