Hagel Urges Gulf States to Collaborate on Missile Defense

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks during the opening session of the Gulf Cooperation Council on Wednesday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The U.S. defense chief prodded Arab Gulf countries to take steps to develop a regional missile defense policy.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
May 15, 2014, 10:51 a.m.

The U.S. de­fense chief on Wed­nes­day used a trip to the Per­sian Gulf to prod the re­gion’s coun­tries to de­vel­op an in­teg­rated an­ti­mis­sile plan.

De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel was in Jed­dah, Saudi Ar­a­bia, to at­tend a min­is­teri­al of the U.S.-Gulf Co­oper­a­tion Coun­cil De­fense Dia­logue. He en­cour­aged the coun­cil to des­ig­nate a quarterly meet­ing hos­ted by the Air Force com­pon­ent of U.S. Cent­ral Com­mand — the Air and Air De­fense Chiefs Con­fer­ence —  as “the GCC’s primary mil­it­ary for­um for re­gion­al air and mis­sile de­fense policy,” ac­cord­ing to a tran­script of his in­tro­duct­ory re­marks.

In sub­sequent com­ments to the press, Hagel said an agree­ment was reached between seni­or Pentagon of­fi­cials and the six Ar­ab GCC coun­tries “to de­vel­op the spe­cif­ic pro­pos­als I out­lined today,” in­clud­ing the one on fur­ther­ing mis­sile de­fense dis­cus­sions.

The Air and Air De­fense Chiefs Con­fer­ence meets sev­er­al times a year and of­fers a for­um for dis­cuss­ing an­ti­mis­sile mat­ters at the op­er­a­tion­al level, ac­cord­ing to a U.S. de­fense of­fi­cial who did not have au­thor­iz­a­tion to be iden­ti­fied.

The of­fi­cial said the main ac­com­plish­ment from the Jed­dah meet­ing was that the con­fer­ence would be re­in­vig­or­ated after not hav­ing been con­vened for some time. “We did get agree­ment to get the [GCC coun­tries’ deputy min­is­ters] to meet with­in the next six months [in Wash­ing­ton] and then re­start the GCC min­is­teri­al as a reg­u­lar for­um for dis­cuss­ing these is­sues and mov­ing for­ward on them.”

The United States is en­cour­aging the six Coun­cil na­tions — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Ar­a­bia and the United Ar­ab Emir­ates — to agree to con­nect their in­di­vidu­al mis­sile de­fense as­sets in or­der to build a re­gion­al bal­list­ic mis­sile shield as a means of de­ter­ring at­tacks from Ir­an. Pro­gress on this front has been slow, however, as the Ar­ab Gulf coun­tries are tra­di­tion­ally pro­tect­ive of their right to make in­de­pend­ent de­fense de­cisions, choos­ing in­stead to rely on bi­lat­er­al an­ti­mis­sile agree­ments struck with the United States.

Late last year, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­posed de­vel­op­ing a mech­an­ism that would al­low Wash­ing­ton to ex­port de­fense sys­tems to the Gulf Co­oper­a­tion Coun­cil as a block. Thus far, the United States has sold weapons to Gulf coun­tries on an in­di­vidu­al basis.

Hagel touched on that idea again at Jed­dah: “I am also sug­gest­ing that the GCC de­vel­op a For­eign Mil­it­ary Sales case to con­sult with U.S. train­ers and tech­nic­al ex­perts. These ex­perts could help ad­vance re­gion­al mis­sile de­fense pri­or­it­ies by ac­cel­er­at­ing the GCC’s pro­gress to­ward great­er in­ter­op­er­ab­il­ity and more soph­ist­ic­ated mul­tina­tion­al force de­vel­op­ment.”

The sec­ret­ary said it would be left up to mem­bers coun­tries to “as­semble this case and de­term­ine the ap­pro­pri­ate mem­ber con­tri­bu­tions.”

Speak­ing in Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day, Frank Rose, deputy as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary of State for space and de­fense policy, said that the U.S. will­ing­ness to des­ig­nate the Gulf Co­oper­a­tion Coun­cil as eli­gible for for­eign mil­it­ary sales demon­strated “our ul­ti­mate com­mit­ment to see the Gulf be­come a stronger, more cap­able part­ner.”

In a speech at the Cap­it­ol Hill Club, Rose noted that in­di­vidu­al Gulf states have already shown their will­ing­ness to ac­quire U.S. an­ti­mis­sile sys­tems. “These pro­cure­ments demon­strate our GCC part­ners’ de­term­in­a­tion to provide for their own de­fense, and when com­bined with our re­gion­al [bal­list­ic mis­sile de­fense] cap­ab­il­it­ies, rep­res­ent a sig­ni­fic­ant con­tri­bu­tion to re­gion­al sta­bil­ity at a time when our own de­fense spend­ing is un­der fisc­al pres­sure.”

The United Ar­ab Emir­ates has signed a con­tract to pur­chase two U.S-man­u­fac­tured Ter­min­al High Alti­tude Area De­fense sys­tems, while both Saudi Ar­a­bia and Kuwait have inked deals to en­hance their ex­ist­ing Pat­ri­ot bat­ter­ies to handle the more-cap­able PAC-3 mis­sile in­ter­cept­or.

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