The May 31 announcement from the United Arab Emirates that it had ceased its participation in a US-led naval task force whose mission is to protect commercial shipping in the Arabian Gulf is the latest indication of dissatisfaction of Arab Gulf states with American security policy in the region.
It is particularly remarkable because in the past the Emiratis were close partners with the Americans. It is also remarkable that the Emirati decision produced little discussion or comment in the American media or among the American foreign policy establishment.
Gulf observers wonder how far American policy has changed since the war to liberate Kuwait 32 years ago. The answer is that, of course, some American approaches have evolved. They had to because America is no longer the sole superpower.
In 2023, China represents real competition. America still has a vital national interest in the Gulf region’s energy resources. It will contest the effort by a hostile state, such as Iran, to capture those resources. In that sense, we have not come far from 1991.
Building a new security architecture
However, Washington aims to deter Iranian aggression, and with its many geostrategic challenges, it needs help from Gulf states to ensure the region’s security.
Building a new, regional security architecture under American leadership will take time. Thus, the Gulf is witnessing the start of a transition from the old American security umbrella to a newer regional security architecture with more systems and states.
Emirati frustration is understandable as is its desire to build a wider political-diplomatic network. Washington knows that Gulf states in this multipolar world have more options and it accepts their building economic relations with a dynamic China.
Washington also has a limit: it will not provide the deepest military cooperation to countries that try to enjoy close military relations with both the United States and China.