IDEX 2011: BACKDROP TO AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
By John Reed
Three decades have passed since the world’s defence industry came to a realisation of the potential of a rich vein of accessible new business awaiting exploitation in the emerging markets clustered around the Persian Gulf.
The economic consequences of the 1973 Yom Kippur conflict between Egypt and Israel and somewhat later the politico-religious upheaval in Iran had sounded warning bells. There was an unacceptable risk the that continuing rivalries and instabilities that beset the region would spill over to impede the export flows of hydrocarbon fuels necessary to fuel the rapidly changing global economic order.
Threats and Transitions
The threat of such widespread consequences has provided the stimulus for the continuing series of procurements of materiel and expertise that are the backdrop for IDEX 2011. This process has been conducted in what should properly be seen as near perfect market conditions in which purchasers have been able to acquire advanced technology capable of defeating prevailing threats without incurring undue technical or commercial risk. Moreover it has taken place in markets that aside from fluctuations in the price of crude oil have been free from economic constraint.
Despite the major investments in leading-edge technologies by the Gulf States threats to their security have intensified. The threat spectrum confronting them now extends from nuclear conflict – with Iran close to nuclear status – via conventional state-on-state manoeuvre warfare to the use of asymmetric tactics by well organised non-state groups operating at the international level and more recently to the likelihood of cyber-warfare attacks directed against civil and military infrastructure by state and/or non-state actors.
To that extent the Gulf States now find themselves exposed to a more complex spectrum than many of the states to whom they have traditionally turned for defence technology. Although European military commanders contemplate a future in which they can retire much of the equipment that they have historically held against the need to conduct brigade (and upwards) manoeuvre operations there has been no marked tendency towards such changed doctrine in the Gulf region. That said, the lessons of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, and the experiences of the Saudi Arabian forces deployed against the Yemen-based Houthi Shia rebels will have focussed attention on requirements for specific additional counterinsurgency capabilities These will almost certainly include counter-IED systems and a higher proportion of MRAP-type vehicles and IDEX 2011 may prove to be a focal point for the creation of international partnerships in these key technologies.
During the years ahead the Gulf States are likely to become increasingly concerned with enhancements of their resilience against the extended range of threats to their security and economic stability. In recent years they have been able to leverage their economic strengths to acquire the increasingly advanced defence systems necessary to provide protection against a fairly clearly perceived range of essentially regional threats dominated by Iran’s evolving missile inventory. Looking further ahead – but in practice probably no longer than a seven to ten years time frame – there may not be the same clarity of vision over threats.
The US Dimension
The Obama administration’s autumn 2010 flurry of requests for Congressional approval for arms sales to the region may be seen as a cornerstone of a transition process.
These requests, may, in the view of some Washington watchers, have provided an indication of the manner in which the United States may develop in what Anthony Cordesman of the CSIS think tank has described as ‘a new post-Iraq security structure that can secure the flow of energy exports to the global economy’. Other analysts have in general agreed with the suggestion that although the recip