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Arms Control and International Security: Speech to the U.S.-UAE Business Council

As Prepared for Delivery

Moving Forward with a Gulf Ballistic Missile Defense Architecture

It’s a real pleasure to be back in Abu Dhabi, and I want to thank the U.S.-UAE Business Council for hosting this lovely dinner this evening. As the Assistant Secretary within the State Department responsible for missile defense, U.S.-GCC ballistic missile defense (BMD) cooperation has been one of my top priorities. To further this agenda, I have visited the region 10 times over the last several years, and had the honor of meeting with many senior leaders in Ministries of Foreign and Defense affairs throughout the GCC.

I have to say that I have learned a tremendous amount about this region, not least of which is the diverse history and culture among the GCC member states. For all of its diversity, the one thing shared by all GCC states is the tremendous warmth of hospitality shown to me and my delegation during each visit. I have developed some strong friendships here in the UAE and with our other GCC partners. These friendships, along with our shared interests in collective security and prosperity, are an important component of the broader U.S.-Gulf partnership.

I had the opportunity to first come to Abu Dhabi in 2012. We have accomplished much since then in both the bilateral and multilateral contexts. We always knew that furthering missile defense cooperation would not be easy—it never is, in any part of the world. It takes hard work requiring coordination among many political, technical and operational stakeholders. That is why when I visit the Gulf, I always come with a U.S. interagency team composed of representatives from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the U.S. Air Force Central Command, and appropriate technical representatives from the Missile Defense Agency or the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. We have found that this is the most effective means to overcome the coordination challenges that we face, and to build missile defense cooperation across the full spectrum of conditions from peacetime, to crisis, to conflict.

Before I talk about what I think we can accomplish together in the years ahead, I’d like to take a look back at what has transpired since I last talked to you.

A New Missile Age

In February 2010, the United States released the results of its Ballistic Missile Defense Review (BMDR). The BMDR assessed that the missile threat is increasing both quantitatively and qualitatively, and is likely to continue over the next decade. It also assessed that global trends indicate that ballistic missile systems are becoming more flexible, mobile, survivable, reliable, and accurate, while also increasing in range. Looking back, unfortunately, I think we can say that the drafters of the BMDR got it exactly right.

The restrictions placed on Iran’s nuclear program as a result of the successful implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) have significantly improved regional security by preventing the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. Nevertheless, Iran maintains a large and diverse theater ballistic missile arsenal that includes close-range through medium-range ballistic missiles.

In his report on UN Security Council Resolution 2231, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated Iran’s ballistic missile launches “are not consistent with the constructive spirit” of the JCPOA and called upon Iran “to refrain from conducting such ballistic missile launches since they have the potential to increase tensions in the region.” Despite these calls, Iranian leaders have emphasized their determination to continue to improve the capabilities of their ballistic missile systems.

Iran’s ballistic missiles are capable of striking targets throughout the region and beyond, ranging as far as southeastern Europe. Iran is likely to continue developing more sophisticated missiles, with improved accuracy, range, and lethality. On September 21, 2016, Iran marked its annual “Defense Week” of military parades by displaying a wide array of ballistic missiles including, according to State television, a new ballistic missile with a cluster warhead, the Qadr H. Iran stated publicly that it intends to launch the Simorgh Space-Launch Vehicle (SLV), which could be capable of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) ranges, if configured as an ICBM.

We also have seen an astonishing increase in the use of ballistic missiles used in conflict and as tool of terror, intimidation, and coercion. I know you are all too familiar with the Assad regime’s persistent use of ballistic missiles against its defenseless citizens. Over the last several years, Syria has carried out dozens of ballistic missile strikes against its own population alongside rocket and artillery attacks carrying chemical weapons, and inflicting widespread casualties. These attacks, along with vicious chlorine gas and barrel bomb attacks, have contributed to the immense suffering of the Syrian people. In addition to the Syrian government’s already substantial ballistic missile arsenal, Russia has now deployed its most sophisticated short-range ballistic missile system, the Iskander, to Syria to support the desperate Assad regime. The Iskander gives Russia the ability to strike Syrian citizens and other targets throughout Syria and the region.

To the south, in Yemen, we’ve seen frequent use of ballistic missiles in another war and yet another new development—that is, a non-state actor, the Houthis, has acquired and is using ballistic missiles. The Houthis have attacked Gulf forces in Yemen with ballistic missiles and continue to use them to attack border towns and beyond in Saudi Arabia. We also see a non-state actor modifying missiles to increase their capabilities, potentially with external support, giving them an additional capability to potentially threaten territory outside of Yemen.

Let me point out that because Iran and North Korea have a track record of deep cooperation on ballistic missiles, we should take note of what North Korea is doing and consider the potential implications for the Gulf region. Just this year, between January 1, 2016 and September 8, 2016, North Korea conducted 22 ballistic missile launches, consisting of three short-range, nine medium-range, and six intermediate-range missiles, as well as three submarine-launched missiles and one space-launch vehicle. These launches were not just another flagrant violation of UNSC resolutions, but they have enabled the DPRK to make new, serious advances in its ballistic missile capabilities, which in combination with repeated nuclear tests raises the stakes in Northeast Asia. The DPRK’s display and claim of a new or modified road-mobile ICBM and its tests of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile capability highlight its commitment to diversifying its missile forces and nuclear delivery options, while strengthening missile force survivability. North Korea’s proven illicit track record of technology and armament proliferation provides another potential threat to the region.

In sum, we see increasingly capable ballistic missile threats to the GCC from multiple directions. These developments argue for thinking about ballistic missiles and our potential responses in a strategic context. As well as military responses, missile defense can support political and diplomatic activities to reduce regional tensions by enhancing regional stability, and by assuring leaders and populations under threat that they have a defense against attack. BMD can raise the wall of deterrence by complicating an adversary’s calculus, denying it the certainty of a successful attack, cost-imposing on their defense expenditures, and signaling determination to resist intimidation.

Responding to the Threat

The challenge today is that the global demand for BMD capabilities far exceeds supply. In particular, there is a need for additional upper- and lower-tier interceptors, surface and space-based surveillance, and warning to destroy ballistic missiles. Fortunately, we recognized this challenge early and have actively worked to fill that demand the last several years. In fact, it is quite encouraging to see all that we have accomplished bilaterally and multilaterally to make a regional missile defense architecture a reality here in the Gulf. Let me first start with our bilateral achievements.

It's you, our GCC partners, who have made significant progress in building up a regional BMD capacity for the GCC states. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait have made, and continue to make, substantial investments in the most modern and sophisticated BMD capabilities. These capabilities are being procured on a national basis to provide defense of the critical assets identified by each nation’s leadership; we would expect nothing else given the cost and commitment associated with acquiring BMD systems. Nonetheless, we believe that additional significant benefits can be achieved through the establishment of a multilateral GCC-wide missile defense architecture. A GCC-wide architecture need not intrude on national sovereignty or constitute an outsourcing of one nation’s defense.

We have support at the highest levels to enhance multilateral BMD cooperation. At the U.S.-GCC Summit in May 2015, U.S. and Gulf leaders committed to cooperate on the development of a region-wide ballistic missile defense capability, including through the development of a ballistic missile early warning system (BMEWS). As a first step, the United States conducted an architecture study of a GCC ballistic missile early warning system.

More recently, at the U.S.-GCC Summit held in Riyadh this past April, our leaders reaffirmed the need to remain vigilant about Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region, including its ballistic missile programs and technology proliferation. GCC leaders also committed to expeditiously reach consensus on the steps necessary to implement an integrated ballistic missile early warning system.

These Summit commitments have provided the necessary direction and impetus to move forward with enhanced GCC missile defense cooperation. As part of the BMEWS study, the United States reviewed possible sensors that could provide persistent 360 degree coverage of the GCC states, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including ground-based and space-based sensor architectures. We also reviewed the essential command, control, communications, and computer architecture that would support GCC state requirements for missile warning, sensor and weapon system cueing, and interceptor engagements. The United States completed the BMEWS study called for at the April 2015 Summit and provided it to the GCC in August 2016. This report offers a BMEWS architecture that we believe addresses GCC requirements.

So, as we like to say, the ball is now in the GCC’s court. Enhanced information sharing and system coordination among the Gulf States would not only be more cost-efficient, but would provide GCC countries with a better early warning capability, and ultimately a more layered and effective defense. We see the BMEWS as providing the foundation upon which we can build a GCC-wide missile defense architecture.

In the end, it is of course a GCC decision to proceed, but we envision that each nation will retain control over its nationally acquired BMD systems, whether they are interceptors or sensors, and will make the final decisions over how and when to engage a threat missile. The GCC-wide BMEWS architecture would not, of course, interfere with each nation’s right of self-defense and, again, in no way represents an out-sourcing of one’s national defense. The BMEWS would simply provide a comprehensive picture to the entire GCC enabling a more efficient use of limited interceptors and minimizing “wastage”—that is the firing of more than the necessary number of interceptors at a threat missile.

To facilitate progress consistent with our Camp David commitments, the United States has designated the GCC eligible for the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program, laying the groundwork for our nations to address regional ballistic missile defense requirements and activities in a multilateral context.

That’s the same designation we’ve given close partners such as NATO and the African Union, and it allows the GCC to invest in shared systems for mutual defense, even as the U.S. continues a strong bilateral defense partnership with each individual GCC member. And it demonstrates our commitment to the U.S.-Gulf Partnership, and our ultimate desire to see the GCC countries increasingly work together to address shared asymmetric threats.

At past U.S.-GCC Summits, our leaders also called for us to convene a senior leader missile defense exercise. I am pleased to say that this past May, Kuwait hosted the initial U.S.-GCC BMD Senior Leader Seminar, or SLS, from 23-25 May 2016. Participants at the SLS represented the GCC States’ Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs, the GCC Secretariat, and U.S. counterparts. Although military interoperability issues have long been understood by the United States and the GCC states, the purpose of the SLS was to highlight, explore, and discuss these and other policy issues relevant to regional ballistic missile defense.

The SLS reaffirmed that close coordination among Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs is essential for ensuring BMD’s contributions to regional peace and security. The SLS also fostered coalition consensus and identified areas requiring further discussion among coalition members, highlighted areas for increased cooperation, and identified issues warranting further analysis. As such, it was an important first step toward our common goal to improve ballistic missile defense in the Gulf region.

The SLS emphasized that we must continue to encourage better BMD planning and preparation among both our military leaders and our senior diplomats. It should be our shared task to develop strategic communications plans and ensure close and effective consultations with regional partners to advance our joint security and prosperity.


Our partnership can marry the strength of our combined defense capabilities with the skill of our strategic planning. History has shown that working together produces better outcomes than going it alone. Other nations in other parts of the world have met the technical and political challenges of designing a regional response to the threat of ballistic missiles. Today, those countries are safer, more self-reliant, and more capable U.S. allies and partners. The GCC countries now have an opportunity to be next in joining together to meet this challenge.

Thank you very much.

Distribution channels: Military