Friday 01 April 2016

The need to focus effort and implement coherent strategies is just as necessary when seeking regional and international solutions to problems as it is for domestic issues, but is much more complex. Today our region faces strategic challenges in both Yemen and Syria; solutions to both will require the coordination of national and multinational capabilities. Even when the goals at the national level are clear, the ability to focus multinational efforts to ensure success at the strategic level remains a challenge in periods of turmoil. Thus, international tools for focusing effort, among them alliances and coalitions, merit greater understanding.

An alliance is a formal agreement between two or more nations, commonly related to planning, threat response, force commitments, or joint action against challenges. Alliances often involve both military and non-military agreements. Historically, alliances were designed to advance the respective national interests and provide for coordinated response if any member became threatened. The obvious motivation in states engaging in military alliances is to better protect themselves against threats from more powerful global actors. However states have also entered into alliances simply to improve ties with a particular nation or to deter conflict with a potential adversary. The value of alliances, including their formation and cohesiveness, is hotly debated; two leading books outlining that debate include Glenn H. Snyder’s Alliance Politics and Stephen Walt’s The Origins of Alliances.

A strategic multinational coalition is an organization made up of countries mutually committed to a given action, unified within a single command structure with specified powers, most typically designed for a multinational military or relief operation. Coalitions have weaker bonds than alliances, which typically require cooperation, whereas coalition actions are voluntary. Examples of coalitions include the one formed in 1990 for the liberation of Kuwait and the Australian-led INTERFET operation in East Timor in 1999. A more contemporary example of a coalition was that formed by NATO for the 2011 Libyan civil war against Muammar Gaddafi. Each of these coalition groupings had different bonds among the participating nations. A good recent study of coalitions is Melissa Yeager and Charles Carter, Pacts and Alliances in History: Diplomatic Strategy and the Politics of Coalitions.

Most recently Saudi Arabia has directed a coalition of nine Arab states in neighboring Yemen. In operations Decisive Storm and Restoring Hope in response to requests for assistance from the Yemeni government of President Hadi. Aircraft from Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain took part in these operations. Somalia made its airspace, territorial waters, and military bases available for the coalition and the United States provided intelligence, weapons and logistical support, including search-and-rescue for downed coalition pilots. Despite not becoming a member of the coalition, Pakistan agreed to provide warships to help the coalition enforce an arms embargo against the Houthis. All of these nations shared some common goals. In April officials announced the end to Decisive Storm, and the coalition shifted its focus to political processes and initial stabilization efforts, in Restoring Hope, showing that coalitions can be useful in both security and humanitarian efforts. In February 2016 Saudi Arabia also sponsored coalition exercise North Thunder, including Pakistani forces, designed to demonstrate coalition commitment against other threats.

With the crisis in Yemen still ongoing and coalition operations likely in Syria, the UAE will be faced with potentially conflicting requirements that could pull our national effort in different directions, so focusing coalition efforts while maintaining emphasis on our national objectives will require constant attention. Coalitions can help demonstrate regional norms of behavior and succeed where unilateral action often fails to have full effect; managing international coalitions can be challenging but can also greatly increase the impact of the UAE when our nation shares common interests with other countries. Managing international coalitions will remain an important skill for strategic leaders in the decades to come.