Could 'Arab NATO' get off the ground?

BY APD NEWSOct 12,2018 at 16:04

News stories hinting that the Trump administration considering to create a security alliance in the Middle East got widespread media attention. 

It is interesting to note that most analytical pieces about it foretold its failure, citing multiple reasons. 

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U.S. President Donald Trump, Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and Arab leaders pose for a photo during Arab-Islamic-American Summit in Riyadh, May 21, 2017

Dubbed as the "Middle East Strategic Alliance", or MESA, the group is expected to include six Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar - plus Jordan and Egypt.

The details about this coalition so far remain scant, with many expecting to see their revelation during a US-Gulf summit presumably slated for October 12-13 in Washington. 

Why such an alliance

It is widely believed that the creation of MESA, or unofficially known as the "Arab NATO", is to unite the Sunni Muslim Arab nations to counter their archenemy Iran's influence in the Middle East.

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An Iranian woman walks past a mural on the wall of the former US embassy in the Iranian capital Tehran, November 9, 2016

As a spokesperson for the White House's National Security Council said, the alliance will serve as a "bulwark against Iranian aggression, terrorism, extremism and will bring stability to the Middle East". 

Another reason, as Reuters reported, is that the White House is eager to have US allies worldwide shoulder more of the burden in confronting regional security threats, as Trump pursues his "America First" policy.

Ironically, the Arab states also have their own little plan. In a piece titled "Arab NATO: An idea whose time has not (and may never) come" published on the website of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the authors noted that part of the appeal of MESA for regional countries is they see the alliance as "a means to commit the United States to coming to their rescue should their military adventures go awry."

It hardly bodes well that both sides are motivated by highly self-centered goals, not to mention there are indeed practical obstacles to the success of the alliance. 

Too many hurdles to overcome 

To begin with, the bitter rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Qatar is a big headache. 

The confrontation that started in mid-2017 saw Saudi Arabia singling out Qatar as a sponsor of terrorism, cutting diplomatic ties with the latter and slapping sanctions on it. Countries like Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain soon followed suit. 

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Ali bin Smaikh al-Marri, Chairman of Qatar's National Human Rights Committee, gives a press conference on the ultimatum issued by Saudi Arabia and its allies for the emirate's citizens to leave, in Doha, Qatar, June 8, 2017.

Denying any accusations made by Saudi Arabia, Qatar also took hardline countermeasures, including forming a closer relationship with Iran.

After over a year, the crisis is yet to be resolved, prompting doubts about how Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as the latter's loyal supporters, are going to get along if the coalition really gets formed.

The intra-Arab tensions may be even more serious, as editor Chirine Mouchantaf cited an industrial source in her article on defensenews.com, explaining "all (Arab countries) want to be recognized as the main player in the region and its center of gravity".

The source also raised "the enormous challenge of integrating militaries with ‎widely divergent capabilities and in some cases non-interoperable weaponry".

It was echoed in the Carnegie Endowment piece, where the authors also noted that Egypt and Saudi Arabia have previously refused to place their forces under the other's command. 

With so much uncertainty and inconsistency among the Arab "brothers", it does appear a long shot to create an effective alliance between them, even if it is to contain their common opponent. 

Grave ramifications

Even though the "Arab NATO" has not got off the ground, it appears from the US efforts that ties between Washington and Tehran are at an all-time low. 

There's little doubt that tensions with Iran have increased since Trump announced in May that the United States was pulling out of a 2015 international deal to limit Tehran's nuclear capabilities.

Trump has repeatedly called for the renegotiation of the deal, while the other signatories including the EU, China and Russia have strived to keep the accord alive. 

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announces the creation of the Iran Action Group that will coordinate and manage US policy toward Iran after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, at the Department of State in Washington, DC, US, August 16, 2018.

Also, the US has long accused Iran of creating instability in the Middle East and the world's leading "state sponsor of terrorism".

On the issue of MESA, a senior Iranian official criticized it, saying that "under the pretext of securing stability in the Middle East, Americans and their regional allies are fomenting tension in the region".

The Carnegie endowment article also painted a worrisome picture should MESA be formed. Calling Trump craving "a confrontation with Iran", it asserted that MESA is a recipe for disaster.

The article cited Yemen, where Saudi Arabia fought a proxy war to contain Iran for three years and caused huge humanitarian disaster, as an example, warning that "by ceding the initiative to, and emboldening, regional leaders with a track record of reckless actions and often brutal repression, the United States is asking for trouble".

With only one day to go before the summit, which Washington did not confirm, between the US and Gulf Arab states kicks off, it's worth finding out whether the unorthodox Trump will "beat all the odds", and surprise the world again. 

(CGTN)

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