pre-positioning and strategic base arrangements, joint exercises, and direct military interventions (Blanchard & Grimmett, 2008) have characterized U.S. policy toward the Persian Gulf region through various security arrangements under different administrations.
This chapter discusses American security policies that were in place in the Persian Gulf since 1971 and analyzes the reasons for these policies, to investigate out the roots of war and instability in this region because one of the major challenges to the Persian Gulf security and stability in the recent decade has been the relationship between the U.S. and Iran, and the effects of this relationship that shaped the future of the Persian Gulf region.
۳.۳ The Geography and Geopolitics of the Persian Gulf
The Persian Gulf region since World War II has gained a strategic and important role for the international community. The security and stability of the Persian Gulf have become significant considerations in global energy needs and in the superpowers’ policies in the Middle East and Southwest Asia (Joyner, 1990). The Persian Gulf region is unique, because it is as an arm of the Indian Ocean, a bridge of trade between three continents; it has a very long history of civilized society and human conflict; it was also the center of a great empire of history and the most important reason is that recently it has the largest reserves of crude oil (Siman, 1977). The Persian Gulf is often regarded as “a part of the Middle East crossroads of three continents and an intricate part of the Arab and Muslim world” (Bahramzadeh, 1993).
The Persian Gulf region links the three continents of Asia, Europe and Africa and as an arm of the Indian Ocean is considered part of a system linking the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. The advent of Islam took place in the Arabian Peninsula that was located in the coastal boarders of the Persian Gulf region, which has now come to be known as the center of the Muslim world. Because of its strategic location, for a long time, the Persian Gulf region has been the center of attention for traders, businessmen and the big powers. Before the exploration of petroleum in this region, the commercial interests, through shipment of goods from the Persian Gulf to the European countries and vice versa made this region important enough for the big powers to fight over its control. The first external power that entered the Persian Gulf region in 1498, was Portugal followed by the era of the European nations – Holland, France, Britain – in their penetration of the East. The importance of a strategic location like the Persian Gulf in the international context has been expressed in the words of so many scholars and policy makers. For example, Hanks and Cortell express: “It would not be an exaggeration to say that anyone who controls the waters of this region will have the ability to determine the fate of several countries, especially the powerful industrial countries of the world” (Akbari, 2008, p. 37).
The Persian Gulf is a curve-shaped channel, which has demonstrated the violation of the Indian Ocean waters (Gulf of Oman) covering an area 900 km long and 240 km wide in the inferior folds of southern Zagros Mountains. The Persian Gulf region and its member states, represent almost one ninth of the 44 million square-km span of the Asian continent. Since the beginning of human history as evidences shows, the Persian Gulf has been a valuable waterway as well as the center of the great civilizations of the ancient east; it has a background of several millenniums. The “Persian Gulf” name in Latin American geography encyclopedia books is “More Persicum” or “the Sea of Pars”. The Latin term of “Sinus Persicus” is equivalent to “Persicher golf” in French, “Persico qolf” in Italian, “Persidskizalir” in Russian, and “Perusha Wan” that all mean “Pars”. Previous to the residence of the Aryan Iranians on Iran’s Plateau, the Assyrians referred to the sea in their inscriptions as the “bitter sea” and this is the oldest name that was used for the Persian Gulf. Recently there was found an inscription of Darius in the Suez Canal, that mentioned the Persian Gulf with a mention of river Pars which points to the same Persian Gulf (Maziyar, 2000).
Herodotus, the Greek historian, referred to the Red Sea as the “Arab Gulf”. Straben, the Greek historian wrote: “Arabs are living between the Arabian Gulf and the Persian Gulf. Ptolemy, another Greek geographer of the second century has referred to the Red Sea as the “Arabicus Sinus”, means the Arabian Gulf (Maziyar, 2000).
۳.۳.۱ The Persian Gulf Geographic Confines
Although the Persian and Greek civilizations shared a similar geographical perspective of the land areas of the world as being surrounded by a global or world ocean, their views were different about the internal seas. Ancient Greeks divided the internal seas of the world into four: Sinus Persicus (the Persian Gulf), Sinus Arabicus (the Red Sea), Mare Caspian and the Mediterranean Sea. Ancient Arab and Islamic sources proved that ancient Iranians knew of the large body of water in the eastern hemisphere as the “Persian Sea”, and in the western hemisphere it was known in Persia of the early Christian centuries as the “Roman Sea”. “The Roman Sea” together with the name ‘Persian Sea’ completes the ancient Persian perspective of the global maritime geography in the way that was sketched in early Arab and Islamic works of geography. The works of geography from each of the Islamic centuries down to the 16th century AD, demonstrate the evolutionary process of the old cartography of the ‘Persian Sea’ covering the entire waters of the east, turning into a much limited ‘Persian Sea’ covering only the Arab Sea, Oman Sea and the Persian Gulf in the 16th century AD (Mojtahedzadeh, 2004).
The Persian Gulf is an appendage of the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean that stretches 600 miles from the Strait of Hormuz to its head water at the Shatt al Arab between Iran and Iraq. At the southern borders are Arabs and the holy land of Islam; to the north are Iranians who are Muslims and have a proud Persian heritage that goes back to kings Xerxes, Darius and Cyrus.
After World War I the region was divided into two sections: Northern section and southern section in political terms (U.S.-Government-Printing-Office, 1952). There were two large and powerful countries, much more powerful than Iran and Iraq, in the northern part of the Persian Gulf. Even though there were significant deposits of oil in the northern and southern sections of the Persian Gulf it was only in 1908 that for the first time oil was explored by an American oil company in the south of Iran in an area named Masjid Soleiman.
The Persian Gulf region comprises eight coastal states. These states include Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Persian Gulf coastal states have a population of over 133.8 million people, of which 72 million are Iranian and Islam is the dominant religion in this region (Wallace, 2005). After the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, Iran was the only Shiite regime in the region, but after the fall of Saddam in Iraq, Iran and Iraq stood as the only Shiite-ruled nations in the Persian gulf area and Shia holds a majority position in the region (Wallace, 2005).
۳.۳.۲ Geopolitics of the Persian Gulf
The Persian Gulf region has been characterized by instability, with five significant incidents that shocked the area within the last three decades. First, there was the Iranian victory of the Islamic Revolution which overthrew the Pahlavi Shah in February 1979; second, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979; third, the eight-year Iran-Iraq war that began in September 1980; fourth, the desert storm war against the Iraqi regime by a coalition led by the United States; and fifth, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein on 9 April 2003 by the U.S. and its allies. In the context of all these incidents, there are four principal geopolitical characteristics that have distinguished the Persian Gulf as an especial region: 1) The huge fossil energy resources located in the region; 2) The particular geographical situation of the Persian Gulf region; 3) Rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the region; and 4) The geostrategic ambitions of the ex-Soviet Union (Joyner, p. 5).
The geopolitical importance of the Persian Gulf is its fossil resources. The Persian Gulf countries produce 25 percent of all petroleum moving in international commerce and the region contains 65 percent of the petroleum reserves of the world. The western countries import about 30 percent of their oil needs from the Persian Gulf and about 65 percent of Japan’s petroleum is imported from the Persian Gulf. The United States, in late 1989