62. Editorial Note

On September 17, 1981, Secretary of State Alexander Haig testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee concerning the Ronald Reagan administration’s view on U.S. strategic interests. Committee [Page 212] Chair Senator Charles Percy (R–Illinois) opened the hearing, noting that Haig would “focus his remarks on the region encompassing the nations which lie between Morocco and Pakistan.” He then called on the ranking minority member of the Committee—Senator Claiborne Pell (D–Rhode Island) —to make an opening comment. Pell expressed his hope that Haig would also touch on the “overall course” of U.S. foreign policy, as Pell remained concerned that he saw the United States “increasingly on a collision course with the Soviet Union and not being deflected from that.”

Haig began his statement by indicating that his appearance marked “a welcome opportunity to review our progress in foreign policy,” noting that he would focus on the Middle East. After reviewing several administration accomplishments and reiterating the strategic components of the administration’s policy, Haig continued: “Nowhere is the maintenance of balance among the different elements of our foreign policy more important than in the Middle East, that complex and unstable region in which we have so many important economic, political, strategic, and even spiritual interests. Let me cite just a few of the developments that challenge the United States today:

“The oilfields in the Persian Gulf today, so vital to the United States and our European and Japanese allies, are threatened by the military presence of the Soviet Union and its proxies in Afghanistan, South Yemen, Ethiopia, and Libya;

“The new entente between Libya, Ethiopia, and South Yemen—three of the Soviets’ closest friends in the area—is only the most recent of many threats to the security of our friends in the region;

“The Arab-Israel dispute divides some of our closest friends;

“Iran, which once served as a buffer between the Soviet Union and the Gulf and helped to maintain regional security, is torn by war and violence. The danger to Iran’s independence and integrity poses a threat to U.S. security that would make Iran’s own wanton assault on international order pale by comparison;

“Ancient poverty and sudden wealth, venerable tradition and modern progress, coexist uneasily;

“American interests in the Middle East can be protected only by a strategy that neglects neither regional complexities nor the threat of external intervention. As I explained in April during my visits to Cairo, Jerusalem, Amman, and Riyadh, the United States regards the peace process and the effort to counter Soviet and regional threats as mutually reinforcing. If our friends are more secure, they will be more able to take risks for peace. If there is progress in the peace process, security cooperation will be facilitated—cooperation that is essential to deter intervention by the Soviets and their proxies.

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“We support Israel and Egypt not only as security partners, but as partners in the historic peace process that they themselves began. In his discussions with Prime Minister Begin last week and in his earlier discussions with President Sadat, President Reagan made clear the U.S. interest in the peace process and our commitment to the Camp David accords. A participation of U.S. troops in a Sinai peacekeeping force is one measure of our determination to see peace succeed. Phil Habib’s efforts as the President’s personal emissary to defuse the crisis in Lebanon constitutes another. We are pleased that Egypt and Israel have agreed to resume the autonomy talks now scheduled to start in Egypt on September 23 and 24.

“We welcome the restraint that Israel has shown under difficult circumstances, making it possible for Ambassador Habib to negotiate a cessation of hostilities on the Israeli-Lebanon border. We welcome the good offices provided by Saudi Arabia that facilitated this task. We hope that violence on that front can be avoided. We look forward to rapid movement in the autonomy negotiations, and we shall work diligently to restore stability to Lebanon.

“However, even the most rapid possible progress on the Arab-Israeli dispute would not do away with the many other conflicts in the Middle East, such as the Iran-Iraq war, the tension between the two Yemens, or possible anarchy in Iran. And we would not have removed the threat of intervention by the Soviet Union or its proxies in these conflicts.

“Our ability to protect our friends from the insecurities that these conflicts produce will make them bolder in the peace process. It is also essential to protect vital U.S. interests.

“Although we are building up U.S. military capabilities so that we can better contribute to the security of the region, the use of U.S. military force can only be considered as a last resort. And to deter major Soviet threats for which the U.S. role is indispensable, we also need the help of our friends, both in the region and outside it whose interests are engaged by the threat to Middle East security.

“That is the reason why we are pursuing intensified strategic cooperation with Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and many other concerned countries. The form and content of our cooperation is different in each case. We are sensitive to both the political and military limitation on the contributions that different countries can usefully make. We are not seeking to construct formal alliances or a massive structure of U.S. bases. We are pursuing a sophisticated strategy, one guided as well by a deep sense of urgency.

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“Our broad strategic view of the Middle East recognizes the intimate connections between that region and adjacent areas: Afghanistan and South Asia, Northern Africa, and the Horn, and the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. We recognize that an instability in Iran or other areas of the region can influence the prospects for peace between Israel and its neighbors.

“Success will, therefore, require a very broad effort. We are working with our European allies for a strong Turkey, not only to strengthen the security of NATO’s southern flank, but also because Turkey is a strategic bridge between Europe and Southwest Asia. We are assisting Tunisia, the Sudan, and others that are targets of Qadhafi’s expansionism. And our renewed cooperation with Pakistan reflects not only our concern over turmoil in Iran and aggression in Afghanistan, but our appreciation of the role a secure Pakistan can play in promoting regional stability.

“Our proposals to enhance the security of Saudi Arabia are a key element in our Middle East policy. The proposed arms sales will increase the Saudis’ ability to defend themselves against local threats. They will directly assist U.S. forces deployed in the region, just as U.S. AWACS do today, and they demonstrate our commitment to assist the Saudis against even greater dangers.

“Our friendship with Saudi Arabia is not based solely on its role as an oil supplier. Saudi Arabia is proving itself an essential partner in our broader interests. Saudi assistance has been important in the past to states that broke away from the Soviet embrace. Saudi Arabia has provided important assistance to moderate states such as Sudan and Pakistan, and, indeed, more will be required. It has played an essential diplomatic role in negotiating the recent cease-fire in Lebanon. It has played a key leadership role in the newly formed Gulf Cooperation Council. We expect Saudi cooperation in fostering peace and stability to broaden as the Saudis feel themselves more secure.

“Security cooperation is not a commodity to be sold or haggled over, it is a process that must be based on mutual confidence and mutual security interests. The question is whether the necessary basis of cooperation can survive if the seriousness of our commitment to Saudi Arabia’s security is compromised. To deny Saudi Arabia this basic means of self-defense is to deny it the sovereign status and respect essential to an enduring partnership.

“Some suggest that there can be no security cooperation as long as there are deep divisions on other issues. There is no question that we have differences with Saudi Arabia on the peace process, just as we [Page 215] have differences with Egypt and Israel on other issues. But American diplomacy in the Middle East has long been based on the need to work effectively with countries divided by deep differences.

“That is a difficult role to play; but it is the reason that the United States has played a uniquely positive role in the Middle East, a role that has not only served American interests but the interests of the moderate countries in the region and our European and Asian allies as well. It is an approach that emphasizes common concerns and seeks remedies to common problems.

“Our approach to Saudi Arabia has been shaped by the profound insecurity caused by events in the last 5 years, particularly the fall of the Shah. It has been influenced by discussions conducted by the previous administration with the Saudis and by previous U.S. actions, including the deployment of AWACS aircraft to Saudi Arabia during the Yemen crisis of 1979 and again during the Iran-Iraq war.

“Our approach has also been shaped, however, by an appreciation of Israeli concerns over the proposed Saudi package. We are taking steps to alleviate these concerns. We are determined to maintain the qualitative edge that is vital to Israel’s security. A stable regional balance, moreover, enhances deterrence against Soviet moves.

“Our discussions last week with Prime Minister Begin enhanced each side’s understanding of the other’s position on this and other issues. We are wholeheartedly and permanently committed to the security of Israel. Without a strong Israel, our hope to improve the prospects for peace and security in the region cannot be fulfilled. A secure Saudi Arabia and a strong United States-Saudi relationship are central to these same tasks.

“We must not let our friends’ worries about one another diminish our commitment to their security or hinder our plans to extend strategic cooperation with them. We are taking steps to assure that Israeli concerns are met, just as we are seeking to assure moderate Arab nations that our developing strategic cooperation with Israel is directed against Soviet intervention and not against the Arabs. But unless we are able to work effectively with all of our friends in the region, our security, the security of Israel, and peace itself will be endangered.

“Mr. Chairman, I could not overemphasize that last statement. Given the current dynamics of the peace process and the critical situation in Lebanon, these are what are at stake.” (Persian Gulf Situation: Hearing Before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Ninety-Seventh Congress, First Session, September 17, 1981, pages 1–6)