This chapter provides a theoretical and strategic overview of the U.S. military basing presence in the Gulf from the Second World War to the present. It lays a framework for examining the history of the U.S. military in the Gulf by placing the book within the larger base politics literature, in addition to providing a broad overview on the global evolution of U.S. military basing following the Second World War. Base politics and basing access for military forces is one of the oldest enduring features of international relations among nations and empires. The central question posed here is when and why did base politicization occur in Gulf Arab host nations. External and internal security dynamics linked to a host regime's survival are the main drivers influencing Gulf Cooperation Council nations either to accept or expel the U.S. military from local bases.
This chapter sets the stage for how the United States came to establish its first military base in the region, while placing the Gulf in its larger strategic and global context. As the United States became more entangled in the Second World War, the U.S. military grew adamant about securing base installations to support its war efforts. Additionally, the U.S. military needed easy access to the valuable oil resources of the Gulf to buoy its operations abroad. Political pressure from U.S. oil companies operating in the Gulf also helped convince the U.S. government to pursue a more active regional strategy to safeguard significant U.S. investments and other regional assets. The first establishment of a base at Dhahran would be crucial at the end of the war to assist with postwar construction efforts in Europe and Pacific Asia.
This chapter explores the origins of the U.S. military's complex relationship with the Gulf Arab monarchies, especially with the Saud royal family, following the Second World War. A more permanent U.S. military basing presence was never an inevitable conclusion and depended upon a combination of shifting national security dynamics and U.S. military and economic aid packages. This chapter examines the key domestic opposition groups influenced by pan-Arab nationalism that threatened the monarchy versus external security factors, including threats emanating from the Hashemite Kingdom and a rising Soviet Union. Though pan-Arab nationalism played a certain role in stimulating domestic instability in Saudi Arabia, three separate regional factors played a more influential role in determining the Saud monarchy's decision to permit the continued U.S. military basing presence: Hashemite threats to invade the kingdom, the ongoing Buraimi Oasis crisis between Great Britain and the Trucial Shaykhdoms, and the Suez Canal crisis.
This chapter examines the events that led to the eventual basing termination and expulsion of the U.S. military from its Saudi bases in 1962. With fewer external security concerns by the early 1960s, the Saud monarchy turned its attention to domestic politics and rising concerns regarding Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's influence over pan-Arab national groups in the kingdom. By the end of the 1950s and early 1960s, domestic security concerns grew to a new high as the U.S. military's presence exacerbated attacks on the legitimacy of a monarchy under mounting domestic pressure. Opposition groups portrayed the United States as an imperial occupying force, helping erode the power and damage the image of the monarchy domestically. The Saud monarchy appeared concerned about its survival and its association with the U.S. military and terminated its long-term basing contract in the spring of 1962.
After declaring independence in 1971, Bahrain signed a basing agreement with the United States, prompted by external security fears associated with Iran's desire to annex the tiny island nation. But when the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1973 with the U.S. supporting Israel in the war, Bahrainis violently voiced their outrage over the U.S. naval presence. In late 1973, the Bahraini government announced that the U.S. naval basing agreement would be terminated. The U.S. lost its homeport at Jufair, but it was able to negotiate the maintenance of a light footprint including the presence of an administrative support unit for U.S. naval regional logistics. This chapter examines both the domestic security challenges faced by the Khalifas during this period and the politics involved in the homeport expulsion.
This chapter examines Oman's relations with the U.S. military after the 1979 U.S. expulsion from Iran. Oman acts as a valuable historical case study that illuminates important lessons learned about what can work when negotiating for basing access with a host nation under heightened domestic pressure. Oman's Sultan Qaboos had long faced internal opposition that stemmed from the Dhofar rebellion of the 1960s and early 1970s. His fears were exacerbated when it became known that, unbeknownst to Sultan Qaboos, President Carter had violated Omani sovereignty in executing a secret rescue mission, codenamed Eagle Claw, to free U.S. hostages held captive by Iranian revolutionaries in Tehran at the U.S. Embassy. After lengthy negotiations and the subsequent increase in U.S. military and economic aid incentives, including promises of a less visible and low-profile military, the U.S. was able to maintain its military basing access in Oman.
This chapter studies the process that led to the Saudi decision to reestablish a U.S. military basing presence in 1990. Though Saudi Arabia maintained its partnership with the U.S. military throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. was not given control of local bases after 1962 until the First Gulf War. The external threat posed by Iraq was the main driver behind convincing the Saud monarchy to allow a U.S. military basing presence. From 1990 to 2003, the kingdom confronted major domestic security challenges, including several terrorist attacks motivated by the U.S. military basing presence, but it was not until Saddam Hussein was finally removed in 2003 that the U.S. military was asked to terminate its basing presence. Iran also posed less of a threat to the kingdom since U.S. military bases surrounded Iran on both its eastern and western borders, including in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Afghanistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
The conclusion assesses the current and future U.S. military Gulf presence following its Saudi departure, as well as the present challenges ushered in by regional violence since 2011. The U.S. military maintains a significant presence across the Arabian Peninsula but it must now confront a new and emerging dynamic where most GCC countries have begun to diversify their political, military, economic, technological, and security partnerships with countries other than the United States. Many GCC nations have turned in recent years to the East to emerging powers such as China, Russia, and India to assist with their national security and economic needs. Nonetheless, understanding the dynamics of base politicization in a host nation remains important today and studying base politics more broadly helps explain when and why basing access may go awry for future policymakers and scholars of the region.