Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Gulf states and the attack on Iran

The Kuwaiti defence minister said in a statement that his country will not permit the United States the use of Kuwaiti territory in support of any strike against Iran. This is a statement worth paying attention to, says Al-Quds al-Arabi in its lead editorial, because of what it says and what it doesn't say. The first thing that occurs to one, says the editorialist, is that this seems to imply that a US strike on Iran is now a settled thing, and that discussions are going on with the states of the Gulf centering on the question of participation and/or support.
And the second question that occurs to one on hearing this is the question of the degree to which the Kuwaiti government will be able to reject an American request in this regard, given that there are defence treaties between Kuwait and the United States, and moreover Kuwait owes the expulsion of Iraqi forces to the United States.

The Kuwaiti attitude is a serious one, and it shows the clear opposition to any US military adventure against Iran, given what that could mean by way of changing the structure of the region and bringing about enormous destruction. But we have to remember that one-quarter of the surface area of Kuwait has been converted into a military camp that is the base for tens of thousands of American troops, and we know that the states of the Gulf that are host to US bases, including Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrein, and Saudi Arabia, have no power to intervene in how these bases are used, in fact they aren't permitted to find out what goes on within these bases, which are like states within a state.
Pre-2003, Saudi Arabia said it was closing the AlKharj base and wouldn't participate in any attack on Iraq, but afterwards we learned that not only was the country used to mass American troops (two bases in NW Saudi Arabia near the border were used by the troops that were to occupy Baghdad),but that the Saudi ambassador in Washington, Prince Bandar, learned of the invasion plan even before the US Secretary of State Colin Powell learned of them.
What is certain is that these types of statement by Gulf authorities (and there have been similar statements by the Qatar authorities), stressing lack of support for any attack on Iran, are intended to reassure Iran, and to win its love, because it is clear that any Iranian retaliation will target American bases and oil installations in the Gulf.

We do not believe that the small states of the Gulf, which are protected by the United States under strategic defence treaties, will have any ability to permit or not permit any specific use of their territory in the event the United States desides to strike Iran to take out its nuclear reactors and their infrastructure. Which doesn't mean they aren't entitled to express their point of view to try and placate Iran, given that words generally don't cost anything.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Alison said...

In their self-inflicted subservience to the US, the rulers of Kuwait (and Saudi Arabia etc)
are surely among the most pathetic, despicable and dishonourable creatures on the face of the earth!

Regarding the prospect of a US attack on Iran, I still don't believe Bush can afford go through with it in view of his dependence on Iran's agents in Iraq.

6:54 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Hopefully you're right. On the other hand, there does seem to be something inexorable about how the US political/economic and public-opinion system seems to gravitate toward foreign confrontations...

8:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But we have to remember that one-quarter of the surface area of Kuwait has been converted into a military camp that is the base for tens of thousands of American troops,"

Is that right, one quarter of Kuwait is an American military base? Jeeze.

anna missed

11:25 PM  
Anonymous dan said...

I suspect that the assertion that the US has complete freedom of action with regards to use of their various bases in the Gulf States is erroneous - the US military almost certainly requires formal permission for the use of these bases and airspace in offensive operations.

All the Gulf States have explicitly stated that they will not permit the use of their facilities or airspace for a US attack on Iran - there is a very simple reason for this. If they allow such use they can no longer claim to be neutral parties in the conflict/ensuing war, and they then become lawful targets for Iranian retaliation - amongst other things, this invalidates their insurance policies, and if their oil loading platforms and other associated infrastructure gets hit, as would likely be the case, they will not be seeing any compensation for the billions of dollars a month in lost revenues, let alone a penny to go towards the reconstruction costs of the industrial infrastructure that is the bedrock of their resepctive economies.

Iraq in 2003 was no threat to any of its neighbours - the Iraqi military had no force projection capabilities, no missile systems, no airforce, nada, zip, nothing that could pose a sustained or credible threat to the various Gulf States. Iran, on the other hand, has a functioning military and some serious force projection capacities; there are also substantial shia populations in Bahrain, Kuwait, Eastern Saudi that constitute additional political risk factors, whilst parts of the UAE are effectively an offshore Iranian colony.

4:30 AM  
Blogger badger said...

anna missed, I can't back that up, but it sounds about right to me...

dan, You're probably right in law, and you're certainly right about the difference between the likely catastrophic results of this for the Gulf states, compared to the attack on Iraq, but I guess Atwan's point was that in spite of all that, for practical purposes, considering that these US bases are states within states where the host has no powers of surveillance or intervention, the small Gulf states wouldn't be able to just say no.

(Anyway, if the Iran-bombing idea seems implausible, what about the scenario in the following post, where the writer suggests the first target will probably be Syria, not Iran).

6:41 AM  
Anonymous dan said...

I think Atwan is overstating the case with regards to sovereign vetoes that the Gulf States can exercise - ie the US doesn't have carte blanche usage of facilities and airspace in the way that he asserts.

On a physical level, Qatar, the UAE and Bahrain could all materially assert their neutrality should they choose to do so ( and failure to do so would be noted by Iran, and IL scholars, as complicity ) - there are only a small number of US installations, manned by AF, intelligence and naval specialists, not combat brigades.

Kuwait, Atwan's focus, is something of a "special case" as about 10% ( not 25% ) is given over to the US military as a logistics platform for Iraq - and there are literally 10-20k plus US troops stationed there at any one time. It makes it well nigh impossible for the Kuwaitis to maintain neutrality in the event of an Iran war - and, given their proximity to Iran and their large Shia population ( 30% ), it guarantees that they will suffer significant damages. Hence the whining. The worst case scenario for the Kuwaitis is that the Iranian response might include an invasion of some description ( they have a large military sitting around twiddling their thumbs and watching in amusement whilst the US military deteriorates in Iraq ) - and given that the US no longer has anything resembling a strategic reserve, and that Iranian actions would probably be lawful, the tactical gambit of using Kuwait as a bargaining tool/point of leverage might might be very tempting.

That said, when the US/UK was mustering 10's of thousands of troops and their kit in Kuwait starting in the middle of 2002 it was obvious that they were going to invade Iraq, and had explicit ( if unacknowledged ) Kuwaiti assent for this.

8:01 AM  

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