March 16, 2015


The Persian Gulf sits at the nexus of multiple regional security complexes overlaid one upon another, creating a delicately balanced yet dangerously volatile mosaic of cultural politics and armed forces. As a result, the calculated political positioning of states within the region have ramifications that produce a ripple effect across the entire globe: affecting energy markets, political stability, and military cooperation and procurement programs which define how several non-regional states engage.

At the core of this Gulf complex is a security rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran; a centuries old antagonism between Sunni and Shia’ Muslims manifest in global politics which now dictates defense alignment policies and military readiness. A second, and rising, security complex to examine is the establishment of the United States as a permanent military, economic, and diplomatic partner in the region – absent only in sovereign territory of its own. With the presence of the US Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, American interests in the region are clearly communicated, as are the passive-aggressive cavitation of our naval vessels plying the Straits of Hormuz at the dismay of Iran’s Supreme leader. Third, Gulf security politics exist within the broader global context of a contentious Muslim and Jewish relationship, most clearly exhibited by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To this point, it is argued that much of the anti-Israeli rhetoric coming from Iran, for example, can be explained by recognizing Iran’s need to appear as the sole, legitimate voice of Muslims in the Gulf as opposed to Saudi Arabia. Last, this piece will address the strategic importance of an American presence in the Persian Gulf to fulfill President Obama’s pivot towards Asia. Tangled in an economic complex with the Middle East, major Pacific actors have made attempts to use their geographic back door in South Asia to secure natural resources, thus sustaining the growing trend of urbanization in Asia. Because of this, the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review calls for a continued American presence in the Gulf as a key stratagem to check expanding Chinese power.

Read the full opinion piece at CIMSEC.