What Good Is an Arab Military Alliance?

LONDON – The framework nuclear agreement that Iran and the P-5 (China, Britain, France, Russia, and the United States) plus Germany recently reached represents progress on one major security challenge in the Middle East. But, as some Arab countries move to establish a joint military force, another security question is emerging: Will such an alliance leave the region better or worse off, particularly given today’s growing Sunni-Shia divide?

A nine-country Saudi-led coalition, which includes Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Jordan, is already carrying out airstrikes against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen – an effort that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei recently declared will end with the Saudis’ “noses [being] rubbed to the soil.” Yet Egypt’s president, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has indicated that the coalition’s mandate may be extended beyond Yemen.

But what is that mandate?

A few objectives can be excluded from the start. For example, post-conflict democratization cannot be the goal, given that Arab regimes lack the credentials or knowhow to craft democracies, and their militaries are neither willing nor able to assist in the process. Similarly, humanitarian intervention can be ruled out, owing not only to most Arab regimes’ lack of experience and inglorious human-rights records, but also because none of the official statements related to the founding of the joint force have remotely suggested that upholding human rights was ever a concern.