Nato-like alliance a must to combat threats facing Arab countries, says experts

  • 6 August 2015

Forging a Nato-like military alliance of Arab countries is inevitable to combat threats faced by these countries from Iran, Israel and Turkey, a military expert said on Wednesday.

“Creating a new response force from the Arab nations given all the unprecedented unrest and threats endured by the Arab world, notably from Iran, Israel and Turkey, among other threats,” Major General (Retd) Dr Saleh Lafi Al Mayteh told a packed audience at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research.

General Al Mayteh, a Jordanian faculty member at the UAE National Defence College, said the idea is to pull together a Nato-like multinational force that could be ready to react to future threats, in the same way that several Arab nations are currently conducting operations today in Yemen.

Reports indicate the 40,000-strong force includes 500 to 1,000 members in the air command; up to 5,000 service members in naval command; and roughly 35,000 men in land forces. Like the Nato command structure, this Arab force may have specified warfighting components: air, sea, land, and special forces. The troops have been reported to be paid for by their respective countries, and the command structure will be financed by the Gulf Cooperation Council.

There is a fair amount of precedent for this type of operation, including, of course, the various Arab coalition attacks against Israel in the 20th century and the 1962 Arab coalition operation in Yemen.

General Al Mayteh said the proposed joint Arab military force can build on the experiences of the Peninsula Shield Forces and Operation Decisive Storm (now Operation Restore Hope) currently active in Yemen, with a view to forging a strong Arab military alliance, or an ‘Arab Nato”, and in light of the shifting landscape in the Middle East.

This alliance, he said, is particularly important for the Arab world given the various threats endured by the Arab countries. “A unified multinational Arab fighting force will demonstrate the resolve necessary to confront the threats affecting every country in the region.,” General Al Mayteh said.

Egypt’s president Al Sissi recently suggested much the same thing and for the past several months, many Arab countries have taken an active role in the US-led coalition against Daesh.

There were precedents for a multinational Arab fighting force. In 1976, the newly created Arab Deterrent Force was deployed in Lebanon and was responsible for overseeing security and stopping the bloodletting. But the hard truth is that it is not easy to create a multinational fighting force. An integrated military structure would have to be created, command and control centres established and matters as basic — and essential — as ammunition and assets dovetailed.

Various models of military cooperation have been floated as examples for how a unified Arab military could operate.

But General Al Mayteh sees that Nato, a 28-country alliance of countries from North America and Europe, may be the best template. All member countries that participate in the military aspect of the alliance contribute forces and equipment, but they remain under national command and control until they are required by Nato. The organisation also has some common capabilities such as the Awacs early warning radar aircraft.

Historically, initial moves towards increased Arab military cooperation gathered momentum at the beginning of the 1950s, but its scope was somewhat limited.

General Al Mayteh said the joint Arab military force project refers to the strengthening of Arab military cooperation in terms of strategic thinking and the employment and integration of operational resources.

“Efforts towards heightened military cooperation have historically faced a number of obstacles tied to compatibility issues, including contrasting political systems and strategic perceptions, the multiplicity and diversity of threats, and having to contend wit an array of different military doctrines and strategies,” he said.

General Al Mayteh said the joint Arab military force project comprises several significant strategic dimensions, such as the activation of a joint Arab defence agreement, the development of a unified military strategy regarding the deployment of armed forces and theatres of operation, and a comprehensive review of previous joint-Arab defence experiments that have sought to resolve armed conflicts in the region.

“Other key points of deliberation include the construction of appropriate mechanisms to ensure the establishment of comprehensive strategic, security and intelligence cooperation to meet the challenges of regional and international threats, ideological and sectarian conflicts, the war on terrorism and internal unrest — a notable concern for several countries across the region,” General Al Mayteh said.