It’s a photograph that now lives in infamy, a grainy shot of a smiling King Abdul Aziz sitting in a high-backed leather chair next to US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt aboard the USS Quincy. Just a year prior to this meeting FDR famously declared, “the defense of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defense of the United States.” And with that began a relationship that has always held defense at its center. Over the years the GCC nations have been purchasers of hundreds of billions of dollars in of Western weaponry, training and strategic assistance that has been used to the advantage of the Gulf states in conflicts as varied as the Liberation of Kuwait to the ongoing War in Yemen. To be sure, changing technologies and geopolitics have vastly altered the weapons and processes by which the region is secured, however even with these changes certain aspects of the region’s security have remained constant. The Strait of Hormuz, the narrow passage by which nearly all oil exits the region, continues to be vital for American security interests, in addition to being a source of tension for the region’s relationship to Iran. In fact, it would seem that rivalries between the Arab and Persian countries of the Gulf have been a main source of tension necessitating the region’s hyper-securitization with examples such as the JCPOA, or the potential for an Middle East Strategic Alliance, (AKA Arab NATO), each finding their impetus from an American desire to increase Gulf security relative to its Iranian neighbor. Despite this longevity however, it is difficult to determine if this special strategic relationship will soon be facing changes. Will talk of prohibiting weapons sales result in tangible policy changes? Could the Gulf begin to seek new security partners such as Russia or China? Is a Middle East Strategic Alliance feasible? How might internal demands distract Gulf countries from focusing on perceived external threats? Will the United States’ burgeoning energy independence decrease its vested interest in Gulf security? While none of these questions have easy answers, GIF is honored to have gathered an esteemed panel to unpack the current aspects and future changes related to security and defense in the Gulf.
Ms. Lara Seligman (Moderator); Dr. Mehran Kamrava; Dr. Emma Soubrier; Dr. David Pollock; & Ms. Becca Wasser
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Lara Seligman (moderator)
Ms. Lara Seligman is Foreign Policy Magazine’s Pentagon correspondent.
Before joining Foreign Policy, she served as the Pentagon editor for Aviation Week and Space Technology. Seligman has also held positions at Inside Defense, Defense News, National Journal, and The Hill. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Follower her on Twitter @laraseligman
Dr. Mehran Kamrava
Dr. Kamrava is Professor and Director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar.
He is the author of a number of journal articles and books, including, most recently, Troubled Waters: Insecurity in the Persian Gulf (Cornell University Press, 2018); Inside the Arab State (Oxford University Press, 2018); The Impossibility of Palestine: History, Geography, and the Road Ahead (Yale University Press, 2016);Qatar: Small State, Big Politics(Cornell University Press, 2015);The Modern Middle East: A Political History since the First World War, 3rd ed. (University of California Press, 2013); and Iran’s Intellectual Revolution(Cambridge University Press, 2008). His edited books include The Great Game in West Asia: Iran, Turkey, and the Southern Caucasus (2017);Fragile Politics: Weak States in the Greater Middle East (2016); Beyond the Arab Spring: The Evolving Ruling Bargain in the Middle East(2015);The Political Economy of the Persian Gulf(2012); The Nuclear Question in the Middle East(2012); and The International Politics of the Persian Gulf (2011).
Dr. Emma Soubrier
Dr. Emma Soubrier is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Middle East Studies, George Washington University, and a Postdoctoral Associated Researcher at the Centre de Recherche Michel de l’Hospital, Université Clermont Auvergne.
Dr. Soubrier does research in International Relations, Security Studies, Arms Trade and Political Science and Economy. Her most recent publication is “Evolving Foreign and Security Policies: A Comparative Study of Qatar and the UAE”, in Khalid Almezaini and Jean-Marc Rickli (eds.), The Gulf Small States: Foreign and Security Policies, London: Routledge, 2016.
Dr. David Pollock
David Pollock, the Bernstein fellow at The Washington Institute, focuses on the political dynamics of Middle East countries.
He is the director of Project Fikra, a program of research, publication, and network-building designed to generate policy ideas for promoting positive change and countering the spread of extremism in the Middle East. At the forefront of this effort is Fikra Forum, a unique Arabic-English bilingual online platform that promotes exchanges between mainstream Muslims and Arab democrats and U.S. decisionmakers and opinion leaders. Dr. Pollock served previously as senior advisor for the Broader Middle East at the State Department, a post he assumed in 2002. In that capacity, he provided policy advice on issues of democracy and reform in the region, with a focus on women’s rights. He also helped launch the department’s $15 million Iraqi Women’s Democracy Initiative and the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, working directly with advocates across the Middle East. From 1996 to 2001, Dr. Pollock served in several other State Department policy advisory positions covering South Asia and the Middle East, including four years as regional expert on the secretary of state’s Policy Planning Staff. Previously, he was chief of Near East/South Asia/Africa research at the U.S. Information Agency, where he supervised the government’s study of public opinion, elite attitudes, and media content across the three regions. In 1995-1996, he was a scholar-in-residence at The Washington Institute, where he authored the widely read Policy Paper The ‘Arab Street’? Public Opinion in the Arab World.
Becca Wasser is a policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, where her primary research areas include wargaming, international security, and U.S. defense and foreign policy in the Middle East.
Prior to joining RAND, Wasser worked as a research analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), based jointly in Washington, DC and Manama, Bahrain. At the IISS, she analyzed political and security developments in the Middle East, and managed a series of regional security conferences and workshops in Asia and the Middle East.
Wasser holds an M.S. in foreign service, with distinction, from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University where she was also a junior fellow at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, and a B.A. in international and global studies and Islamic and Middle Eastern studies from Brandeis University.