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absolutely clear, an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force (Diller, 1994, p. 75).
The Iranian Revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian attack on the U.S. embassy in Tehran and the subsequent hostage crisis that went on for well over a year and the collapse of the Arab-Israeli Peace Process. were the main parameters that led President Carter to formulate a new Doctrine which aimed to protect the United State’s vital interests in the Persian Gulf region.(Gary Sick, 2001).
The Carter Doctrine was a new continuing policy – that military means were considered necessary – by the United States to defend its vital interests in the Persian Gulf. The Carter administration recognized the oil reserves of the Persian Gulf as vital to the U.S. and its Western allies. Therefore, from the beginning the thrust was to try and strengthen the U.S. position in the Persian Gulf region. In 1977, President Carter identified “the Persian Gulf as a vulnerable and vital region, to which military concern ought to be given” (A. C. Johnson, 2004, p. 9). In this context, President Carter on August 24, 1977, called for the establishment of what would become the Rapid Deployment Force, a “deployment force of light divisions with strategic mobility” (Palmer, p. 177) for global contingencies, particularly in the Persian Gulf region.
The main part of the Carter declaration was establishment of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF), an explicit military organization to execute the Carter Doctrine. The RDJTF evolved into a unified command, the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), on April 1, 1983. During the height of the Iran-Iraq war, 1987-1988, CENTCOM increased U.S. military presence in the Gulf and was established to plan and coordinate U.S. military operations throughout Southwest Asia and to demonstrate America’s commitment to stability in the region (Joseph A. Kechichian, p. 130).
There are some critics of the Carter Doctrine: firstly, some analysts believed that the Carter Doctrine was the product of both internal and international considerations. Secondly, some others believed that the Carter Doctrine was the result of unpopular human rights policies. Thirdly, a few others believed that the Carter Doctrine was declared in a hurry and without a full evaluation of its consequences. In this regard, for example, David A. Newsom, former Under-Secretary of State believes that:
[Carter Doctrine] grew out of last minute pressures for a presidential speech[…] [And that] as far as is known, neither the current administration nor the previous one has even conducted a detailed study of the implications of the policy or its alternatives (Newsome, 1981, p. 17)
In sum, there were two main conditions for declaration of this strategy: 1) the lack of secure military access ashore in the region; and 2), unavoidable reliance on forces already committed to the defense of Europe, Northeast Asia, and other areas outside the Persian Gulf region (Record, 1981). Although the Soviet actions in Afghanistan and Persian Gulf region were announced as the main concern of the United States for establishing Rapid Deployment Forces, in fact the main concern of the US was about Iran and its geo-political location in the region. A report to the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee in March 1981 noted that about 26 Soviet divisions were deployed opposite Iran’s borders and were being rapidly upgraded for a possible Soviet thrust into the region. There was therefore a need for about 325,000 U.S troops to block a Soviet invasion through the Trans-Caucasus (Record, p. 110).
On other hand, the main problem was that access to ports, airfields, and other reception facilities and continued access to proximate logistical support bases was not available to the RDF in the Persian Gulf region. The USRDF had only the tiny island of Diego Garcia that was some 2,500 miles from the Strait of Hormuz. In contrast the Soviet Union had a large installation in the region, especially the Iraqi bases. As confirmed in 1980 by Robert Komer, then Under Secretary of Defense, the Arab Persian Gulf countries also were not willing to give the bases to the RDF. “The countries [in the Persian Gulf] […] most emphatically do not want formal security arrangements with us” (Record, p. 112).
Moreover, some of the Persian Gulf states continued to regard U.S. support for Israel as a greater threat to the security of the Arab world than the condition of Afghanistan on the Middle East. Some even suspected the United States of coveting the Persian Gulf’s oil fields, a suspicion reflected in the following statement of Sheikh Sabah al Ahmad al Sabah, Kuwait’s Foreign Minister:
Defend us against whom? Who’s occupying us? We haven’t asked anybody to defend us. Yet we find all these ships around asking for facilities. It’s all a bit like a film with two directors, Russia and the U.S. How will the film end? Perhaps with both big powers agreeing, O.K., these oil fields belong to us, and those to you. We’ll divide up the region from here to there. Is that how it will end? (Record, p. 113).
According to the U.S. Commander of the Rapid Deployment Force in the Persian Gulf, General Paul X. Kelley, in the region the United States did not possess the critical operational and logistic benefits that it enjoyed in other areas of the world such as Europe and Korea, where large U.S. military forces could count on the support of powerful and reliable allies: “[…] the United States will have to start from scratch in the Gulf against potential adversaries with large military forces already in place in the region or along its periphery”(Record, p. 114).
The main reason for the Carter Doctrine was occurrence of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. Events that accrued after the Islamic Revolution in Iran such as the US diplomats that were taken hostage signaled to America that the US could no longer rely on its traditional strategic ally in the Persian Gulf region. The new policy of “Carter Doctrine” had a military arm that was named “the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF)” that later was renamed “the United States Central Command (USCENTCOM)” (M. O. Johnson, 1983). The US believed that “SCENTCOM” would defend the security and stability of the Arab Persian Gulf conservative regimes so these countries should offer facilities and logistics to SENTCOM forces. In this context, Washington’s military sales to GCC states increased throughout the early decade of 1980. In brief, since the articulation of the Carter Doctrine in the 1970s, protection of the Persian Gulf had been a formal element of US defense strategy. Even more significantly, in recent decades the United States has fought two major wars in and around Iraq and has maintained continuous military watchfulness toward Iran (O’hanlon, 2010, p. 59).
Analysis of the existing statistical data indicates that the Saudi Arabia military purchases from the U.S. and assistance under several Military Assistance Programs totaled USD1.74 billion, while after the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, in the decade between 1974 and 1984, the US sold close to USD15 billion military hardware only to one of six members of the GCC (Joseph Albert Kechichian, p. 421). This shows that the collapse of Shah Pahlavi’s regime in Iran, one of the stable pillars of Washington in the Persian Gulf region, resulted in the U.S. facing serious challenges and the main reason of the Carter Doctrine was the occurrence of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. On the other hand the military purchases of the GCC countries from other countries except United States is also a reason to claim that that western countries were supporting the Carter Doctrine through indirect methods such as selling military equipment and training the local forces of these states. For example, Saudi Arabia and Oman, two GCC members, made huge military weapon purchases from London in 1982. The United Kingdom spent USD24.7 billion on weapons and services for Saudi Arabia while Oman spent USD1.68 billion dollars on its military program, with only USD24.2 million (less than 2 percent) going to the United States (Joseph Albert Kechichian, p. 421).
3.8.1 USCENTCOM in the Persian Gulf region
Iran and Israel, for a long time were Washington’s priorities in the Middle East but as mentioned earlier, two factors forced the U.S. to accelerate the establishment of its own rapid deployment forces: The first factor was the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the second factor was the Soviet invasion. The first choice location of the US for USCENTCOM was Saudi Arabia but Riyadh did not show any interest toward offering facilities to the USCENTCOM, so the U.S. looked for another alternative in the Persian Gulf region and at last signed “the Facilities Access Agreement” with the sultanate of Oman on June 4, 1980. According on this agreement, The Sultanate of Oman agreed to allow the U.S. rapid deployment forces use of certain “facilities” in return for USD100 million in military aid (U.S.-Congress, 1980). CENTCOM’s geographical area was a large area from Pakistan in the east to Egypt in the west and Kenya in the south.
CENTCOM acted as military/naval protection of Kuwaiti vessels in 1987, when President Reagan approved Secretary of Defense Weinberger’s recommendation that the United States should reflag Kuwaiti oil tankers. In so doing, President Reagan made a major commitment of US military forces to the Iran-Iraq conflict. The RDJTF and its evolution into CENTCOM, was to act as the forward military presence to preserve the principal objectives of American policy in the Persian Gulf region, that regardless of the threat, has been to ensure the unimpeded flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz.

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