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As long as there is no other nation capable of supplanting the United States in the Middle East militarily, it will likely be called on to provide a security guarantee for regional allies and to protect vital economic..

17 May 2013

Commodity Online
There has been considerable discussion about whether the North American energy revolution will lead to a major re-alignment in US foreign policy.

"In particular, it has been suggested that the surge in domestic supplies will lead the US to slash its security commitments to the Middle East severely and focus attention and resources elsewhere, mainly in Asia," Barclays contemplated in a report. 

Prior to the 1980s, the United States had a very limited military presence in the Persian Gulf. That changed in 1987, when the US navy began protecting critical Gulf shipping lanes during the Iran-Iraq tanker wars.

The US presence expanded and a string of regional military bases were established after the First Gulf War. Two of the largest and most expensive American military outposts are Al-Udeid airbase in Qatar and the US Naval headquarters in Bahrain. Al-Udeid is a US Central Command (CENTCOM) forward deployed base that has served as a key staging ground for air operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the naval base in Bahrain is home to the Fifth Fleet, which is tasked with, among other things, securing sea lanes and key choke points such as the Straits of Hormuz.

While a number of media commentators and members of Congress have suggested that the US can now scale back such expensive commitments because of a reduced reliance on oil imports, senior Obama administration officials have gone to lengths to emphasize that the US will remain engaged in the Middle East.

Instead, they have mainly highlighted the strategic implications of the shale gas revolution and how potential US LNG exports could crack Russia’s stranglehold on the European gas market.

However, the 2011 Department of Defense Strategic review outlines a potential plan to shift some resources over to the Asian theater. The document states that “while the US will continue to contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.”

In a 2012 speech, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said, “We will have a net increase of one aircraft carrier, four destroyers, three Zumwalt destroyers, ten Littoral Combat Ships, and two submarines in the Pacific in the coming years.”

Given growing budget constraints, these are unlikely to be net additions to the fleet, rather a transfer of equipment from other regions to the Pacific theater. With the US war in Iraq over, the war in Afghanistan winding down, and the Pentagon budget cuts, some reduction in US defense assets in the Middle East is probably in the offing.

In fact, the process may have already commenced. In February, the Pentagon announced that it was cutting its air carrier presence in the Persian Gulf from two carriers to one, a move that officials say will save hundreds of millions of dollars. Nonetheless, a shift of some military assets is not the same as walking away from the Middle East.

As long as there is no other nation capable of supplanting the United States in the Middle East militarily, it will likely be called on to provide a security guarantee for regional allies and to protect vital economic assets such as shipping lanes in the event of a crisis.


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