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U.S. strategy in the Persian gulf : The rapid deployment force as an instrument of policy

Acharya, Amitav (1986) U.S. strategy in the Persian gulf : The rapid deployment force as an instrument of policy. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis is a study of US strategic involvement in the Persian Gulf region since the Iranian revolution. Although it deals with all the major aspects and instruments of the American strategy, the focus is on the military instrument - the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF). This reflects the central role the military instrument has come to play in US efforts to restore its strategic influence and credibility in the wake of setbacks represented in the fall of the Shah of Iran, the hostage crisis and the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan.

US strategic interest in the Gulf dates back to the Second World War period. US capability for long-range military intervention can be traced to the birth of the US Marine Corps more than two hundred years ago. But it is during the early 1980s that power projection became the central element of US policy toward the Gulf.

This transition owed largely to US perceptions of the crises in Iran and Afghanistan. Both were seen as symbolising trends, namely: internal instability and Soviet interventionism, which could threaten Western interests especially access to oil. Such perceptions spurred the Carter Doctrine which announced the US resolve to use force, if necessary, to protect Western interests in the Gulf from external (Soviet) threats. President Reagan extended this commitment to internally-generated threats by declaring that the US would not "permit" Saudi Arabia, America's most important regional ally", to be "another Iran".

Programs to make the RDF a credible instrument of US policy have led to a four-service force structure equipped and trained for combat in the Gulf region, a new unified command organization (Central Command), improved capability for airlift, sealift and prepositioning, and basing and access arrangements in a number of regional locations. These programs have led to a dramatic improvement in US capability for military intervention in the region.

But several problems still hinder the application of this capability in support of US interests and objectives. These problems include the Gulf's remoteness from the peacetime locations of the RDF's constituent units, inadequate access to regional ports and airfields continuing deficiencies in the RDF' s mobility support and the harsh and difficult natural and operational conditions obtaining in the region. These constraints severely limit the force's ability to counter a major Soviet attack on Iran which has been the focus of the Central Command's contingency-planning. The Soviets enjoy proximity which in turn would give them the advantage in force ratio, combat power and sustainability.

The RDF cannot be an effective answer to the problems of domestic instability and intra-regional conflict which are more likely threats to US interests in the Gulf. US military intervention in such contingencies could further destabilize the situation. The popular image of the US within the region is negative because of its support for Israel. The local regimes have sought to distance themselves from the RDF and are unlikely to ask for its help against domestic threats.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Social Inquiry
Supervisor: Higgott, Richard
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