The Peninsula Shield Force (PSF), which is also known as Peninsula Shield, is a military union found within the Gulf region. It is the brainchild of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC). GCC is a union of five Middle East nations, namely, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and, Saudi Arabia. In 1982, GCC decided to establish a joint military association, namely, the PSF, consisting of 10000 soldiers.
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The PSF is based in Saudi Arabia to the Iraqi and Kuwaiti borders. Each member country contributes weaponry used by Peninsula Shield. PSF is considered GCC’s most important move toward achieving a collective bargain in the Gulf region (Guzansky, 2014a). At the time, the Gulf was experiencing an overarching power vacuum. GCC was keen to become a force to reckon within the region. Between 1982 and 2005, PSF had about 5000 military personnel but has since expanded to 7000 soldiers.
Alajmi (2015) observes that at its inception, GCC had avoided a military outfit. Instead, it assumed the definition of a regional association to promote education, finance, customs, and communication. This approach was perhaps strategic for the GCC since referring PSF outrightly as a military body would in itself attract aggression from other warring neighbors.
However, the Iraqi-Iran war motivated the union to take a rather bold stride. In 1982, in the wake of the Iran-Iraq war, GCC convened its first security conference to deliberate on the future security of its neighbors. In this conference, the member states agreed on fundamental principles and objectives of military cooperation that would lead to a comprehensive understanding by members. From this point onward, it was clear that GCC was willing to engage in military activities when the need arose. However, over the years, members have expressed concerns that the union has outlived its usefulness (Alajmi, 2015).
PSF’s formation was a gradual process that began with the establishment of GCC in 1981. During GCC’s first security conference, member states expressed the need to secure themselves from possible attacks by the larger nations in the region. Indeed, the security conference was motivated by the ongoing Iraq-Iran war. The six states understood that their military strength and organization were wanting and that they needed a collective bargain against nations such as Iraq.
In the light of this common understanding, Sultan Qabus, a trained soldier, nudged his fellow leaders to consider a joint military force, citing a lack of military knowledge to counter the bigger nations. As Alajmi (2015) observes, PSF only assumed its military undertones when member states discovered that Iraq-Iran war had been waged too close to home. Member states agreed on a memorandum of understanding that would have each party contribute weapons and military personnel.
In October 1983, PSF held its first training session in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). However, it was not until 1985 when the full force was formed and situated in Saudi Arabia [Hafr al Batin]. To maintain coordination, parties agreed to common planning and training of soldiers. A subsequent phase of the joint mission saw member states sign a mutual defense deal in December 2000 during the 21st GCC summit. This treaty was the official codification of the PSF, binding each state to the security of the others (Shaheen, 2011).
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The concord demanded members to rise to defend their colleague states at any time a threat faces it. As early as 1990, GCC had begun developing PSF’s capacity to match potential threats. For instance, the force was converted into an infantry division with standby units. Some sources have also alluded that PSF now commands naval and air units (Shaheen, 2011). Following a proposal by King Abdullah [Saudi Arabia], member states agreed to maintain soldiers within their territories, although they remain under joint control.
The Reason for the Formation
The PSF was tasked with the responsibility of defending the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The regional environment was experiencing instability. It was decided that the PSF would protect member states from anticipated attacks. Any aggression against one member state would be deemed belligerence against all the parties involved (Shaheen, 2011). In this regard, the member states were required to contribute their armed forces to act as PSF reserves.
Through a joint command structure, the region would experience better coordination. They underwent training and joint military exercises all geared towards defending the military states. The Iran attack on Iraqi made the GCC states worry about their security, especially along its borders. Due to its radical extremist ideology at the time, Iran was viewed as a threat. Hence, there had to be ways of averting possible revolutions. PSF was established to assume this function.
Monarchs rule the Gulf States. Such monarchs exercise total control over their subjects. Divisions facing the ruling monarchs of the Gulf resulted in a lack of trust among the member states and its citizens. Citizens of the member states often threatened to stage revolutions aimed at overthrowing the kings. In 2011, the PSF, for instance, entered Bahrain in a bid to end the protest movement by its citizens.
Through the PSF, the ruling monarchs have managed to maintain peace and stability in their respective countries (Guzansky, 2014b). The ruling monarchs operate an authoritarian form of leadership that is devoid of democratic practices. The social contract allows citizens limited freedom of speech. In many instances, King Abdullah has asked his subjects to keep off politics and instead enjoy the benefits provided by the government without question.
Khalaf (2007) opines that the GCC felt a need to be self-reliant through revenues from oil. The money would be used in purchasing equipment and other arms that were required to form a giant military force. The member states were alive to the fact that they were small countries and that forming a joint military force such as PSF would work to their advantage.
In addition, the Iraqi-Iran war threatened the stability of the Gulf region. Border conflicts endangered an internal war that would destabilize all the Gulf States. Some of the borders in the contest were Bahrain-Qatari perimeter and the UAE-Saudi Arabia boundary. In addition to defending the member states, PSF would also avert an eruption of war that would subvert the Gulf. Of great interest was the Iran-Iraqi battle that had had devastating effects on the region. Thus, it was important for PSF to counter Iran’s military force.
The PSF was also fronted with the aim of maintaining peace among the member states. Disputes concerning oil and gas were a common occurrence. A diplomatic dispute erupted between Bahrain and Qatari over islands that were located at the border point. This situation resulted in the repatriation of citizens by the states, including cancellation of flights to both countries. Through PSF, coup attempts against the ruling monarchs were prevented.
According to Mason (2014), after the Dhofar Rebellion, Sultan Qaboos alluded that a joint military force would benefit his country. Oman as a small state was unable to effectively defend its border points. The proposals made by Sultan Qaboos influenced the decision by GCC to increase the number of troops in the PSF (Mason, 2014). However, the Omani negotiation was not wholly implemented due to lack of backing from Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, PSF’s size has continued to increase, especially due to incidences of terror attacks in the region. Today, the military organization is believed to be a formidable force within the region.
PSF is associated with some military successes. After violence broke out in Bahrain in 2011, the government called for reinforcement from the PSF. The Shiite protestors were demanding dialogue with the government over failing economy. PSF forces responded by sending a contingent of military officers to help in maintaining law and order in Bahrain. Despite criticisms, PSF insisted that it did not mean any harm to Bahrain citizens. This case followed reports of PSF troops harassing citizens and subjecting them to torture as a means of quelling the protests.
Further, the Bahrain’s prime minister lauded the troops for guarding strategic facilities in the country. He believed that there was a foreign plot by his adversaries to overthrow his government. The citizens had demonstrated against the monarchy. It was important for the unrests to end. Labeled by the UN as an intervention by foreign troops, PSF insisted that the security of one of its member states was a collective responsibility of all the parties (McGregor, 2011). The Arab league termed the deployment of PSF troops as legitimate.
Before the formation of PSF, Iran’s military had gained dominance in the Middle East. According to Legrenzi (2011), this situation was further cemented during the Iran-Iraq war where the latter was defeated. Thus, Iran was seen as an enemy of peace and a country that had plans of exercising unfair dominance over the other states through oppression. Through the Peninsula Shield 1, the Strait of Hormuz was protected due to its vantage point in transportation. Later, Peninsula Shield 1 helped Saudi Arabia after its tanker ships became a target for the Iraq and Iran air forces.
When Iraqi forces occupied Kuwait in 1990, the PSF was presented with a challenge of proving its strength as a force to reckon. With help from the US troops, PSF was able to suppress Saddam Hussein’s forces that had threatened to destabilize Iraq. Kuwait finally got liberation in March 1991. Late in 2003, PSF troops were deployed in Kuwait to avert possible attacks by Iraqi forces.
Through air attacks in collaboration with the US military troops, Iraq was warned of a deadly combat in liberating Kuwait akin to the Iraq-Iran war where PSF played a key role in maintaining peace and securing Iraq’s borders (Legrenzi, 2011). PSF has established itself as a force to reckon with in the Middle East. Since its inception in 1982, the number of troops continues to increase as the member states keep on dedicating huge sums of money to its activities. In tandem with its policy of sharing a collective responsibility on security matters, PSF has managed to stamp its authority without any foreign interference.
Examples of PSF’s Heroic Work
When Iraq attacked Kuwait in 1991, PSF hesitated and eventually avoided going into war against Iraq. However, since then, Sultan Qaboos of Oman suggested that the GCC adopts a large military strategy that would stand a chance at defending the members against future attacks. PSF has since made certain accomplishments that are worth the heroic status.
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In 2003, in anticipation of an Iraqi attack on Kuwait, PSF sent 10000 forces to Kuwait. This move seems to have scared Iraq because it aborted its planned attack, marking an achievement for the joint force. In March 2014, PSF took part in quelling a domestic role in Bahrain (Al Arabiya, 2011). The force entered Bahrain at the request of the country where it averted any further uprisings. Interestingly, Oman and Kuwait refrained from sending their troops on the mission, a move that would have appeared to be a breach of the 2000 pact. The sending of PSF soldiers to Bahrain sparked criticism from the international community. PSF was accused of using excessive force to quell a domestic situation.
PSF has successfully protected the member states from external attacks since the Kuwait attack. Arguably, without the presence of a strong deterrence in the form of organized troops, Iraq and Iran would have attacked the Gulf States on many occasions. In 2011, King Hamad of Bahrain reported that a planned attack on the Gulf countries had been foiled (Al Arabiya, 2011). It is speculated that the Shiite unrest witnessed in Bahrain was planned by external powers with interest in the Gulf region (Mason, 2014). Whether the claims are true or not, it is evident that the region has enemies. All the six countries are found within the Arabian Peninsula, a region surrounded by military crises. For instance, Jordan and Iraq are ever in constant conflict. Thus, PSF has done much to keep any potential attacks at bay.
Al Arabiya. (2011). GCC troops dispatched to Bahrain to maintain order.
Alajmi, Z. M. (2015). Gulf Military Cooperation: Tangible Gains or Limited Results.
Guzansky, Y. (2014a). Defense Cooperation in the Arabian Gulf: The Peninsula Shield Force Put to the Test. Middle Eastern Studies, 50(4), 640-654.
Guzansky, Y. (2014b). Immortal Monarchies? Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and the Arab Spring. Strategic Assessment, 17(2), 43-52.
Khalaf, H. (2007). The Elusive Quest for Gulf Security. MERIP Middle East Report, 1(148), 19-33.
Legrenzi, M. (2011). The GCC and the International Relations of the Gulf: Diplomacy, Security and Economic Coordination in a Changing Middle East. London: I.B. Tauris.
Mason, R. (2014). The Omani Pursuit of a Large Peninsula Shield Force: A Case Study of a Small State’s Search for Security. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 41(4), 355-367.
McGregor, A. (2011). Peninsula Shield Force Intervenes in Bahrain | Aberfoyle International Security.
Shaheen, K. (2011). Defensive shield for the Gulf since 1982.The National UAE.