The new status quo in the Middle East

To paraphrase one of this country’s wisest sages, reports of the death of America’s presence in the Middle East have been greatly exaggerated.

Long before my arrival in Washington in 2017, as the Kingdom of Bahrain’s Ambassador to the United States, talking heads of both the Middle East and United States bemoaned America’s withdrawal from the region.

“You’re pivoting to Asia,” those in the region said…and still do.  We heard “it is not our job to defend them” from those here.   

From Bahrain‘s perspective, America was never going anywhere. The U.S. Navy’s choice to make Manama the Fifth Fleet’s home assured air and land forces would be stationed up and down the western littoral of the Arabian Gulf, working hand-in-glove with friendly Arab states, fulfilling their mission to protect the world’s most important sea lanes.

Moreover, as we looked to the future, only the United States could offer both the capability and reliability necessary for managing such shared global challenges – obvious security threats as well as less conventional dangers, such as malign non-state actors, climate change, pandemics, economic instability, and rapidly accelerating advances in technology. 

For all these reasons, Bahrain has long believed that a stronger, tighter, closer bilateral relationship was in the best mutual interest of our two nations. Far from embracing the chimera of “multipolarity,” we recognized that the best way to anchor the region in the face of growing global turbulence is to reinforce and deepen, not replace, the network of ties between us. 

This is why His Royal Highness the Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa signed the Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement (C-SIPA) alongside Secretary Antony Blinken.  As Secretary Blinken stated, this new agreement “expands our security and defense collaboration,…enhances our economic relationship,…and advances scientific and technical cooperation between our countries.”

In the course of its modern history, the Middle East has experienced numerous inflection points that irrevocably changed the status quo. The Six Day and Yom Kippur Wars, the Iranian Revolution, the surging of U.S. troops into Saudi Arabia, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, 9/11, and the Abraham Accords all serve as seminal moments from which the region has never been the same. I believe the C-SIPA will prove similarly transformative, setting a new standard for regional cooperation across a broad spectrum of sectors.

Three provisions highlight the precedent-setting nature of the agreement. First, “in the event of external aggression or the threat of external aggression,” the parties commit themselves “to develop and implement appropriate defense and deterrent responses…”  This article establishes a new, more sensitive trip wire that should dissuade and will certainly punish any future aggressor.  Moreover, it sets a new standard for follow-on agreements with other regional states, either as signatories to C-SIPA or through separate accords. 

On this point, Secretary Blinken and Crown Prince Al-Khalifa drew attention to the agreement’s second leap forward: The ripple effects that it will have in the region. Bahrain may be the first country to partner in this way with the United States, but it won’t be the last.  As Secretary Blinken noted:  “We’re looking forward to using this agreement as a framework for additional countries that may wish to join us in strengthening regional stability, economic cooperation, and technological innovation.”  Crown Prince and Prime Minister Al-Khalifa also pointed out that  “we will be welcoming more members, hopefully – that I think is as significant as the decisions that were taken after many of the global upheavals.”

Finally, this is not a mere defense pact. It recognizes that effective and lasting security depends not just on arms but also on economic growth and opportunity. For this reason, investment and scientific and technical cooperation are fundamental components of a comprehensive agreement.  They are indispensable for our mutual stability and prosperity over the long term. This is what the Crown Prince was referring to when he said:  “This agreement, by focusing not only on security and defense, which is essential, but also on … the economy, on people, and on technology, will be the foundation for a new global architecture…”

This agreement sends a clear and unmistakable message to friend and foe alike:  the interests of the United States and the region are inextricably linked. The essential logic of the C-SIPA is: We need each other, we will help each other, and we can count on each other.

What made it possible is that the United States and Bahrain, based on more than half a century of friendship, see each other as reliable and trustworthy. On nearly every issue, in virtually every international crisis, Bahrain has found common cause with its American friends and charted a way forward. We are also confident that others in the region will soon follow.

  • Abdullah bin Rashid Al Khalifa is Ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain to the United States. 
Source: WT