Courtesy Reuters

Security in the Persian Gulf

Who should maintain the future security of the Persian Gulf? This question looms large in the minds of policymakers in the United States, Western Europe, Japan and, of course, the Persian Gulf states. The fact that this question is raised with a deep sense of urgency in numerous capitals of the world indicates the extent to which Iran was perceived as having ensured Gulf security before the outbreak of its recent revolution. Although American rhetoric spoke of pursuing a "twin-pillar policy," the United States itself actually relied primarily on Iran to perform the role of the "policeman" for the Gulf region.

Prior to the Arab-Israeli war of 1973, the perception of Iran as the main protector of Gulf security was reinforced by the American reluctance to fill the power vacuum left by Britain as a result of its historic decision to withdraw forces in 1971 from the area "east of Suez," including the Persian Gulf. As the most populous and the strongest military power in the area and as the main country straddling the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which some 57 percent of world oil trade must pass to world markets, Iran was willing to undertake the burden of responsibility for Gulf security-the immediate problem then being the creation of a federation of the Trucial and other small states near the entrance to the Gulf.

When Saudi Arabia emerged as a world financial power after the 1973 war, it seemed for a time to be regarded as the "linchpin" of American policy in the Persian Gulf. The Carter Administration in particular seemed to have some preference for the financial power of Saudi Arabia as contrasted with the military power of Iran. In fact, however, the idea died on the vine. Saudi Arabia lacked the population and military power necessary for playing a major security role in the Gulf region, and in any case Riyadh was unwilling to undertake such a role.

But Saudi Arabia was willing, especially after the assassination of King Faisal in 1975,

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