Gulf states consider regional security agreement with NATO

Friday, April 23, 2004

ABU DHABI NATO has launched an effort to cooperate with Gulf Arab states on regional security.

NATO and Gulf Cooperation Council officials said the alliance has relayed a cooperation proposal to the GCC that would include intelligence exchange, training in military and defense organization as well as help in identifying weapons of mass destruction. They said NATO has also proposed a strategic dialogue with the six-member GCC.

"If there is a positive reaction, we would like to unveil at our Istanbul summit in June, a cooperation initiative that will open an entirely new chapter in the relationship between NATO and the Middle Eastern region," NATO assistant secretary-general Gunther Altenburg said.

Addressing the two-day Doha Conference on NATO Transformation and Gulf Security, Altenburg said the alliance's cooperation with the GCC could be part of expanded ties with Mediterranean states. Since 1994, NATO has been engaged in a dialogue with seven Mediterranean countries Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.

"There are many possibilities for cooperation between NATO and countries in this region," Altenburg said. "We can, for example offer training at the NATO school and defense college. We can also send military advisers and force planners to countries in the region if they request it. But of course there are restrictions in the availability of our resources that might limit the length of such visits."

The NATO conference, which ended on Tuesday, explored avenues of cooperation between the GCC and NATO in such areas as peacekeeping missions and crisis response in the Gulf or other regions. NATO officials also discussed the transformation of the alliance from defense of its members to global security responsibility. The Doha conference, first proposed in 2002 by Qatar, did not focus on Iraq. The Qatari Foreign Ministry was a co-sponsor of the parley.

In 1986, the GCC formed the Peninsula Shield regional military force. The force was first deployed to protect Kuwait during the U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003.

"NATO does not want to impose solutions on the region, simply to aid each country in its identification of what it needs and how it can achieve that," Altenburg said. "We are well aware that a one-size-fits-all approach won't work."

GCC officials said at this point the NATO alliance would not provide a defense umbrella over the Gulf region. They pointed to the bilateral treaties between GCC states and Western powers, particularly Britain, France and the United States.

"When we talk about NATO we are not talking about a military power, a military imbalance or about hegemony in as much as we are trying to explore channels of understanding with the NATO alliance, which has undergone radical changes in terms of its objectives and was joined by several new members over the past few years," Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al Thani told a news conference.

Hamad said NATO and the GCC agreed to establish five committees to explore cooperation. He termed the proposals being examined as preliminary and would not yet constitute policy for either organization.

"This does not mean we are looking at a deployment of NATO forces to the region," Hamad said. "Even if we look at some kind of partnership, we would only envisage NATO troops coming to the region in the event of some disaster."

Saleh Al Mana, a Saudi professor who represented GCC secretary-general Abdul Rahman Bin Hamad Al Attiyah at the conference, said Gulf Arab security has been comprised of national interests, regional interests and defense alliances between individual GCC members and such global powers as Britain, Russia and the United States. Al Attiyah said GCC members have long viewed NATO as being an arm of U.S. influence.

"NATO has a bad image," Al Mana said. "These talks are something new for NATO and for us in this part of the world."

The U.S.-based Rand Corp. helped organize the conference, which included representatives from the GCC as well as other Arab countries in the Middle East. Organizers said this will allow Arab representatives to discuss regional security that could include Iraq and Iran.

"When we're talking about NATO, we're not talking about international power or domination," Rand Corp. president James Thomson said, "but how there can be cooperation to stabilize peace."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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