Potential Egyptian Contribution to an Evolving
Multilateral, Norm-Based Security Framework in the Gulf
Mohamed Kadry Said, PhD
Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies
Prepared for the Workshop on Assessing Alternative Frameworks for Persian Gulf Security Dubai, United Arab Emirates, INEGMA-The Stanley Foundation
January 18-20, 2004
The purpose of this paper is to draw a vision of a potential Egyptian contribution to the security of the Persian Gulf assuming that a multilateral, norm-based security framework can be established in the region. This assumption is made in light of the recent development in the region mainly, regime change in Iraq, and the recent trend in Iranian foreign policy towards rapprochement and conciliation with the US and its regional neighbors. Those changes have raised hopes for constructing a set of cooperative overlapping bilateral as well as multilateral relationships in the region with the help of external powers needed to fill the gaps in power levels between states of the region and guarantee a stable environment in the Gulf area.
The majority of options suggested by analysts for Gulf security after the fall of Saddam Hussein and regime change in Iraq, view the United States as the only credible and acceptable stabilizing force for the Gulf region at least on the short and medium run. Under the suggested cooperative security architecture, the US is seen as an external balancer for a system in which the local forces are enhanced and active cooperation is encouraged between them. This could be coupled with continued improvements in the US's ability to deploy rapidly in times of crisis.
Other options see a security role for Europe in the Gulf beside the US as the dominant player. Europe in this scenario could help in the issue of governance such as free market reforms, institution building, modernized education, an active media, and the rule of law. The Arab and Islamic countries like Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, and Morocco are also invited to increase their potential contribution to Gulf security. Some American analysts don't foresee at present a major role for non-Gulf Arab countries in Gulf security on a contractual basis, however, according to these views, the US could consider the option of restructuring the US-Egyptian security assistance program to emphasize the capability to deploy a significant Egyptian force using US or allied lift in case of a regional crisis. This includes refocusing the biennial Bright Star joint exercise to serve this purpose.
In this paper we attempt to look at the Egyptian role in the Gulf security in a wider framework encompassing the whole Middle East. However this wider approach doesn't necessarily exclude the existence of a sub-regional framework for the Gulf region, nor does it exclude a contribution by Egypt to the security of the Gulf even before this wider framework is established. A wider framework in which Egypt, the Gulf countries, the US and the EU are members has the advantage of activating, redefining and enhancing security links already developed during the last decade between the area and the EU (the Barcelona Process), the NATO (NATO Dialogue Initiative) and the US, for the benefit of the security of the Gulf and of course other sub-regions. The EU and the NATO expansion processes are now entering their second phase, and the Middle East should be in its entirety prepared to deal with the security implications of such transformations and to design ways to network with it.
A multilateral, norm-based framework for security assumes that all participating members accept the principle of seeking peaceful solutions. A code of behavior between members must stress on peaceful settlement of disputes, non-intervention, respect for international law, UN resolutions and treaties previously concluded. It also adopts broader view of security cooperation and cooperative actions for attaining mutual security and balance of interests. Members should be ready to enter a long process of step-by-step interest-balancing and verifiable confidence building measures. They must also be ready to extend their sphere of security far beyond the military and political one to other areas like water, energy supply, environment, technology cooperation and civil society. In case of the Gulf, some countries, which do not lie within the geographical area of the region like Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Russia and Japan should be invited to share in the discussions either because of their potential role in the security of the Gulf or because they carry particular weight in terms of the wider regional or international security sphere.
In this paper the potential Egyptian contribution to the security of the Gulf is treated in view of several factors: the importance of the Gulf region to Egyptian national security, the position of the security of the Gulf in US-Egyptian relations, and finally, the deep transformations taking place in the Gulf and the entire Middle East.
2. The Persian Gulf and Egyptian National Security
Egyptian national security has been traditionally defined during the 1950s and 1960s in terms of the fear of western hegemony and domination expressed by different security schemes imposed on the Middle East like the Baghdad Pact and the Eisenhower Doctrine. The creation of the state of Israel with the support of the west added an additional threat dimension. Egypt and Israel have been at war several times namely in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973. Another important security dimension for Egypt has been the River Nile and its waters. This has been always expressed in terms of a firm Egyptian stance not to allow hostile power to control the headwaters of the Nile or tamper with its flow into Egypt. In addition to these 'constants', the 1970s and 1980s witnessed the rise of the Gulf region as a new national security dimension for Egypt. From the Arab traditional security perspective, Iraq and the Gulf States play the role of the Eastern Gate to the Arab World. They form a confrontation line and a balancing block against Iran, and the two nuclear countries India and Pakistan. The growing human and economic interdependence between Egypt and the Gulf region has made the stability of the Gulf a pressing national security interest for Egypt. This economic dimension of Egyptian national security has become even more evident as Egypt faced a growing economic crisis.
Gulf oil states also contributed to Egyptian security when they used the oil embargo in support of Egypt during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Ever since the end of that war, they have supported Egypt with various types of economic assistance and investment. The economic well being of the Gulf States has a direct positive impact on the Egyptian economy. About 2 million Egyptians work in the Arab states and the majority of them work in the Gulf. About one million Egyptians are currently working in Saudi Arabia and 200,000 in Kuwait. The total amount of banking transfers from Egyptians working abroad reached 3.77 billion EGP (about 1 billion US dollars) during 1999. Remittances have represented a significant share of the hard currency flows to Egypt surpassing sometimes other sources such as oil, tourism and Suez Canal revenues.
Remittances are not the only source of income transferred to Egypt because of its Arab connection. Egypt receives a significant amount of aid on bilateral bases from different Gulf countries. However, wars in the Gulf and the fall of oil prices have had a negative impact on Egypt's economy. Egypt suffered during the first and second Gulf wars from the massive return of the Egyptian working force in the Gulf. This not only added to the already strained labor force in Egypt and stressed domestic services, but it also meant the loss of an important source of hard currency for Egypt. According to official figures, 2 million Egyptians worked in Iraq before the Gulf War of 1991, but no more than 60,000 of them were still employed in Iraq when US and British forces invaded the country in March 2003. Suez Canal revenues are also very sensitive to the security environment in the Gulf. About 20% of the world trade in oil is transported through the Persian Gulf, and a great part of it finds its way to the world market through the Suez Canal. A war in the Gulf also impacts negatively on Gulf tourism in Egypt, with its share rising to more than 35% of the total number of tourists visiting Egypt. Finally, trade with Iraq before the war of March 2003 had reached $1.7 billion in 2001 and $2.5 billion in 2002.
The security and stability of the Gulf region has become vital to Egyptian national interest. The Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, and the Iraq-Iran war two years later, threatened this interest. Through out the 1980s Iran was considered the sole destabilizing power of the Gulf area, and, hence, as a threat to Egyptian national security. Consequently under President Sadat, Egypt did not hesitate to stand behind Iraq in the conflict, both militarily and economically. However, as a result of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990, the scope of Egyptian security interests in the Gulf became much larger than simply attempting to curb Iran. Iraq, an Egyptian ally all through the 1980s, was now threatening an area critical to Egypt's economic well being. Accordingly, Egypt did not hesitate to support Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states by both political and military means to repel Iraq.
The sequence of events during the last three decades indicated that Arab regimes have served and protected the western interests in the region and succeeded in major strategic confrontations and turning points to preserve the order and stability in the region. The following are five examples characterized by their far-reaching regional and international implications:
1) Expelling the Soviets from Egypt and practically from the whole Middle East (1975). From that time on the naval balance in the Mediterranean was skewed in favor of the US, NATO and the West.
2) Sadat's visit to Israel and the beginning of an era of peace making and conflict resolution in the area (1977).
3) Stemming the Iranian revolutionary thrust and backing Iraq in the 1st Gulf War until victory (1980-1988).
4) Protecting the Gulf from Saddam Hussein's expansionist policy and fighting with the US and the west countries in operation Desert Storm to protect order and common interests in the region. (Israel was asked to remain out of the coalition and not to participate in the war).
5) Gulf countries have succeeded in standing against the Israeli expansionism and its potential negative consequences on the region's stability when they supported Egypt and Syria in the October War of 1973.
3. Security of the Gulf in the Egyptian-American context
For the liberation of Kuwait and protection of the Gulf States, Egypt allied itself with Western powers mainly the US, the UK, France among others. Egypt was the second largest military contingent to the defense of the Gulf countries and provided the necessary political cover for hosting US and other coalition troops on the territories of the Gulf countries during the war. In February 1991, an Egyptian reinforcement of 30,000 troops took part in Desert Storm, advancing into western Kuwait in a corridor between US Marines to the east and US Army forces to the west in Iraq. When Iraq threatened Kuwait again in October 1994, Egypt's expeditious approval for the deployment of a carrier battle group through the Suez Canal sent a critical signal to Baghdad. The US relies on Egypt for quick transit of military assets to and from the Gulf region. The US routinely conducts 500 military over-flights each month.
During the 1990s, military cooperation, commercial and trade ties, and close diplomatic coordination on regional issues, remained cornerstones of the bilateral relations between the US and Egypt. Egypt was described during the Clinton Administration as the most prominent player in the Arab world and a key US ally in the Middle East. The US military assistance to Egypt was considered part of the administration's strategy of maintaining continued availability of Persian Gulf energy resources and providing security to the Suez Canal, which serves both as an important international oil route and as critical route for US warships transiting to the Gulf.
The United States and Egypt conducted the first Bright Star joint military exercise in August 1983 and continued ever since to hold it periodically for infantry, airborne, artillery, and armored forces. The Bright Star held in October-November 1997 included military contingents from the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, France, Kuwait, and Italy. A total of 63,000 troops from 11 nations participated in the Bright Star exercise held in October-November 1999, and 70,000 troops from 11 nations participated in Bright Star 2001 from 7 to 31 October 2001.
In Bright Star 2001, among the countries involved were eight NATO members and two members from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). In Bright Star 1997, Egypt and United Kingdom (UK) had exercised a rescue operation for a large-scale earthquake disaster in the city of Alexandria-Egypt, with losses assumed to reach 10,000 inhabitants. Experience gained was demonstrated during the earthquake tragedy in Turkey, where Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries provided help and solidarity.
Egyptian and US military officers stated that cooperation in Bright Star exercises facilitated US-Egyptian cooperation and military compatibility in Desert Storm, and served as precedent for future US-Egyptian cooperative ventures. An Egyptian contingent has been designated to serve with the Gulf Cooperation Council armed forces.
US interest in a military base in Egypt followed the renewed interest in a Rapid Deployment Force mainly designed to protect the Gulf. In 1981, Egypt agreed to allow the US use of Ras Banas if an Arab state was threatened, but the negotiation collapsed because of disagreements over managing the facility. However, based on an unconfirmed understanding, Egypt will most likely allow the US access to military facilities in time of crisis after mutual discussions and agreement.
The issue of defending the Gulf region against the threat of ballistic missile was high on the American-Egyptian agenda during the period 1997-2000. The Clinton administration had proposed to the GCC and Egypt to join the US in developing an area-defense system against ballistic missiles. So far, the Gulf States and Egypt have shown little enthusiasm for such project because of technical and financial problems. On March 11, 1999, US Defense Secretary Cohen announced a package of arms sales to Egypt that included a Patriot missile battery.
Egypt strongly backed the US in its war against international terrorism, but in spite of that refused to send troops to Afghanistan neither during the war nor after it. Despite Egyptian opposition to the American war on Iraq, Egypt allowed US to use the Suez Canal and the Egyptian airspace. Concerning participation in peacekeeping operations in post-war Iraq, President Bush called at Sharm-el-Sheikh summit in June 2003 upon Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to send troops to Iraq as part of an international force to maintain security in Iraqi towns. Egypt however refused to comply with the American request and President Mubarak declared that Egypt would not send troops to Iraq even under a UN umbrella. The issue of participation in the post-war construction efforts in Iraq has been controversial in Egypt and in the Arab World as a whole. Opponents see that the war was illegal and it is necessary to wait until Iraq has legal representative government to deal with it. Supporters argued that the principle of the responsibility to protect Iraqis and to help them in time of crisis should come first and guide Arab action in Iraq.
More than $50 billion in US aid has flown into Egypt since 1978, contributing to a thorough modernization of the Egyptian armed forces, as well as supporting a vast array of programs ranging from agricultural improvements to industrialization and support for infrastructure construction. In addition to Foreign Military Financing (FMS) purchases and excess defense articles, Egypt co-produces the US M1A1 Abrams tanks. Egypt also repairs and overhauls different types of military equipment and proposed contracting for depot level maintenance and repairs for NATO and US armored forces and some cargo aircraft.
In short, the Egyptian contribution to the security of the Gulf up to the end of the 1990s and beyond has been manifested in different approaches including deploying forces in the area, supplying defense equipments and ammunition, protecting strategic sea lines and organizing joint training and exercises.
4. Region in Transition - 1990s
The Gulf War of 1991 raised great hopes and expectations for building a new Middle East. There were hopes that the War ending with victory over Iraq would ignite a process of regional conflict resolution particularly on the Arab-Israeli track and put a cap on the deadly arms race of conventional and unconventional weapons in the area. Following the end of the war, a new geo-political agenda had been set for the Middle East. The region lived a long process of negotiations and political dialogue that led to the implementation of a series of peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors; Egypt and Jordan. Mauritania became the third Arab country to have full diplomatic relations with Israel in October 1999. Israel and Syria practically crossed the most sensitive of issues between them; including settlements, security arrangement and water in their negotiations in December 1999.
Within the framework of this regional agenda Arab countries became more convinced of the importance of seeking political solutions for disputes with their neighbors. Saudi Arabia signed a limited security treaty with Iran in April 2001 to cooperate in the prevention of drug trafficking and cross-border terrorism. Saudi Arabia and Qatar signed on March 21, 2001 an agreement ending a 35-year border dispute. In the same period Qatar settled a 60-year-old dispute with Bahrain. In March 2000, the United Arab Emirates and Oman fixed their common border. Saudi Arabia settled a sea-border dispute with Kuwait and also reached agreement with Yemen to define 850 miles of border between them, which had seen frequent military clashes.
Attempts to set up a security system in the Gulf based on Arab forces did not prove viable over time. Foreign ministers of 6 GCC countries, in addition to Egypt and Syria (6+2) adopted the declaration agreeing to set up an Arab force in the Gulf based on Syrian and Egyptian contingents. However, GCC countries were not ready to station Arab troops on their soil and thought that it may limit their regional security options in future. There was also the problem of different Egyptian and Syrian positions with respect to Iran and Iraq and this was expected to limit the effectiveness of these troops in case of real danger in the area.
Such a regional agenda for peace and cooperation in the Middle East based on dialogue, confidence building, and negotiations was severely undermined by new developments in the international arena, mainly the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in September 2000, the attacks of September 11th on Washington and New York and the following Afghanistan war, and finally by the US-led war on Iraq. Moreover, Terrorism has now become a very dangerous factor in the region. Whether it is supported from within or from outside the region, it has a profound impact on stability in the Middle East. Terrorists now have the capability to cause enormous amounts of damage throughout the region, given the vulnerability of high value economic targets. The Persian Gulf is especially vulnerable to such attacks due to the presence of a number of highly lucrative sites such as water desalinization plants, oil production facilities, and oil supply lines. In addition to all that, there is the growing fear of terrorist operations utilizing weapons of mass destruction.
There is also an increasing tendency in the Gulf towards more accountable GCC governments. The public is now much more conscious of what is going on and is demanding greater levels of participation in decision-making. The rise of national consciousness would inevitably make these societies immune to external attempts to destabilize their countries. Accordingly, Western governments will not be able to continue dealing with these countries in patron-client terms. Royal and princely families will be much more constrained by their public opinion in the future than they have been in the past.
5. Working in a new Middle East
Security-wise, a new Middle East is currently in the making. This new Middle East is different from the old one of the 1990's in four main aspects:
Traditionally the Middle East has been defined as extending from Morocco and Mauritania on the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf countries on the Persian Gulf. Based on that definition the Middle East includes Arab countries members of the League of Arab States and three non-Arab countries: Turkey, Iran and Israel. This system is surrounded by 3 important security boundaries namely the US, the European Union and NATO. These actors while having no direct geographical boundaries with the countries of the region are actively influencing the security of the Middle East. During the 1990s, security interactions between the system (the Middle East) and its security boundaries have been managed through several security mechanisms such as bilateral cooperation (case of US), security dialogue and confidence building (case of NATO Mediterranean Dialogue, and case of EU's Security Charter within the framework of the Barcelona Process).
After September 11th, and the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, The geography of the Middle East has expanded eastward extending all the way to the Philippines and Indonesia. Accordingly, Gulf countries are no longer in the periphery of the system. The defining measures here are the types of security concerns, the nature of the threats posed, and the dimensions of the theater in which major operations are conducted. The Geographical setting of any security system is a key determinant factor in planning, training, command and control, strategic transport, and intelligence operations. Geography can also dictate new types of missions and operations. For example any Egyptian role within a new security framework would have to take into consideration that Egyptian troops might be stationed in Afghanistan or that Egyptian vessels may be required to operate in the Indian Ocean.
2) Mechanisms of change
In the new Middle East, surgical, interventionist, pre-emptive mechanism of change will replace - at least for a decade ahead - the Clintonian mechanism based on dialogue, peace treaties, confidence-building and economic incentives. If Geography refers to space, mechanisms of change refer to the time factor of the process. It relates also to efficiency, cost and possible side effects. While the interventionist approach raises ethical, legal and political implications it also dictates a regional and international responsibility of rebuilding and reconstruction. Moreover, the experience of the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan showed symptoms of change in the right direction and in fast pace than before (for example the Emirates' Initiative calling Saddam to step down before the war; the Saudi Reform Initiative; plans for reforming the Arab League; social, democratic and human rights reforms in Egypt, the democratic reforms in Bahrain, Qatar and Oman, signing the special protocols with Iran, the Libyan Initiative to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, the Sudanese Peace process,..). Nonetheless, the recent experience in Iraq shows a fundamental lack of awareness of the culture of intervention on the levels of governments and civil society in the region. This was particularly clear in the absence of regional crisis management mechanisms for peacemaking, rescue operations and reconstruction. As new geography will shape the domain and content of action of the Egyptian potential role in the Gulf, new mechanism of change would affect the responsiveness of this role. This result has not related with the US hegemony or its heavy-handed approach, as much as it is related to the nature of threats posed and to the complexity and uncertainty of the mission.
3) Change of system boundaries
One of the important results of the Wars on Iraq and Afghanistan is that the security boundaries of the 1990's are no longer boundaries acting from outside the system, but are now part of the system i.e. they are now physically in the system and it is expected that they will stay that way for a long time. The US, most of the EU countries, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore and others now have troops and weapon systems in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and The Horn of Africa. NATO moved for the first time from its area of responsibility in Europe to Afghanistan and now provides support for Polish troops in Iraq. The implications of such changes on the NATO-Mediterranean dialogue are not yet known, neither is there a clear picture on the possibilities of enhancing the dialogue to practical cooperation on the ground. In addition to that, the current reshuffling of mission priorities worldwide is expected to favor fighting terrorism and WMD proliferation. Again the Egyptian role must consider that dialogue while necessary it is not sufficient, more important is cooperation and true partnership and with plenty of new partners. Bright Star exercises, for example, should be redesigned to cope with the new actors existing in the area.
4) Dilemmas of Balance of Power and Balance of Values
The security dilemma in the Middle East and particularly in the Gulf region is expected to exacerbate because of the huge imbalance of power caused by the American military presence and the un-even acquisition of nuclear weapons, missiles and advanced armament in the region. More important is the current process of attempting to drastically change the value system in the region to fit western models. This process is likely to generate security stresses that may fuel even more terrorism. That said, Egypt should be ready to lead changes in the region and to provide a model in democracy, modern education, human rights, and free economy. Finally, dealing with the cultural factor of security and the problem of advancing new values, this will require crafting proper operational concepts and cooperation strategies between the countries of the region.
6. Areas of Egyptian Contribution in the Security of the Gulf
Egypt could have a multi-tier approach to strengthen the security of the Gulf. This can be done through contributing in GCC collective security arrangements and supplying armament produced in Egypt in addition to organizing training programs. More importantly, it is now the time to reshape Bright Star and to increase its membership. More countries from the Gulf should join, countries like Turkey, Iran, Syria and Israel should gradually share in the training.
Fighting terrorism also needs to become a central element in the regional security strategy with great emphasis on the Gulf region. There are obvious connections between the US strategy towards Iraq, the global war on terrorism, US military presence in the Gulf, and the Middle East peace process. Egypt can assume an important role in fighting energy terrorism directed to the energy infrastructure in the region. The vulnerability of vital shipping lanes makes the threat of energy terrorism a very real one in the Middle East. As a result, any coordinated terrorist attack on the energy facilities of the region would cause serious disruption to global energy trade and the world economy. The maritime environment is now being viewed as a viable alternative setting for staging of mass causality attacks and several new concerns have been highlighted, including the use of container ships to smuggle nuclear and radiological weapons into target countries.
Egypt has a good record in disaster relief and humanitarian response missions. The Egyptian Armed Forces' medical and engineering teams stayed in Turkey several months after the Earthquake that struck Turkey in 1999. The creation of a system for management of natural and man-made disasters is the first step towards multilateralisation of disaster co-operation. The Iraqi post-war reconstruction experience has demonstrated the importance of deploying a civil rapid response capacity to fill the gaps between military and civilian organizations in the areas of immediate post-conflict assistance. Such assistance is vital for reconstruction to begin.
Humanitarian de-mining has become an integral part of peace operation and peace building. Egyptian Corps of Engineers contributed in demining operation in Kuwait after the Gulf War of 1991. In addition to being dangerous, mines also present an obstacle to the economic development of entire areas. Mine action could develop as an important field of cooperation and solidarity in the Middle East and in the Gulf region.
Peacekeeping operations are likely to be a major and fruitful area for mutual cooperation and confidence building. In addition to training activities, cooperation in peacekeeping may be extended to joint force planning, creation of regional peacekeeping modules, and military participation in disaster relief and humanitarian emergency response missions. Egypt conducted a large number of peacekeeping missions in Africa, Asia and Europe. The Egyptian Taba Battalion arrived in Sarajevo in 1992 and ended its mission in December 1998. In addition to that Egypt could provide training to other countries.
Egypt also could contribute in joint media operations with other partners in the Gulf. Arab countries in general have an edge in the area of television satellite channels, an important facility to be used for fostering cultural, economic and democratic reforms.
However, the Middle East region lacks the essential regional infrastructure necessary to connect its countries. Building transportation, energy and information networks on the regional level are vital for security and the promotion of a regional spirit. In this regard Egypt works on networking electricity and natural gas with its neighbors Jordan and Syria; the project is also expected to extend to other countries in the area. The Nile waters are now flowing through four tunnels under the Suez Canal in El-Salam Canal (Canal of Peace). Two new bridges were constructed over the Suez Canal for Cars and railway transportation and some of these projects were funded mainly by Gulf countries.
Finally, any potential Egyptian contribution to an evolving multilateral norm- based security framework in the Gulf is vitally linked to the level and health of US-Egyptian relations. This is based on the assumption that the US will act as a guarantor and balancer of such a security arrangement in the region. In a recent joint study conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) based in Washington, D.C. and Al-Ahram Center of Political and Strategic Studies (CPSS) based in Cairo, on American-Egyptian relations; it was concluded that US-Egyptian relations are handicapped by the lack of a clear vision of where the relationship is heading in 5 or 10 years. Accordingly, it recommended a useful exercise to agree on what the relationship should look like a decade into the future and delineate the steps required to get there. The study pointed out a series of tasks for both the US and Egypt in order to enhance their relations. On the US's part it is supposed to continue engagement in the Arab-Israeli conflict; successfully manage the post-conflict environment in Iraq; and encourage deeper business ties. As for Egypt the tasks are: Real and visible political reforms as a prerequisite for closer ties; in addition, further economic reforms will help both Egypt and its relationship with the US.