Thursday, August 16, 2012

Forget about Beijing, Doha (and the rest of the Gulf) follows D.C.'s drumbeat

While my last post examined the growing economic relationship between China and Qatar, the reality is that the U.S. is still a dominant influence in the emirate, especially on matters of security.  Recent revelations about a proposed U.S. "missile shield" to be housed in Qatar, the UAE, and Kuwait are the latest example of the Pentagon's total militarization of the Gulf littoral.  To quote the New York Times on the hellish blitzkrieg of missiles the U.S. and its allies can now "defensively" launch across one of the world's most vital and heavily trafficked waterways:
Three weeks ago the Pentagon announced the newest addition to Persian Gulf missile defense systems, informing Congress of a plan to sell Kuwait $4.2 billion in weaponry, including 60 Patriot Advanced Capability missiles, 20 launching platforms and 4 radars. This will be in addition to Kuwait’s arsenal of 350 Patriot missiles bought between 2007 and 2010.
 The United Arab Emirates acquired more than $12 billion in missile defense systems in the past four years, documents show. In December, the Pentagon announced a contract to provide the Emirates with two advanced missile defense launchers for a system called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, valued at about $2 billion, including radars and command systems. An accompanying contract to supply an arsenal of interceptor missiles for the system was valued at another $2 billion, according to Pentagon documents.Saudi Arabia also has bought a significant arsenal of Patriot systems, the latest being $1.7 billion in upgrades last year.
The United States’ own military forces provide a core capability for ballistic missile defenses in the Persian Gulf, in particular the American Navy vessels with advanced tracking radars and interceptor missiles. According to Navy officials, these Aegis missile defense systems, carried aboard both cruisers and destroyers, are in the region on continuous deployments.
And the United States has deployed a number of land-based missile defense systems to defend specific American military facilities located around the gulf.
Qatar's role in the new missile defense proposal is to host an X-band radar station, similar to U.S. controlled radars established at Mount Keren, in Israel's Negev Desert, and at Turkey's southeastern city of Malatya.

It is hard not to smirk when one hears the phrase "missile defense," as it has been a Pentagon buzzword for going on thirty years now.  The idea of shooting missiles down with other missiles is compelling--note the fantastical original nickname of "Star-Wars"--so much so that the United States has spent over $200 billion investing in the program over the last 30 years.  Does it work?  The official answer is who knows? (but probably not).  The U.S. system has never been tested under combat conditions.  And "combat conditions" have never occurred because the whole theory was based on defending an attack by the Soviet's that never came.

So why are the Gulf kingdoms now so gung-ho about buying their own missile shield?  The answer is hard to tease out.  A "an attack from Iran" is the official answer, the sheiks quaking in their sandals theory.  But both Iran and the Arab states have too much invested in the Gulf oil trade for this theory to hold much water.  One would think that any conflict that arose in the Gulf would not reach the point where hundreds of interceptor missiles are needed to prevent bombs raining on Dubai and Riyahd.  The Arab families ruling the Gulf care far to much about preserving their power and wealth for total war to break out in the area (war in other Arab states, however, is a different question).

A better answer may be the all-powerful military industrial complex.  Donald Rumsfeld chairing a blue-ribbon committee on a subject, as he did on Missile Defense in the 1990's, is about as close to President Eisenhower's definition of "the acquisition of unwarranted influence" as you can get.  That is how $200 billion gets spent on an experiment, and no one really calls bullshit.  Not mentioned in the New York Times quote above is that Lockheed-Martin produces the Patriot Missile System, and Raytheon the X-band radar.  The oil rich Gulf states have always been the best customer for these mega weapons manufacturers, and the latest purchases could just be a continuation down this path.  And I am sure Lockheed appreciates the continuing business, as the U.S. is currently broke and hoping to reduce its defense budget (either through a managed snipping, or "sequestration"-a top down haircut of many billions that will take effect if a congressional compromise can't be reached).  

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