The Gulf Military Balance in 2012 – Cordesman

Published: May 21, 2012

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Editor’s Note:

In the continuing effort to provide updated special coverage of The Challenge of Iran in 2012, today SUSRIS adds to its multitude of resources the comprehensive CSIS report from Dr. Anthony Cordesman, Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “The Gulf Military Balance in 2012.” The Gulf States are grappling with ways to check the aspirations of Iran to expand its influence in the region. As we have documented in these pages, one such way is consideration of developing a single entity, or union, among the six GCC states. The military challenge posed by Iran, especially as it is believed to be seeking nuclear weapons, is a challenge shared by not only the GCC states but also their western allies. In February, Dr. Cordesman provided a comprehensive report titled, “U.S. And Iranian Strategic Competition: The Role Of The Southern Gulf States And Yemen.” In it he said:

“The U.S. and its Gulf allies must be ready to deal with the fact that the strategic competition with Iran will continue to intensify. This means the U.S. must work with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states to deal with factors like the uncertain character of the future Iraqi government, the effect of international sanctions on Iran’s policy calculus, Saudi succession, developments in the Arab-Israeli conflict, global economic stability, and what emerges in several key states in the aftermath of regional Arab unrest.”

Today we provide for your consideration the overview from an assessment by Dr. Cordesman and his colleague Alex Wilner addressing the critical balance between Iran and those states that it may confront militarily. The complete report can be found at the link below. Many more resources are identified on the SUSRIS Special Section “Challenge of Iran – 2012.” Additional materials will be added to the special section as they are released. Readers who follow SUSRIS via Twitter [@saudius] will be advised as the section is updated. SUSRIS thanks Dr. Cordesman and Mr. Wilner, and CSIS, for sharing these timely and expansive strategic assessments for your consideration.

[LINK to “The Gulf Military Balance in 2012″]


The Gulf Military Balance in 2012
By Anthony H. Cordesman and Alex Wilner
May 18, 2012

The Burke Chair at CSIS is issuing a new report called the Gulf Military Balance in 2012. This report is available on the CSIS web site at:

The report shows that the Gulf military balance is dominated by five major groups of military forces: the Southern Gulf states, Iran, Iraq, outside powers like the US, and non-state actors like the various elements of Al Qa’ida, the Mahdi militia, and various tribal forces.

Iran MapThese forces are evolving in many ways. Iran now presents a major threat in terms of its asymmetric and proxy warfare assets, its growing missile arsenal and its potential nuclear capability. The growing political unrest and instability in the region is creating new internal security challenges. Domestic unrest in countries like Yemen could create new threats that cross the Saudi and Omani borders. The threat of terrorism has so far been contained, but remains all too real and has driven many regional states to make major increases in their paramilitary, security and special forces.

The rising threats from asymmetric and proxy warfare, nuclear weapons, internal security threats, and terrorism make it difficult to assess the military balance. Hard numbers are only available on classic measures of conventional military strength or the total size of new force elements like paramilitary and missile forces. There is no clear way to measure the balance of conventional and irregular forces in asymmetric conflicts, or how missiles and proliferation will affect the balance.

Moreover, even the conventional balance is harder to assess. The numbers of major weapons platforms are still important, as are manpower totals and other classic measures of force strength but their relative importance is steadily diminishing over time. The deterrent and warfighting capability of conventional forces is increasingly shaped by factors like training, sustainability, the quality of munitions, sensors, battle management systems, and intelligence capabilities.

There are highly capable force elements in virtually every country, and elements that have limited value. Most countries have limited war fighting experience, but several have force elements that have considerable experience in given missions. In broad terms, however, each group of forces has the following capabilities:

The Southern Gulf states have large military resources, and many countries are making massive arms purchases. At the same time, many elements of their forces have limited real-world effectiveness, and the Southern Gulf states have only made limited progress towards collective and integrated defense. They are, however, making a major effort to improve their effectiveness and interoperability, as well as their ability to work with the US, Britain, and France to deter and contain Iran.

These efforts are critical, regardless of the political problems that they present. If the Southern Gulf forces are to be an effective deterrent to Iran and deal with instability in Yemen and other neighboring states, they need to be far more interoperable than they are today, and become far more capable of responding to asymmetric, missile, and possible future nuclear threats. The Saudi initiative to make such progress, raised by King Abdullah at the December meeting of the GCC, needs to be followed up in a way that brings both GCC consensus and serious military progress. This not only is critical to dealing with internal and external threats, it is critical to make the GCC and Southern Gulf states full partners in ensuring their security, rather than leaving them dependent on the US and other outside powers.

It is the US that now dominates the balance of Gulf military forces, along with allies like the United Kingdom and France. US land capabilities are, however, limited, and the US would face far more serious problems in dealing with a well-planned campaign for asymmetric or irregular warfare in the Gulf than it would in fighting a conventional conflict.

Iran has substantial assets for irregular and asymmetric warfare, has growing missile and long-range rocket forces, and may emerge as a nuclear power during the next three to five years. However, its conventional forces continue to age, lack effective unity and readiness, and are declining in overall capability.

Iraq’s forces remain a work in progress and are still focused on counterinsurgency. Iraq lost virtually all of its heavy weapons in the US-led invasion in 2003. While it has begun to order replacements, Iraq will not have the ability to operate independently in large-scale conventional warfare for at least three to five years.

Non-state actors play an increasing role in shaping the security situation, but still have limited capability to do more than conduct low-level asymmetric and “terrorist” attacks. This may change. Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has already benefitted from the political chaos in Yemen. Al Qaida in Mesopotamia (AQAM) and the various Sadr militias may benefit from the growing political divisions in Iraq. Bahrain could descend into a state of low-level civil conflict. The growing divisions between Sunni and Shi’ite in the region could trigger the emergence of new non-state elements.


Other Burke Chair reports that analyze other aspects of Gulf security include:

US and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Conventional and Asymmetric Dimensions
Provides a detailed analysis of the range of threats Iran poses to the secure flow of exports through the Gulf.
It is available on the CSIS web sites at LINK.

US and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Missile and Nuclear
Provides a detailed analysis of the threat Iranian ling-range missiles and nuclear programs , and the tisk of preventive war and an Israeli-Iranian nuclear arms race, pose to the secure flow of exports through the Gulf. It is available on the CSIS web sites at LINK.


Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at CSIS and acts as a national security analyst for ABC News. He is a recipient of the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal. During his time at CSIS, he has completed a wide variety of studies on energy, U.S. strategy and defense plans, the lessons of modern war, defense programming and budgeting, NATO modernization, Chinese military power, the lessons of modern warfare, proliferation, counterterrorism, armed nation building, the security of the Middle East, and the Afghan and Iraq conflicts. (Many of these studies can be downloaded from the Burke Chair section of the CSIS Web site at Cordesman has directed numerous CSIS study efforts on terrorism, energy, defense panning, modern conflicts, and the Middle East. He has traveled frequently to Afghanistan and Iraq to consult for MNF-I, ISAF, U.S. commands, and U.S. embassies on the wars in those countries, and he was a member of the Strategic Assessment Group that assisted General Stanley McChrystal in developing a new strategic for Afghanistan in 2009. He frequently acts as a consultant to the U.S. State Department, Defense Department, and intelligence community and has worked with U.S. officials on counteterrorism and security areas in a number of Middle East countries.

Before joining CSIS, Cordesman served as director of intelligence assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and as civilian assistant to the deputy secretary of defense. He directed the analysis of the lessons of the October War for the secretary of defense in 1974, coordinating the U.S. military, intelligence, and civilian analysis of the conflict. He also served in numerous other government positions, including in the State Department and on NATO International Staff. In addition, he served as director of policy and planning for resource applications in the Energy Department and as national security assistant to Senator John McCain. He had numerous foreign assignments, including posts in the United Kingdom, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iran, as well as with NATO in Brussels and Paris. He has worked extensively in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

He is the author of a wide range of studies on energy policy, national security, and the Middle East, and his most recent publications include (CSIS, 2010), Iraq and the United States: Creating a Strategic Partnership (CSIS, 2010), Saudi Arabia: National Security in a Troubled Region (Praeger, 2009), Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Birth of a Regional Nuclear Arms Race? (Praeger, 2009), Withdrawal from Iraq: Assessing the Readiness of Iraqi Security Forces (CSIS, 2009), and Winning in Afghanistan: Creating Effective Afghan Security Forces (CSIS, 2009).

Source: CSIS


Articles and Interviews on SUSRIS by and with Anthony Cordesman