Maritime security in the waters of the Gulf has in recent years experienced ongoing tensions. Rising security issues in the Strait of Hormuz, including the hijacking of ships and attacks on oil tankers, represent a major threat to the security of the global oil and gas market. So far, attempts to secure the Strait of Hormuz and other waterways near the Gulf have led to the creation of the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) in November 2019 by the United States and other European and GCC states. To secure their commercial interests, the European countries have established their own maritime security initiative, the European Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz (EMASOH), on January 20, 2020, reaching full operational capacity for one of its maritime surveillance missions in the strait the following month. The security and economic return of GCC states’ ports also emerged as a crucial factor. Therefore, ports that are considered relatively safer, like Yanbu on the Red Sea or Khor Fakkan, Sohar, Salalah, and Duqm in the Gulf of Oman, could bring economic opportunities for these states and become central sites for the economic and security development of their respective countries.
In parallel with the growing maritime security challenges in the Gulf and its surroundings, the GCC states have increased their investments in ports to improve their position within global maritime trade. However, over the past decade, attacks on vessels, including docked targets, have exposed the vulnerabilities of several ports’ security arrangements. Therefore, GCC countries have focused on protection of their maritime infrastructures and related free zones. As a clear example, the UAE ports introduced their own autonomous security boats, while also increasing cooperation with international actors in this regard.
In the coming years, what trends are likely to be seen with regard to maritime security in the Gulf? How can the GCC states further protect and expand their critical maritime infrastructure? What steps can be taken to curb the danger posed by malign actors in the Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb, and Hormuz straits? And what additional role, if any, should the United States and Europe play in safeguarding international commerce?
Featured Speakers: Professor David Des Roches, Bilal Y. Saab, Dr. Cinzia Bianco, and Dr. Geoffrey Gresh.
Professor David Des Roches (moderator)
Associate Professor, Near East South Asia Center for Security Studies; Nonresident Senior Fellow, Gulf International Forum
David Des Roches is currently Associate Professor of at the Near East South Asia Center for Security Studies. Prior to this, he was the Defense Department director responsible for policy concerning Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Prior to this assignment, he has served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as Liaison to the Department of Homeland Security, as senior country director for Pakistan, as NATO operations director, and as deputy director for peacekeeping. His first job in government was as a special assistant for strategy and later as the international law enforcement analyst in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. He graduated from the United States Military Academy and obtained advanced degrees in Arab Politics from the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, in War Studies from Kings College London, and Strategic Studies from the US Army War College. He has also attended the Federal Executive Institute, the German Staff College’s Higher Officer Seminar, the US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School and the US Army Command and General Staff College.
Dr. Cinzia Bianco
Visiting Fellow, the European Council on Foreign Relations
Dr. Bianco is a Visiting Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, based in Berlin, where she is working on political, security, and economic developments in the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf region and relations with Europe. Additionally, she is a senior analyst at Gulf State Analytics. Previously, Bianco was a research fellow for the European Commission’s project on EU-GCC relations ‘Sharaka’ between 2013 and 2014.
She holds an MA degree in the Middle East and Mediterranean Studies from King’s College London and a Ph.D. in Middle East Politics from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, where she worked on threat perceptions in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) after the 2011 Arab uprisings.
Bilal Y. Saab
Senior Fellow and Founding Director of the Defense and Security Program, the Middle East Institute
Bilal Y. Saab is a political-military analyst on the Middle East and U.S. policy toward the region. He specializes in the Levant and the Gulf and focuses on security cooperation between the United States and its regional partners, and national security and defense processes in Arab partner countries. He is currently completing a book, titled Rebuilding Arab Defense: America’s Quest for Security Partnership in the Middle East, to be published by Lynne Rienner Publishers in 2021-2022.
At the Middle East Institute (MEI), Saab is currently Senior Fellow and Director of the Defense and Security Program. In addition, he is an Associate with the Clingendael Institute in the Netherlands; a term member (2016-2021) with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR); and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program in the School of Foreign Service.
Prior to MEI, Saab served as Senior Advisor for Security Cooperation (SC) in the Pentagon’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, with oversight responsibilities for U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). In his capacity as the Department of Defense’s lead on security cooperation in the broader Middle East, Saab supported the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy’s responsibility for SC oversight by leading prioritization and strategic integration of SC resources and activities for the USCENTCOM Area of Responsibility.
He has held fellowships and research & management positions at CFR (International Affairs Fellowship 2018-2019), Atlantic Council, Middlebury Institute of International Studies’ James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Brookings, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and MEI.
Saab has fluency in both written and spoken Arabic and French, and experience living in the Middle East for more than two decades. He has received various analytic and leadership awards throughout his career including the Thought Leadership Award from the Atlantic Council and the Abshire-Inamori Leadership Award from CSIS.
A prolific and widely published author in peer-reviewed academic and policy journals including the print editions of The Washington Quarterly, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, American Interest, and The National Interest and the online editions of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy, Saab is often called upon to brief and testify before various executive and legislative agencies in the U.S. government and other governments around the world. He regularly provides commentary to international media outlets including CNN, NPR, PBS Newshour, Reuters, Washington Post and New York Times.
Saab earned his BA from the American University of Beirut, his MLitt from the University of St Andrews, and his MA from the University of Maryland, College Park.
Dr. Geoffrey F. Gresh
Professor of International Security Studies at the College of International Security Affairs (CISA), National Defense University in Washington
Dr. Gresh is a Professor of International Security Studies at the College of International Security Affairs (CISA), National Defense University in Washington, D.C. with a primary research focus on maritime affairs. He has also served as the Department Chair of International Security Studies (2016-2019) and as CISA’s Director of the South and Central Asia Security Studies Program (2014-2016).
Previously, he was a Visiting Fellow at Sciences Po in Paris and was the recipient of a Dwight D. Eisenhower/Clifford Roberts Fellowship. He also received a U.S. Fulbright-Hays Grant to teach international relations at Salahaddin University in Erbil, Iraq. He has been awarded a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship to Istanbul, Turkey and a Presidential Scholarship at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. Most recently, he was named as a Hitachi-CFR International Affairs Fellow, a U.S.-Japan Foundation Leadership Fellow, an Associate Member of the Corbett Centre for Maritime Policy Studies at King’s College in London, and as a term member to the Council on Foreign Relations.
He is the author of Gulf Security and the U.S. Military: Regime Survival and the Politics of Basing (Stanford University Press, 2015), editor of Eurasia’s Maritime Rise and Global Security: From the Indian Ocean to Pacific Asia and the Arctic (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) and co-editor of U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East: From American Missionaries to the Islamic State (Routledge, 2019). His forthcoming book, To Rule Eurasia’s Waves: The New Great Power Competition at Sea (Yale University Press) is due out in the Fall of 2020, including a Chinese-language version in 2021. His research has also appeared in such scholarly or peer-reviewed publications as World Affairs Journal, Gulf Affairs, Sociology of Islam, Caucasian Review of International Affairs, Iran and the Caucasus, The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Turkish Policy Quarterly, Central Asia and the Caucasus, Insight Turkey, Al-Nakhlah, War on the Rocks, and Foreign Policy. He has a working command of French, German, Spanish, Arabic, and Turkish. He received a Ph.D. in International Relations and MALD from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.