Kuwait’s new military commitments point to new logistics challenges
Future military operations are almost universally expected to be conducted in a coalition environment. While this alleviates certain pressures on individual nations, it also makes an already complex process of procurement and logistics a more complicated field to traverse. The Middle East is experiencing this very trend, with recent actions and exercises carried out under cooperative task forces consisting of GCC nations. Clearly, there is a need for new thinking when it comes to military logistics and procurement to ensure a smoother road to success for all parties involved.
Amid these changes, the Middle Eastern defence situation is of course also shifting. Al-Qaeda remains present but fractured. Conflict is intensifying in Yemen. And the rise of Daesh has seen some of the world’s major military powers converge on Syria. Such tensions add a time pressure on GCC nations seeking a comprehensive approach to resourcing and supporting military campaigns.
“While we still have to recognise where Kuwait sits both geographically and geopolitically, there is now a new context,” says Dr. Theodore Karasik, Senior Advisor to Gulf State Analytics. “That context is the intersection at the northern Gulf between Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia. This nexus helps to drive procurement policy in Kuwait.”
“The present situation in the northern Gulf is testy because of boundary disputes and what is happening in Iraq and Syria – and how that affects Kuwait directly. Given the state and non-state threat to Kuwait, their procurement is reflective of the evolving threat environment and where that will be ten years out. So they are procuring assets with self defence in mind, but also interoperability with other GCC states in anticipation of working within the confines of the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT). Kuwait is also in the process of implementing compulsive military service soon and that goes to the heart of the homeland security effort.”
The types of procurement Kuwait will soon sign off are likely to also play a role in how defence imports and exports can be conducted. Other GCC nations are all investing heavily in littoral vessels to monitor their own coastline as opposed to relying on the US Navy Fifth Fleet. Therefore Kuwait is likely to not only invest more into homeland security but in littoral maritime security as part of the larger supply chain picture.
“Coastal surveillance and patrolling will be important as this is the route that Iranian-backed Shia militants from Iraq have used to bring weapons and militants into neighbouring Bahrain,” says Dr. Michael Knights, a Lafer Fellow of the Washington Institute.
“Kuwait is more focused on internal security against ISIL and Shia militants than external defence. This is apparent in their overall defence spending and in the relatively small $1 billion a year additional spending commitment – which is actually not a lot for a nation with major land forces and attack helicopter, combat jet and missile defence forces.”
In spite of this ‘modest’ injection to the budget, there is scope for Kuwait’s role and armed strength to be enhanced through building on multilateral ties and collectively adding to the health of the local defence industry. Indeed, a drive is afoot for Kuwait and its neighbours to solidify its security foundations from within rather than leaning too heavily on friends overseas.
“The trend among GCC states is for self-sufficiency in terms of defending respective homelands, so we should see Kuwait becoming more independent at the same time as it looks to synch with regional partners,” Karasik explains. “The same can be said for its growing involvement in local support and local defence industries – perhaps in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, there is a desire to up the capability of Kuwaiti forces to interoperate.”
Cinzia Bianco, an analyst and researcher at Gulf State Analytics, believes the recent spate of high-calibre defence equipment procured by Kuwait indicates that the country is taking more responsibility for its own national security, which – like the rest of the GCC – comes as a result of the contemporary U.S. policy of sharing responsibility with allies for Gulf security, particularly where it pertains to curtailing threats from Iran.
“What we see in practice is an emphasis on the development of air force capabilities, in line with the contemporary preference to fight campaigns by air rather than on the ground,” Bianco explains. “Should Kuwait be forced to become more involved in the fight against Daesh for example, they want to be prepared to strike from air or fly support missions.”
Given Daesh activity in the region, there have remained question marks over whether Middle Eastern nations are at risk of suffering from any interruptions to defence trade, be it in maintaining logistical channels or in enticing companies to bring business into these countries. This may however be an overstated concern.
“Surprisingly, Daesh does not represent an inhibitor to defence trade, at least not when it comes to military procurement,” argues regional analyst Dr, Matthew Hedges. “As Southern Iraq is predominantly Shia, Daesh is not a strategic threat to the Kuwaiti military, rather the inhibitors are more of an internal issue.”
On likely actions Kuwait will take in the near-term future, Dr. Karasik believes the first item of business will be addressing the country’s own internal cohesion to counter these inhibitors.
“Being the most dynamic GCC state in terms of its political spectrum means that Kuwait needs to guarantee its own house is in order,” says Karasik. “That responsibility falls more towards the Ministry of Interior than its Defence, but having said that, the contingencies that may arise – regarding Daesh, Hezbollah affiliates or what will be happening in the Levant in the wake of Daesh’s ouster from Raqqa and Mosul – will impact the local security environment.”
“Kuwait, as a member of the GCC, will continue to participate fully in the air, land and sea triad to protect Kuwait and other GCC states as part of Peninsula Shield. But it will also look to participate with other alliances, such as IMAFT, but also with Operation Inherent Resolve and any successor operations in the MENA region.”
In terms of what Kuwait is still lacking, Bianco has a similar take, noting that there remains a deficit in a sufficiently widespread local expertise to successfully operate this weaponry and quickly run repairs, if needed.
“All these aforementioned deals include training programmes and enhanced operational coordination and assistance,” Bianco points out. “However, Kuwait will still need some time to develop local capabilities and achieve autonomy in combat operations. Being a small country with a small population, finding pilots with the right qualities to fly fifth-generation aircraft won't be easy. This is one of the reasons Kuwait has recently announced they are going to re-introduce military conscription and it will definitely support the formation of local capabilities. However, the support from international partners – such as NATO – at this stage, and for the short and medium term, will still be essential.
“International security partners and international businesses should capitalise on the current trend in the GCC – going from consumers to producers of their own regional security – and offer support in terms of training and developing technical and operation skills, as well as provide the most appropriate tools for the specific security needs of the GCC countries.”
Hedges believes that Kuwait will continue to look more West than East, owing to what he calls a ‘fundament understanding’ of the intrinsic relationship between defence procurement and regime security from foreign allies.
“Why do the GCC buy predominantly from the U.S. and the west and not from China?” he says. “Simply, the U.S. is seen as a better, more prestigious source of equipment. But along with that is the guarantee of a strategic security alliance. Money is not a serious issue for Kuwait yet and, as it is unlikely the country will develop its armed forces in a similar way to the UAE or KSA, I would not expect much large scale procurement from non-traditional allies.”
These issues and more will be discussed at the Military Logistics and Procurement Kuwait conference (28–29 November), featuring new briefings from the Kuwait Armed Forces, alongside senior officers from the UK, USA, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, NATO and more.
Dr. Michael Knights is a Boston-based Lafer fellow of The Washington Institute, specializing in the military and security affairs of Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and the Gulf Arab states. His current research concerns risks and opportunities for U.S. policy in Iraq.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is the senior advisor at Gulf State Analytics. Dr. Karasik served as a senior advisor at Risk Insurance Management in Dubai and the Russian Business Council, Dubai from 2014 to 2016. He was a lecturer at the University of Wollongong Dubai where he taught “Labor and Migration” and “Global Political Economy” at the graduate level. From 2002-2003, Dr. Karasik served as Director of Research for the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy. He has worked on Central Asian, Russian, Caucasian, and Arabian Peninsula issues for over 30 years with focuses on nuclear proliferation, security and terrorism questions including transnational terrorist groups, clan structures and politics, and criminal organizations. Dr. Karasik received his PhD in history from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Cinzia Bianco is an analyst at Gulf State Analytics. Based in Milan, Italy, Bianco is a regular contributor to GSA’s monthly monitor report, in addition to numerous publications such as the NATO Defense College Foundation and the Institute for International Affairs (Italy). Throughout her career, Bianco has served as a research fellow for the European Commission’s “Sharaka” project, researching European-GCC relations while based in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE. Previously, she worked as a Junior Analyst for the South Asia and Middle East Forum, a London-based think tank, where she worked on the Gulf Unit. She recently published a chapter in “The US and the Gulf: Towards a Reassessment of Commitments and Alignments” (London and Berlin: Gerlach Press, 2015) based on her paper about a new role for Europe in the Gulf, presented at the Gulf Research Meeting 2014 (University of Cambridge, UK). Bianco received her M.A. in Middle East and Mediterranean studies from King’s College London.
Dr. Matthew Hedges is a regular commentator and contributor to Defense News, Gulf States Newsletter (GSN), International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Military Balance, Defence Procurement International, and the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He has a wide array of experience in the legal, due diligence and research sectors and specializes in matters pertaining to defense, security, and political economy. Hedges received his MA in International Relations from the University of Exeter.