The United States has an urgent task to reassure its allies and friends in the Gulf that it has their interests at heart. Washington must take practical steps to clear up the current ambiguities and reassure Gulf states that it is willing to help them and back their security with actions, former US National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama General James Jones told Gulf News in an exclusive interview in Abu Dhabi.
If the Gulf states really feel they face an existential threat from terrorism, then they could create a Gulf version of Nato, and the US would find it much easier to participate in such an alliance if the Gulf states shared common doctrine and policies, said Jones.
Jones was speaking to Weekend Review after the Emirates Policy Centre’s Abu Dhabi Strategic Dialogue during which he put forward what he described as the provocative idea of a Gulf version of Nato. He also raised the urgent need for the global community to act as one in cutting terrorists off from the large sources of revenue they have found through links with organised crime.
“At the Abu Dhabi Strategic Dialogue I made my own analogy of Nato in 1949 and the Gulf in 2015. Many people in the Gulf feel they face an existential threat. If you face such a threat and have common cultures, religion and language, why is it not unreasonable for the Gulf states to create an organisation based on the Nato model for the defence of their region?
“I think that the United States would have a much easier time participating in such an alliance if its friends shared a common doctrine and common policies. It would be easier to support and achieve the military inter-operability that we achieved with Nato. I think that it is worth thinking about.
“And when my friends say that some of the Gulf states are too weak and do not have the military capability to form such an alliance, I remind them of what Europe was like in 1949. France was not a military power, Germany was defeated, Spain was in disarray and Italy had been defeated. The only uniting factor with real capability was the United States, and over the next half century all of these countries became more prosperous and more militarily capable, and more inter-operable,” Jones said.
US needs to re-commit to the Gulf
“The Gulf can do what Europe did 70 years ago, but for this to work, the US would have to step up in the 21st century as it did in the 20th century. The US would have to agree that an attack against one is an attack against all, in a commitment that would include both the Gulf states and the US.
“The US should do everything that it can to raise the capability of the Gulf states and their allies. The US has to figure how to reassure our friends and allies in the region that its policy has their interests at heart. We need to show our allies that the importance of the Gulf has not diminished in US policy.
“And if it has, we need to reverse that, starting with the Middle East peace process, moving on to the pivot to Asia, the unenforced red line in Syria, and just a series of poorly chosen words or actions that led our friends to think that the US (now it is an energy wealthy country) is not so concerned about the Gulf as it was.
“If you are a superpower, when you disengage from a region you create a vacuum which will be filled by people who do not have your best interests at heart. Russia does not have our best interests at heart whether it has been in Crimea, or Ukraine, or Syria. You can see the opportunity that [President Vladimir] Putin has seized as he has partnered with Syria, Iran and Iraq because Iran is so influential. This makes things more difficult and certainly messier, and it does not advance the cause of peace.”
The US needs to help its allies fight in Yemen with some practical steps
“I feel strongly that the US has some reparations to make and needs to rebuild the structure of the partnership. Words are not enough.
“The UAE has been a tremendous partner to the US for many years. It is fighting very well in Yemen and its forces are credible. They are doing a very good job and I think we should be doing everything possible to help them succeed in as short a time as possible. That is what allies do. What the US has always done. I think we should pay attention to this.
“So when the UAE loses 45 people in one day, it is a huge loss. The US analogy would be something like 30,000 people, which is a 9/11 equivalent type of event and we should be sensitive to that.
“The US should accelerate our acquisition process so that the UAE can get whatever it needs to win on the ground decisively in as short a time as possible. We have a cumbersome system of delivering what they request and we need to accelerate in supplying what is needed, whether that is munitions or high-tech weaponry. We should do whatever we can to make sure that Yemen is stabilised as soon as possible, for the sake of the UAE and for the sake of Saudi Arabia.”
Gulf states need to decide to work with the US
“The countries in the Gulf are going to have to make a choice about the US. First the US will have to come up with a declaratory policy that our interests in the Gulf are rock-solid and that the pivot to Asia was an economic thing but in terms of global security the Gulf is more important than any other place on the planet.
“But then the Gulf states are going to have to decide whether they want the US to be omnipresent, because to create such a capability cannot be done in a halfhearted manner. You cannot just sign a piece of paper and walk away.
“It is a problem that Saudi Arabia which is one of the key countries but is also one of the most reluctant to do the things that it needs to do to become militarily capable.”
Boots on the ground for regional conflicts
“In the case of the fight against Daesh (the self proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) in Iraq and Syria, air power will not do the job by itself. Using air power alone means that you are not taking casualties and you are dropping bombs, and you may be doing some good and sometimes not. But if you really want to get rid of Daesh you need to do what you have to do and get it done quickly.
“There is a certain fatigue in the US that it is doing all the work on its own. It is nice to have 25 flags in the alliance but that does not work with only five people under each flag. In the future the US will need a regional capability such as the UAE is delivering to be alongside whatever the next fight is. It will take boots on the ground to get rid of Daesh.
“The militaries of too many states in the Gulf are really air force, and they need to get into the right place with a robust ground capability that can go places and do things.
“The people believe that they face an existential threat, as the UAE certainly does and is willing act on this, but others need to share that view. That means that the Gulf states have to put in the same number of troops as, or more than, the UAE has put into Yemen.
“In this century the regions of the world will have to unite at a regional level against threats such as Boko Haram, Al Qaida or Daesh. They are not going away till they are defeated and to do this you need to reject their ideology and people need hope with economic reconstruction.
“You need three things. First achieve security, then bring economic policies that are visible and inspire people, and you also need good governance which is hopefully non-corrupt.
“These are the three legs that have to be tackled simultaneously. We did not do this in Iraq by intent, which was a mistake. And we also failed to do this in Afghanistan with President [Hamid] Karzai although President [Ashraf] Gani is a completely different proposition. We might have a chance with him, which is why I think President Obama was correct to support Gani in his efforts.
US should have enforced the red line on Syria
“There should have been a more robust response to President Bashar Al Assad using chemical and biological weapons against his own people a few years ago despite the US issuing its famous red line edict.
“I thought that the US needed to demonstrate the seriousness of those words. There are several ways that we could have done that, with allies and ourselves. Some penalty for Al Assad having done that to his own people should have been imposed.
“I would have been in favour of partitioning Syria, like we did in Iraq. The penalty that Al Assad should have paid should have been an international force injected into Syria, which would have controlled the northern or southern pieces of Syria for multiple purposes.
“First, such an international force could help stabilise the region and keep the aggressive forces out
Then it would be up to the coalition to do what they want to do, such as train the opposition forces.
“But second, there was a huge humanitarian requirement and I think such a force could have mitigated the human exodus. It certainly would have eased the burden on countries such as Jordan, and maybe eventually Europe.
“This would have been similar to Operation Provide Comfort in 1991 in northern Iraq (in which I participated) when we rescued almost a million Kurds who had fled to the Turkish mountains fearing a similar gas attack.
“We moved Saddam [Hussain]’s army back, got the people out of the mountains, stayed there four or five months and stabilised the situation. It was an international peacekeeping mission with Nato countries and 25,000 troops, largely on a humanitarian mission. Serious numbers of people were dying in the Turkish mountains because it was winter. It was a successful model to follow in Syria that no one seriously thought about. The one country that was in favour was Turkey.
The world needs to act to stop terrorists’ finances and growing links with organised crime
“Daesh has access to tremendous resources from diverse economic and criminal activities. The oil sector is a big revenue generator for it, and organised crime is now an organising principle for illicit trade that generates huge income for terrorists.
“This includes the illicit trade in cigarettes, which is estimated at $80 billion (Dh294 billion) right now, and it is growing. Under the criminal justice systems in most countries, the penalties for producing contraband cigarettes is almost nothing, whereas for drugs, it invites the death penalty. Therefore, the illicit tobacco trade is growing out of control.
“Organised crime has figured out that it can work with terrorists. In 2003 when we went into Afghanistan, the Taliban, crime and the drug industry were not working together, but by 2006 they were all hand-in-glove and working closely together.
“So across the world, organised crime has used its links to people in failed states and terrorists to move into huge businesses such as illegal pharmaceuticals, human trafficking, illicit tobacco and arms shipments. A substantial proportion of this income is being funnelled to the terrorists as they enable the physical traffic. It is state-run organised crime.
“For example, one container of illicit tobacco can generate $30 to 40 million and in some countries the penalties are very light. In one country the penalty for capturing an illicit tobacco the penalty is to send it back and the people do not suffer. If you are a smuggler, you compare that with the penalty for drugs where the penalty is death.”
General James Jones’ exemplary career
General James L. Jones (US Marine Corps) is Chairman of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council.
He was National Security Adviser to President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2010, before which he had been Nato’s supreme allied commander, Europe, from 2003 to 2006 when he advocated that energy security and the defence of critical infrastructures should be a core part of Nato’s mission.
He was Commandant of the US Marine Corps, and had many assignments around the world in a distinguished military career that included commanding the US Marines’ Expeditionary Unit in north Iraq and Turkey during Operation Provide Comfort.