Coalitions against Conflict
Regional and international security depend on partnerships and cooperation
When the international community called for ships and Sailors to defeat piracy and smuggling in the Arabian Sea and Arabian Gulf, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) answered the call. When the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) sent troops to stabilize Yemen, the UAE arrived in force. When peacekeeping missions converged on Somalia, Bosnia and Lebanon, the Emirates supplied personnel, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars to aid refugees and other victims of war.
“The UAE Armed Forces is an active party in the face of the main sources of threats [to] regional and international security,” said Mohammed Ahmed Al Bowardi, UAE minister of state for defence affairs. “The participation of the Armed Forces in missions abroad, in the Gulf, the Arab world and worldwide has helped to promote the UAE’s position regionally and globally, as it is now seen as an actor in promoting global peace and stability. There is no doubt that all of this has enhanced the civilized image of the UAE in the international community.”
As the multifaceted experiences of the UAE make clear, regional security is impossible without building coalitions and sharing the burden of maintaining security. Because threats such as terrorism and piracy are transnational, the collective response must be transnational as well. Military exercises, peacekeeping operations, maritime missions, border protection, military exercises, and humanitarian assistance: No nation can conduct these stability-enhancing initiatives alone.
The UAE has played an outsized role in helping to stabilize Afghanistan after decades of civil war. It has not only built hospitals and schools, but paid the ultimate price when its ambassador was murdered by terrorists in Afghanistan in January 2017. Jordan, too, has supplied not just fighting forces, but military imams and female troops to serve as village liaisons spreading the message of religious tolerance.
Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi asked for assistance after Houthi rebels, allied with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, took the capital by force, forcing the legitimate government to flee in 2015. In response, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition of 10 member states. An important achievement came in April 2016, when the Yemeni government and coalition successfully ejected al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula from Mukalla in Hadhramout province. This deprived the terrorist group of a significant source of revenue. Efforts continue to eliminate terrorist safe havens in Yemen.
United Nations peacekeeping missions, mostly in Africa, continue to draw strength from Soldiers, military advisors and police officers from Egypt, Kazakhstan, Jordan, Qatar, Pakistan and Yemen. For countries such as Pakistan and Jordan, these commitments are long-standing. Pakistan, for example, has sent more than 100,000 troops in the past 50 years and had more than 7,100 Soldiers engaged in early 2017.
The Combined Maritime Task Force, based in Bahrain, is a coalition of about two dozen nations that provide ships and Sailors for patrols in the Arabian Sea, Red Sea, Bab el-Mandeb strait and Arabian Gulf. The three task forces, called Combined Task Forces (CTFs) 150, 151 and 152, include policing operations that helped suppress Somali piracy. As recently as 2011, Somali pirates hijacked 151 ships, but by 2016 an international naval coalition had reduced such hijackings to zero.
Nevertheless, naval commanders recognize the difficulty of declaring final victory on a battlefield as unpredictable as the high seas. In April 2017, after an absence of two years, Somali pirates attacked and hijacked a foreign oil tanker and held the ship and its crew for ransom. It was the first such attack in more than two years but a reminder that the coalition can’t let down its guard.
The Yemeni Naval and Coast Defense Forces have slowly been rebuilding fleets and bases to enable the government to patrol territorial waters that hug a coastline of about 2,000 kilometers. As Yemeni Rear Adm. Abdullah Salim Ali Abdullah Al-Nakhai noted in a Unipath article in 2017, the country views its maritime role as collaborative, requiring technical support and financial assistance from its allies and partners.
“We hope to prepare the Navy so that it is able to protect our territorial waters, as well as our great wealth in fish stocks, from overfishing,” the admiral said. “We have great ambitions to build a professional and national naval force loyal to God and country.”
So important are naval operations, Pakistan invited a broad multinational training audience to its Aman 17 exercise in the Arabian Sea in February 2017. That exercise was the fifth of the series, attracting such countries as Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, the UAE and the United States.
A series of other military exercises in the spring and summer of 2017 re-emphasized the critical importance of sharing best practices among partner militaries. In April, Kuwait successfully hosted the multinational Eagle Resolve exercise focused on unconventional threats such as terrorist attacks. A few weeks later, Bahrain hosted the International Maritime Exercise with a focus on naval interdictions, minesweeping and countersmuggling in the Arabian Gulf and beyond.
In May 2017, Jordan once again hosted Eager Lion. For the seventh time, the kingdom invited partner nations’ forces to conduct air, sea and land training across the breadth of the country, from the northern desert to the Gulf of Aqaba.
Not everything focuses strictly on military preparedness. The Central Region Communications Conference in Washington, D.C., in April 2017 brought together leaders from 10 countries to discuss the far-ranging threat of criminality in cyberspace. Computer hacking endangers not only military communication but also vital civilian sectors such as petroleum production, electricity generation, water purification, manufacturing and banking.
Regional Cooperation, an annual exercise held in Tajikistan in July 2017, concentrated on Central Asian nations and explored ways they can cope with natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Sponsored by U.S. Central Command, this exercise has occurred annually since 2001.
Border defense by its nature is two-sided, and no one nation can do it alone. In the absence of effective security on Syria’s southern border, Jordan has taken extraordinary steps to defend itself from Daesh and its sympathizers. Nearly half of the Jordan Armed Forces are dedicated to border control, and a system of electronic sensors on the Syrian border have helped minimize smuggling and infiltration. The kingdom also established an orderly system to handle streams of refugees that have fled Syria for the safety of Jordan.
Central Asian countries have also recognized the need for border security in a region where lightly populated mountainous and desert terrain can favor arms and narcotics smugglers. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has offered training for border guards with the aim of stopping the flow of opium, arms and criminals, a flow encouraged by instability in Afghanistan caused by the Taliban and Daesh. In 2016, Uzbekistan completed a $2.8 million upgrade to its Lyavob Border Post.
Pakistan has conducted several operations to try to pacify its northwest territories, a region that has served as a launching pad for terrorist attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The most publicized was Operation Zarb-e-Azb, organized after terrorist attacks on innocent citizens provoked a public outcry.
The post-conflict environment will require attention that transcends military force. To truly build stability, nations need to pinpoint and uproot sources of conflict that feed false terrorist narratives.
Reinforcing a national identify that supersedes loyalty to sect and tribe has been a goal of many nations in the Middle East and South and Central Asia. Religiously diverse Lebanon has managed to avoid much of the conflict ravaging neighboring Syria through a political system designed to defuse sectarian tensions.
Jordan, too, has successfully stitched together a nation from various ethnic and religious groups united in their loyalty to the Hashemite monarchy. Through the Amman Message he has promoted worldwide, His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein of Jordan has been a global leader in highlighting Islam’s incompatibility with violent extremism.
For other nations, avoiding sectarianism has presented a greater challenge. With the looming defeat in Iraq of Daesh — which inflamed and exploited sectarian divisions for its own evil goals — Baghdad has begun focusing on rebuilding a sense of single nationhood within the population.
In the Arabian Gulf countries, the Abu Dhabi-based anti-terror center Hedayah has launched “Creative Minds for Social Good,” a public-private initiative with Facebook and the U.S. State Department, to counter terrorist propaganda with positive online content and credible voices in the Middle East. The Sawab Center, also based in the UAE, does similar work to defuse the differences extremists use to inflame their adherents.
Syria, and to a lesser extent Yemen, have been major recipients of international donations. In April 2017, at the Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region, nations promised to spend $6 billion for the more than 20 million people affected by war in the Middle East in 2017 and another $3.7 billion in 2018. The Brussels conference was attended by the prime ministers of Lebanon and Jordan and the foreign ministers of Kuwait and Qatar.
“The reconstruction of Syria will require a massive international effort,” said Federica Mogherini, the European Union high representative for foreign affairs. “Too many times, we were unprepared for peace. We have to start preparing for that day, even if today [it] seems very far away.”
GCC countries have supplied millions of dollars to support refugees in Lebanon and Jordan, two of Syria’s neighbors bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis. Food, medicine, school supplies are among the necessities this foreign generosity provides.
In early 2017, at least a half million Yemenis remained internally displaced. Regional donors, including the Emirati Red Cross and the Saudi King Salman Center, have helped sustain Yemen’s population through the difficult times with supplies and critical services, such as immunizations for children and programs to prevent malnutrition.
“The UAE does not provide conditional assistance,” nor does it provide aid “for the sake of reciprocal interests,” said His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE. “It does so only for the good and stability of all peoples.”
Sources: Gulf News, Nation Shield magazine, the United Nations
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