A Strong National Defense: The Armed Forces America Needs To Keep The Peace In The Middle East
Analysis From The Heritage Foundation
By Dell Hill
By way of suggestion via Email, a reader asked if I would break down the US military requirements to maintain at least status quo (no active war) in the Middle East. The question was prefaced by the rejoinder that “..as long as there was a strong US military presence in the area, none of the combatants would dare fire the first shot”.
A little knowledge, they say, is a bad thing, and I have a little knowledge about military deployments in that rats-nest of a region, but not enough to offer anything more than personal opinion. In this case, my personal opinion is worthless as to those “requirements”. I do not have access to the highly classified intelligence documents that would allow me to even think about offering an accurate analysis.
However, there are people who are directly involved in this type of analysis and one of those sources is The Heritage Foundation. This is the breakdown they posted earlier this year. You’ll notice that no mention is made of Libya, which has undergone an intense civil war and a regime change (obviously for the worst, so far as the United States is concerned) with the killing of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, since this report was prepared.
The Middle East“The United States has a vital interest in ensuring that a hostile power does not exercise hegemony over the Middle East, which is not only a key region for global trade and an investment hub, but also a potential source of transnational terrorism and nuclear proliferation. In addition, the U.S. needs to preserve its capacity to support and act in concert with Israel, a key U.S. ally in the region.
Iran: A Threat to Regional Stability
The regime in Iran poses the most significant threat to U.S. interests. It sponsors terrorism as part of its foreign policy, repeatedly threatens the existence of both Israel and the United States, and is actively seeking to establish a regional hegemony and undermine U.S. influence in the region.
Iran continues to develop nuclear weapons. Its leaders are deeply committed to building nuclear and ballistic missiles in defiance of U.N. Security Council restrictions. While estimates vary, the intelligence community estimated in 2010 that Iran could have a nuclear weapon within one or two years. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports that Iran has increased the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges at its Natanz facility from about 3,000 in late 2007 to more than 8,000. In 2010, Iran unveiled even faster centrifuges to speed up enrichment, and it has stockpiled more than 3,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium—enough to produce at least two nuclear weapons if the uranium is further enriched.
Tehran has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East, and it continues to increase their range, scale, and payload capabilities. Its new two-stage solid-propellant missile could soon be capable of reaching Eastern Europe—far beyond Israel. According to a recent National Intelligence Estimate, many of Iran’s ballistic missiles “are inherently capable of carrying a nuclear payload.” Iran could have a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015, enabling it to hold governments around the world hostage simply by threatening to launch its missiles.
Iran poses a threat to shipping and oil transported through the Strait of Hormuz. In addition, it continues to support foreign terrorist elements, including Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Taliban. If Iran achieves a nuclear capability, it could provide nuclear weapons to terrorists to carry out its ambitions.
Likely influenced by Iran, in the past four years, at least 14 countries in the Middle East and North Africa have announced intentions to pursue civilian nuclear programs, which are viewed by many as a hedge against the possibility of a nuclear Iran. A nuclear Iran will multiply this phenomenon, resulting in a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
Furthermore, the United States should be wary of cooperation between anti-American regimes, such as Iran’s cooperation with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.
Finally, Iran has sought to undermine the coalition in Iraq and U.S. relations with longtime U.S. allies in the region, including Turkey and the Gulf states.
Syria and Hezbollah: Sources of Instability
Syria and Hezbollah pose more limited threats to U.S. interests, but they continue to actively threaten Israel and pro-Western forces in Lebanon. Syria is refusing to cooperate with the IAEA on its nuclear program. It also maintains an active missile and chemical weapons program. Syria and Hezbollah cooperate against Israel, and Syria also allows terrorists to pass through its territory into Iraq.
Lebanon has recently undergone dramatic power shifts. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman selected Najib Mikati, a Hezbollah ally, to form a new government. If Hezbollah develops a stronger hold, it will use Lebanon as a staging area for arms and drug smuggling, money laundering, and terrorist activities in the region and around the world.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen and Somalia
While many of al-Qaeda’s “core” leaders have sought refuge in Pakistan’s tribal areas, Yemen’s al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has arguably emerged as a more immediate threat.
Continued Predator drone strikes in Pakistan have led many al-Qaeda cadres to shift their operations to Yemen. AQAP has had a long presence in Yemen, and in just the past 18 months, it has played a role in at least four terrorist plots and attacks against the United States. For example, the 2009 “Christmas day bomber” in Detroit was aided and trained in Yemen.
The U.S. needs to prevent al-Qaeda from moving its base of operations from Pakistan to Yemen or Somalia. It should place a top priority on intercepting al-Qaeda leaders in transit. Al-Shabab, a radical Islamist group, controls much of southern and central Somalia. The al-Qaeda network has operated in Somalia before and has worked with Somali Islamists since the early 1990s. Al-Shabab and al-Qaeda coordinate training camps and share ideology.
Iraq: Looking to the Future
Iraq is becoming a strong and influential U.S. ally in the region in addition to providing a potential model to its neighbors for revitalizing its political economy and civil society. However, Iraq will need continued U.S. military support and assistance beyond 2011 to prevent radical Islamist groups and Iran from gaining influence and undermining progress.
Political Upheaval: Responding to an Uncertain Future
Political turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East will require the U.S. to sustain a capacity to engage proactively in the region. The U.S. also needs to respond to sudden and unpredictable change, including the loss of bases and the emergence of new threats, such as terrorist links to maritime pirates. The consequences of current events may not become clear for several years, but the U.S. needs to prepare now.
Force Structure for the Middle East
Without a robust force structure available for the Middle East, the U.S. will be unable to respond to significant crises on land or sea.
For example, an Iranian blockade of the Strait of Hormuz would disrupt global commerce. At present, 20 percent of the world’s petroleum products transits the strait. If that trade were halted, the U.S., for example, would quickly exhaust its Strategic Petroleum Reserves. The effects in the U.S. would be immediate and significant. According to a 2008 Heritage Foundation analysis, the U.S. would lose more than 1 million jobs, the price of oil would approximately double, and real disposable income would decrease by $260 billion.
Given the current turmoil in the Middle East, reducing the force structure in this theater would be irresponsible. The U.S. must be prepared for the sudden loss of access to bases in this region. Furthermore, missile defenses need to be increased significantly to mitigate the threat of missile attacks by Iran or other regimes. Essential forces include:
1 corps headquarters;
8 division headquarters;
20 infantry brigade combat teams;
4 Stryker brigade combat teams;
12 heavy brigade combat teams;
10 combat aviation brigades;
7 Patriot battalions;
3 THAAD batteries;
3 aircraft carriers and 3 carrier wings;
25 large surface combatants, including 14 BMD-capable combatants;
19 small surface combatants;
7 mine countermeasure ships;
12 amphibious warfare ships;
22 attack submarines;
2 guided missile submarines;
60 land-based intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and electronic warfare aircraft (manned and unmanned);
1 maritime prepositioning squadron;
12 combat logistics force ships;
8 command and support vessels;
20 roll-on/roll-off strategic sealift vessels;
1 Marine expeditionary force;
1 Marine division, consisting of 4 infantry regiments and 1 artillery regiment;
1 Marine aircraft wing;
1 Marine logistics group;
2 Marine expeditionary unit command elements;
3 Air Force ISR wing-equivalents;
12 airlift and aerial refueling wing-equivalents;
18 tactical fighter squadrons;
2 long-range strike (bomber) wings;
1 command and control wing;
5 fully operational air and space operations centers;
Space and cyberspace wings;
Special operations teams;
Ranger battalions; and
Special Forces–capable tilt-rotor/fixed-wing mobility and fire support primary mission aircraft”
Similar breakdowns and analysis is given for every area of the world and you’re invited to educate yourself by clicking right here.
As was the case with the civil war in Libya, events can happen quickly and those events can reshape military requirements significantly.
As to whether or not the American military might is situated close enough to protect our allies in the Middle East, only time will tell. Given what we know (and that’s not a lot for obvious reasons) about air, sea and land deployments, it would seem reasonable to conclude that adequate steps have been taken.
Without air and land-based forces in Iraq, however, issues involving air space flights, as well as ground force movements comes in to serious question.
In my OPINION, as soon as the entire US military has departed Iraq (December 31st of this year) there will be a steady up-tick in Iranian military involvement in Iraq and elsewhere throughout the region.