The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
When Danger Calls, the Gulf Arabs Have Only One Place To Turn

As the undeclared cyberwar heats up, Middle Eastern countries are turning toward the United States for training and equipment to defend their vital infrastructure against digital attacks. The Washington Post reports:

Qatar, Saudi Arabia and countries such as Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates now are clamoring for cyber-tools and expertise. Like Qatar in 2010, many want help from the U.S. government and U.S. companies. Saudi Arabia is setting up a cyber-unit for defensive purposes and Saudi Aramco has hired U.S. consultants to help protect its networks.

The export of these tools and instructions for using them is new enough that industry and government are still struggling to define a threshold that ensures that U.S. firms remain competitive in the global market, that allies can defend themselves and that the skills and technology do not wind up in the wrong hands.

The U.S. is understandably wary about allowing the details of its cybersecurity apparatus to fall into the wrong hands, so it’s unlikely that private companies will be allowed free rein to share products with other countries. But the Post suggests that American authorities are more concerned with the sharing of offensive cyberweapons than defensive measures, leaving a good portion of the market open for international business. America has been exporting military technology for a long time now, and there is no reason why the technology of cyberwar should be exempt.

It’s also a reminder of the deep need of the Gulf states for the kind of security that only the United States can provide: weak states with small populations sit on top of oil wealth coveted by powerful neighbors like Iran. Many analysts are perpetually surprised by the degree to which the United States remains able to work with Arab countries despite its unpopular alliance with Israel. The bottom line here is that the Gulf states depend, and know they depend, on the United States for survival in a hostile world. As long as the United States is willing and able to provide that protection, Gulf Arabs and American diplomats will find ways to work around the various issues that divide us.

Published on November 26, 2012 5:00 pm