Considering Soviet Threats to the Persian Gulf
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Threats to the Persian Gulf Iw h i l e the United States has been aware of its vital stakes in the oil-rich Persian Gulf for some time, American concern about the vulnerability of the U.S. position in that region is more recent. Historically, the internal stability of the region was of little concern because the area was controlled by conservative monarchies with small and relatively docile populations. Also, the general security of the region seemed assured by the British, who acted as the arbiters of local disputes and the guardians against external threats. When the British withdrew from East of Suez in 1971, the United States sought a new formula for regional security and settled on a twin pillar approach, depending on the Iranians and to a lesser extent the Saudis to guarantee regional stability and security. With the collapse of one of these pillars and the shakiness exhibited in the other (which was in any case never a military power), Americans became aware of the need to find a new basis for regional security. Adding urgency to this search was the growing shadow Soviet power cast over the area. Improved Soviet ability to project power, the erosion of "Northern Tier" barriers to Soviet access to the region, the Soviet foothold along the periphery of the area, and the growing Soviet naval presence in the south, all fundamentally affected the security calculus of the local states and made Americans far more concerned about the Soviet threat in an already shaky, yet critical region. Not surprisingly, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan served to crystallize American concerns about, and commitment to, countering Soviet threats in the Persian Gulf. Though there are threats to U.S. interests in the region that are internally generated and may be independent of the Soviet-the current war between Iran and Iraq being a case in point-the purpose of this essay is to discuss the somewhat more narrow theme of Soviet threats to the Persian Gulf. I would like to thank Richard Betts and Sam Wells for their helpful comments on this paper. Dennis Ross is currently a member of the Policy Planning Staff at the Department of State. He is a former assistant to the Director of Net Assessment in the Ofice offheSecretary of Defense. In the latter capacity, Dr. Ross prepared this essay. The views presented here are those of the author and do not represent the Ofice of the Secretary or the Department of Defense. Infernational Senrdy, Fall 1981 (Vol. 6, No. 2) 0162-2889/81/020159-22$02.50/0 @ 1981 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 159 International Security I 160 Nevertheless, in the course of outlining Soviet options for furthering their goals in the area I will at least indirectly note some of the sources of regional instability(for instance ethnic-sectarian fragmentation, conflicting claims and ambitions to regional dominance, etc.), since these various causes of local conflict and instability provide the Soviets with opportunities to establish greater local presence and to exercise increased local coercion. Any discussion of Soviet political-military options and related threats to the Gulf would be of limited value if it only catalogued these options and threats in the abstract. Soviet options and threats must be placed in the more general context of global Soviet perspectives, goals, and risk-taking propensities . In this essay, I will outline general Soviet attitudes and orientations , the preferred Soviet strategy or operating style for pursuing their goals, the types of concerns that could trigger more extreme or militant Soviet options, and the character and shape these options could potentially take in the Persian Gulf. The concluding section of this essay will touch briefly on some of the options we may have to counter the Soviets in the area. Risks and Opportunity: The Soviet Style of Operation There are those who see all Soviet moves around the globe as fitting neatly into a master plan for world domination that is calibrated according to time and place. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is seen as presaging a move into Pakistan and the Soviet position in the People’s Democratic Republic...


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