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Working With Gulf Allies to Contain Iraq and Iran

Prepared remarks of Secretary of Defense William J. Perry , Council on Foreign Relations, New York, Thursday, May 18, 1995

Thank you. ... In, around and under the Persian Gulf lies nearly two-thirds of the world's proven petroleum reserves, and the world's access to these reserves is threatened by land and by sea by two radical states, Iraq and Iran. These two regimes are also implacably hostile to their gulf neighbors and to Israel, countries allied with the United States. And in addition, both Iraq and Iran are among the world's most dangerous nuclear proliferation threats.

Iraq's record of aggression is well known to the world, but we are equally concerned with the recent behavior of Iran. It's been constructing a military buildup on several small gulf islands close to the Strait of Hormuz, through which 90 percent of the gulf oil exports travel. They've added several thousand additional troops to those islands, artillery, anti-ship missiles and even chemical weapons. To complicate the situation further, Iran has bought submarines with mine-laying capabilities and patrol boats with anti-ship missiles.

All in all, Iran's attempt to acquire nuclear technology, its support of terrorism against Israel and other states, its opposition to the Middle East peace process and its threatening position in the gulf make an inherently destabilizing force in the region. Considering that both Iran and Iran are among the world's largest military powers in the Middle East, we see a very real danger of further military conflicts in this region. Therefore, I want to talk to you today about what we can do to contain these dangers.

Some have called our policy a dual-containment policy -- dual because we seek to deal both with Iraq and with Iran, and containment because we seek to contain, limit and isolate the aggressive, violent behavior of both governments. It's important to be very clear on one point: The United States does not oppose Islam or the people of those two countries. What we oppose is the behavior of the governments of Iran and Iraq, specifically their behavior, which threatens their neighbors and threatens the flow of oil to the rest of the world. And our containment policy in the gulf will continue until there's a change in the behavior of the governments of Iraq and Iran.

The purpose of my talk today, however, is not to talk about this policy; it is to talk about what we are doing to implement the policy. Most people don't understand the extent to which we have begun implementation of this policy in the last few years.

I went to the gulf last October at the time we ... had a crisis with Iraq, when they were sending troops down to the Kuwaiti border. I went down again in March. In March, I visited five countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Qatar. I talked to the leaders of each of those countries. Fundamentally, each of them agrees with us on the seriousness of the threats posed by Iran and Iraq. Each of them welcomes American presence and each of them agrees on the broad outlines of a strategy for dealing with these threats, and each of them has a willingness to cooperate in the implementation of our plan. And that's what I'm going to be describing to you today.

This strategy has three components to it. ... The first, is to bolster the individual defense capability of the gulf states. On this count, there has been real progress since the gulf war, this happening despite a period when oil revenues have either been flat or falling. The gulf nations have made real efforts to bolster their defensive posture. We have bilateral defense working relationships with each of these countries. The purpose of these is to consider arms purchases and to plan joint training and joint exercises.

The United States remains committed to helping our friends in this region meet their legitimate defense requirements through the acquisition of appropriate weapons systems. These weapons not only help them deter potential foes but also improve the ability of our armed forces to operate alongside them.

However, what's really needed now is not more expensive weapons but rather improved training and integration of these weapons into their force structure. The Kuwait air force, for example, does not need more new planes right now. What it does need is more pilots qualified to fly them. And so the primary thrust of our defense cooperation with Kuwait, for example, is helping them with training and helping them with integration.

The second part of our strategy is working to bolster the collective capacity of the gulf nations to defend themselves through the Gulf Cooperation Council. Some strides have been made in this area in the last several years, but I have to confess to you that it's hard to be too optimistic on this point. The Gulf Cooperation Council is not, nor will it ever be, NATO or anything remotely comparable to NATO.

Because of the individual geography, the nations do not see eye to eye on which state, Iraq or Iran, most threatens their immediate security. Not surprisingly, the northern gulf nations are focused on Iraq, and the southern gulf nations are focused on Iran.

There are interregional rivalries between the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, sometimes taking the form of border disputes and occasionally taking the form of armed conflict. These rivalries are accentuated by the wealth disparities among these nations, especially when it comes time to pay the bill for collective security measures.

But despite these difficulties, we must continue to impress on the gulf nations that by standing together on security issues, they can help to deter Iran and Iraq from aggression.

Let me get now to the third -- in many ways, the most significant -- part of our implementation strategy, and that is maintaining a strong U.S. defense capability in the region. I want to describe to you what we're doing in that regard, and I want to do it in four different segments.

The first is an obvious one. It's maintaining the significant forward-deployed forces in the region. Think back only five years, when we had essentially no forward deployment in that area. I think back to the Carter era. When we described our rapid deployment force, we had nothing available in the area to deal with its security needs.

Today we have a significant forward-deployed force in the region. Many of these forces operate as part of an international coalition that is enforcing U.N. resolutions: the no-fly zone over southern Iraq and the international sanctions regime against Iraq.

But operating out of a coalition not only spreads the burden; it also enhances the likelihood that we will be joined if there is a crisis. Overall, the coalition today has over 200 combat and combat support aircraft in the theater -- most of them American -- over 200 combat aircraft and a wide variety of air bases from which they operate in several different countries.

And we maintain a robust naval presence in the gulf at all times, headquartered out of Bahrain. When I was there in March, for example, we had over 20 warships in the region, including an aircraft carrier, two guided missile destroyers, several frigates, nuclear submarines -- all of these. In an aggregate, we had over 100 Tomahawks deployed on these ships. So we have a significant naval force in that area.

And even though these forces are primarily focused on Iraq, they also help to deter against any possible Iranian aggression. And in addition, they give us real time intelligence on both countries -- something we did not have back in 1990, at the time when Iraq invaded Kuwait.

But we not only want to keep strong forces in the region; we want to be able to ratchet up those forces quickly in an emergency, and the key to our ability to do this stems from our pre-positioned equipment. It's already in the gulf region, and this is the second component of our implementation strategy: pre-positioned equipment.

Today we have enough equipment pre-positioned in Kuwait for an entire army brigade of tanks and mechanized infantry. When I was in the gulf in March, I finalized an agreement with Qatar to put a second -- the equipment for a second armored brigade, and we're discussing with several other nations there the possibility of a third armored brigade. Having that heavy equipment pre-positioned makes a vast difference in our readiness to deal with emergencies. [Former Secretary of State] Al Haig will recognize this concept. It was left over from NATO in the so-called POMCUS [pre-positioned organizational materiel configured in unit sets] forces that we kept in Europe for the same rationale -- to have heavy equipment pre-positioned that can be joined quickly by the forces that are going to operate them.

Besides ... equipment on the ground in the gulf states, we have additional pre-positioned Army and Marine Corps equipment afloat in the Indian Ocean and pre-positioned aircraft support supplies in several locations, including Saudi Arabia and Oman.

The third component of our regional capability is a series of agreements on access, and we have this with all six of our gulf partners. These are crucial to implementing the strategy. In Kuwait, for example, we can exercise falling in on our pre-positioned equipment, and we do exercise in doing that.

Just before the crisis last October, we had our forces from Fort Stewart [Ga.] fly over, join up with their equipment and exercise in taking this equipment up to the border. Whenever there's an emergency, we can quickly gain Saudi Arabia's permission to move in with more airpower.

And again last October, we tripled our air power over there in just a few days as a result of that agreement. Port calls for ships are permitted with all of our gulf partners. And these agreements obviate the need for U.S. bases in the region, something that we don't want and something the gulf nations don't want. Access agreements give us the advantage of access without having the expense and without having the political downside of actually maintaining bases there.

The final component of this military capability is having an operational plan for using all of these forces. We do have such a plan, and it does not just sit on the shelf collecting dust. We war-game it, we exercise it, and we modify it to meet changing circumstances. It was just one day after an Army brigade arrived at the Iraqi border that the Iraqi forces turned around and went back their barracks.

Including the units on alert, the United States last October was poised to place 150,000 men and women into the region. The size and the speed of the response was remarkable, especially when you compare it with 1990. The difference between '90 and '94 was all of the preparations that had been done in the years since then. Some of them started immediately and prevented Iraq from marching in. It took a significant amount of time just to negotiate all the terms for our operation in the gulf country, and we had no agreed strategy with our allies.

And I want to contrast with you where we stood in 1990 and where we now stand, as demonstrated by where we were last October. The result of that difference was that in 1991 we had to fight a war to eject Iraq from Kuwait. In 1994, Iraq talked buildup, but knew our capability, and they turned around without a single shot being fired and not a single life lost.

In short, the gulf in 1991 was a prime example of America's ability to fight a war, and the gulf in 1994 was a prime example of our ability to prevent one.

Our progress in being able to project force quickly into gulf is even more dramatic if you take a bit longer view. In 1980, President Carter created the rapid deployment force designed for emergency deployment to the gulf. My military assistant, [Army] Maj. Gen. Paul Kern, was part of an Army unit assigned to the rapid deployment force, and he tells me that if they had been asked in 1980 to move quickly into the gulf, it would have taken them three months to put a substantial deterrent force into the theater. In August of 1990, it took us three weeks. In October of 1994, we did it in about three days.

It's been 50 years since [President] Franklin Roosevelt on his way back from the Yalta conference, met with King Abdul Aziz, the founder of the Saudi state. Roosevelt was the first U.S. president to declare that the United States has vital interests in the region. Today, we have a solid, coherent strategy for protecting these interests. It does not have elegant simplicity, it is not based on a single organization such as NATO. Instead, it relies on continuing presence, on six separate bilateral relationships and constant readiness to act. It's a lot of work, but it is effective. ...


Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at

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