The Arab Gulf States and Iran: Military Spending, Modernization, and the Shifting Military Balance

December 12, 2018

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Missile

Author: 

Anthony H. Cordesman and Nicholas Harrington

Publication: 

Center for Strategic and International Studies

The military balance between Iran, its Arab neighbors, and the United States has been a critical military issue in the Middle East since at least the rise of Nasser in the 1950s. The risks this arms race presents in terms of a future conflict have not diminished with time, and many elements of the regional arms race have accelerated sharply in recent years.

Clashes with Iran in the Gulf, struggles for influence in Iraq and Syria, and the war in Yemen all act as warnings that new rounds of conflict are possible. The Iranian reactions to the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement, the growing tensions between the Arab Gulf states, the boycott of Qatar, and the unstable outcome of the fight against ISIS, and the Syrian civil war all contribute to an increasingly fragile and dangerous security environment.

The Growing Risk from a Regional Arms Race

On July 22nd, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani warned the U.S. that, “Mr. Trump, don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would only lead to regret. America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars. You are not in a position to incite the Iranian nation against Iran’s security and interests.” The next morning, President Trump replied with a Tweet in full capitals stating that,

“NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!”

No one can safely dismiss such rhetoric as political posturing due to the fact the U.S. is imposing steadily more serious economic sanctions on Iran. The history of war is as much the history on unintended conflicts and escalation as of deliberate attacks. There have already been far too many such wars in the Middle East, and the current arms race has far too long and dangerous a history to ignore.

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Read the full report at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.