WASHINGTON: The new US National Defense Strategy in the Middle East is moving away from waging unilateral wars to change regimes through military means and instead will invest in building coalitions and partnerships with allied regional states, according to Mara Karlin, US assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities.
Karlin said during a keynote address at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C on Wednesday and attended by Arab News that the new US National Defense Strategy would prioritize “partnerships, integration and interoperability” when dealing with regional threats in the Middle East.
She said that the Middle East region fell under the US National Security Strategy, which included “partnerships, deterrence diplomacy, integration and values.”
Karlin described the new NDS strategy for the Middle East as a “paradigm shift” that was moving away from basing hundreds of thousands of static US troops in the region. Instead, the new paradigm would depend on working with regional partners through partnerships, complex military exercises, and interoperability of weapons systems.
“This is a paradigm shift in our approach to the region, one that is de-emphasizing the unrealistic aims of transformation that are often pursed through unilateral military means,” she said.
“Instead, this paradigm is focused on our competitive advantages and partnerships and the fundamentals of sound policy,” Karlin said.
She said that the new NDS described the basing of hundreds of thousands of troops in the region as “ineffective deterrence.”
However, Karlin said that the shift did not mean that the US was less committed to the Middle East.
“The NDS is very clear. The US will remain engaged in the Middle East,” she said.
Karlin said that the Middle East region was part of US global strategy and considered an integral part of it.
“Frankly, our national security interests are interwoven in this region,” she said.
Karlin said that US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had articulated the US strategy in the region during a recent trip to the Middle East as that of supporting “diplomacy” and “conflict deterrence.”
However, Austin had added: “But if we were forced to turn back aggression, we will win and win decisively.”
Karlin said: “Let’s be clear, America’s commitment to security in the Middle East is strong and sure.”
She said that the strength of the new strategy stemmed from its working in multilateral formations and partnerships, and the US military agility that enabled it to direct forces where they were needed swiftly and effectively.
Karlin said that Iran’s “reckless behavior” in the region would be addressed through a multilateral approach of military integration and the interoperability of arms and forces in the region.
“Integration and interoperability are key to address Iran’s reckless activities across all domains,” she said.
Karlin pointed out as an example of this strategy the US Central Command’s work to establish “the combined maritime forces,” a 34-member security and military maritime force to address drug smuggling and piracy on the high seas and deter “state-sponsored maligned activities and ensure commercial shipping.”
She also mentioned the ongoing military exercise “Eagle Resolve,” in which the US Central Command and the Saudi Armed Forces were conducting a multilateral exercise in combination with armed forces of the Arab nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Karlin said that the new US strategy in the Middle East was already paying dividends, citing Yemen and Iraq as examples.
She said that Yemen was now witnessing the longest truce between the warring sides, while Iraq was currently being accepted and integrated back into the region. She also mentioned the defeat of extremist groups such as “Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State” in Iraq and Syria through coalition with Arab states.
Globally, Karlin said that the NDS highlighted China as the single biggest threat the US was facing in the future. She said that the main US national defense strategy was to sustain and strengthen the deterrent against China.
China was currently the only country in the world that had the intent and the increasing capability to systematically challenge the US across the board, diplomatically economically and technologically, she said.
The NDS also describes Russia as an “acute” threat. It also mentions a range of other threats including Iran, North Korea, and terrorist organizations.
Released last year, the National Defense Strategy was issued for the first time in an integrated way by including the national nuclear posture review and the missile defense review simultaneously.