Strengthened security framework emerges from Jeddah summits
Security dominated the multiple summits hosted by Saudi Arabia in Jeddah last weekend. The summits reaffirmed the US’ commitment to regional security, reenergized its partnerships with the countries of the region and identified new areas for closer cooperation.
The word “security” appeared more than 60 times in the statements issued by the Jeddah summits, while “energy” appeared about 20 times.
President Joe Biden asserted the US’ desire to strengthen its engagement with the region, saying: “Let me state clearly that the United States is going to remain an active, engaged partner in the Middle East.” He added at the conclusion of his remarks before the summit that: “The United States is not going anywhere.”
Biden said: “It is only becoming clearer to me how closely interwoven America’s interests are with the successes of the Middle East.” As such, the US “will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran.”
The communiques issued by the leaders reflected this renewed determination. GCC leaders welcomed Biden’s affirmation of the US’ commitment to its strategic partnership with the bloc’s member states and that it stands ready to work jointly with its partners in the GCC to deter and confront all external threats to their security. This includes threats to vital waterways, especially the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab Al-Mandab Strait.
The GCC-US statement listed several security priorities. The leaders affirmed their “joint commitment” to preserving regional security and stability, deepening their regionwide defense, security and intelligence cooperation, and ensuring the freedom and security of waterways. They also affirmed their support for ensuring that the Gulf region is free from all weapons of mass destruction and for confronting terrorism and “all activities that threaten security and stability.”
While the leaders commended the existing cooperation between the GCC member states in these areas, they stressed the need for renewed efforts to “enhance their defense and joint deterrence capabilities against the increasing threat posed by the proliferation of unmanned aerial systems and cruise missiles,” as well as against the arming of terrorists, militias and other groups.
They discussed new ways to strengthen deterrence and the defense capabilities of GCC member states, including greater integration and interoperability of air and missile defenses, maritime security capabilities and early warning systems and information sharing.
Several practical steps have recently been taken to enhance GCC-US defense coordination and these were endorsed in Jeddah last week. For example, on April 17, Combined Task Force 153 was established as the fourth task force operated by the Combined Maritime Forces, a coalition of 34 countries including the US and the GCC member states. CTF 153’s mission is to focus on international maritime security and capacity-building efforts in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab Strait and Gulf of Aden. When not at sea, CTF 153 personnel, as with other CMF forces, work from offices at CMF headquarters in Manama, Bahrain.
Similarly, last September, the US established Task Force 59 to integrate unmanned systems and artificial intelligence with maritime capabilities in the area of operation of the US 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain. The preexisting CTF 150, which reinforces shared maritime security objectives in the Gulf of Oman and North Arabian Sea, is now being commanded by Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi-US bilateral summit went into greater detail about security cooperation. President Biden “strongly” affirmed the US’ “continued commitment to supporting Saudi Arabia’s security and territorial defense and facilitating the Kingdom’s ability to obtain necessary capabilities to defend its people and territory against external threats.”
The leaders underscored the need to deter Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of other countries, its support for terrorism through its armed proxies and its efforts to destabilize the security and stability of the region. They also stressed the importance of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
They underscored the importance of preserving the free flow of commerce through the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and Strait of Hormuz and deterring illicit smuggling into Yemen.
Saudi Arabia and the US also put greater emphasis on cybersecurity cooperation to protect the vital interests and national security of both countries. They recently signed multiple memorandums of understanding on cooperation in this area and decided to strengthen real-time information sharing, build human and technical capabilities and develop the cybersecurity industry.
Saudi Arabia and the US also announced plans for greater cooperation in space exploration, including human spaceflight, Earth observation, commercial and regulatory development and responsible behavior in outer space. Saudi Arabia signed the Artemis Accords and affirmed its commitment to “the responsible, peaceful and sustainable exploration and use of outer space.”
In addition to security, several other important areas of cooperation were discussed at the Jeddah summits. Given the level of participation and the commitments made at the summits, it would not be an exaggeration to call them historic. What is equally important is to build on the commitments made in Jeddah for a stronger regional security architecture, clearly defined and updated.
Given the level of participation and the commitments made at the summits, it would not be an exaggeration to call them historic.
Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg
Biden said that the US will “seek to build on this moment with active, principled American leadership.” Other leaders expressed similar determination. There are existing frameworks under the Saudi-US strategic partnership, as well as the GCC-US partnership, which could be reenergized and utilized, including specialized teams and working groups, ministerial and sub-ministerial bodies and an annual summit at the head-of-state level. Similar frameworks could be developed to include Egypt, Iraq and Jordan to fulfill the 10 leaders’ vision expressed in Jeddah, which could serve as the catalyst for a stronger, more comprehensive security architecture.
- Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the GCC assistant secretary-general for political affairs and negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not necessarily represent GCC views. Twitter: @abuhamad1