Home/Daniel Larison/Trump’s Terrible ‘Arab NATO’ Idea Won’t Go Away

Trump’s Terrible ‘Arab NATO’ Idea Won’t Go Away

President Donald Trump poses for photos with ceremonial swordsmen on his arrival to Murabba Palace, as the guest of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, Saturday evening, May 20, 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The Trump administration keeps trying to make its “Arab NATO” happen:

The Trump administration pressed ahead Friday with plans to create an “Arab NATO” that would unite U.S. partners in the Middle East in an anti-Iran alliance, but Qatar said the crisis among Gulf countries must be solved first.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met in New York with foreign ministers from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to advance the project.

A regional anti-Iranian alliance of Arab states is a terrible idea for the reasons I have laid outbefore, and it is also an unnecessary and undesirable thing for the U.S. to create. There is no need for this alliance. Iran’s military spending is already dwarfed by that of its Gulf neighbors, and its power projection is limited. Doug Bandow explains:

Indeed, Iran’s conventional military strength is anemic; Tehran’s military outlays ran about $16 billion last year, trailing both Saudi Arabia’s $77 billion and UAE’s $25 billion. The Islamic Republic is in no position to launch a blitzkrieg assault on its immediate neighbors, let alone more distant states such as well-armed Egypt.

Iran’s missile program, oft criticized by U.S. officials who control the world’s most powerful military, is a deterrent borne of weakness, ensuring deterrence as city-busting weapons targeting desert city-states.

An anti-Iranian alliance would not stabilize the region, but would more likely become a vehicle for more destructive meddling in the affairs of other states. The Saudi coalition’s war on Yemen is a preview of what happens when regional governments backed by the U.S. use force to combat imaginary Iranian “expansionism”: the country is wrecked, the people suffer and starve, and everyone is less secure than before.

The shorthand of referring to it as “Arab NATO” is also misleading. The administration’s proposed Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA) will have none of the virtues of NATO and all of its flaws. The anti-Iran gang that Trump is trying to organize will exist mainly for the purpose of picking fights rather than deterring them. The creation of a formal alliance organized in opposition to Iran will intensify existing regional rivalries and increase tensions between the alliance’s members and Iran, and the U.S. will then be on the hook to support the alliance if those tensions spill over into conflict. The creation of an anti-Iran alliance will deepen U.S. ties to clients that it should be distancing itself from, it will become a new excuse to flood the region with more weapons, and it increases the likelihood of getting the U.S. into yet another regional war that it doesn’t need to fight. Creating this alliance would formalize everything that is already wrong and destructive in U.S. foreign policy in the region, and it would serve only to exacerbate existing divisions. It would not make the U.S. more secure, but it would almost certainly impose significant costs on our military down the road.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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