Saudi Arabia and five smaller Arab states in the Persian Gulf region announced agreement today to create a rapid deployment force to help each other repel outside attacks.
The announcement came at the end of a three-day summit conference of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which also includes Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.
Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sabah Ahmed Sabah, who announced the decision, gave few details about the force's planned use or makeup, but he said the approval had been only "for a limited period," subject to reevaluation at an unspecified time in the future.
Establishment of the force, reportedly to consist of 10,000 to 13,000 troops drawn from units of the six countries' armed forces, represents the main achievement of the council in the security and military field since its founding 3 1/2 years ago. Since then, concern about expansionist aims of the Iranian revolution has grown among Arab states in the Persian Gulf region.
There was no agreement, however, on a proposal for a joint defense treaty, or another for a common security pact, which Kuwait opposes.
Nor did the six monarchs make any decision on a new initiative to end the Iraqi-Iranian war, their major preoccupation, and frustration, for the past four years.
Similarly, there was no indication that they intend to take any joint initiative to try to break the impasse in Middle East peace talks. They had decided before the summit not to discuss whether to follow Jordan in its resumption of diplomatic relations with Egypt.
Sabah, announcing the decision to create a joint force at a news conference today, said that "there is an agreement that there will be a gulf military force ready for any aggression against any state."
In answer to a question, he said, "This is a start of a rapid deployment force." He said it would be "ready for any emergency to participate with the forces of the country exposed to aggression" but did not indicate from which quarter such hostile action was expected.
He repeatedly refused to give reporters details about the new joint military force, however, except to say that it would have a unified command and would operate only against external aggression and not in cases of internal subversion.
He indicated that the new force would not be used to protect gulf shipping from Iranian air attacks, but he said, without elaborating, that "serious efforts" were being made to provide "some form of defense for gulf tankers."
Sabah noted that the six countries, five of them small emirates or little more than city states, were not "superpowers" and thus could play only a limited role in regional defense.
Altogether their combined armed forces amount to only 137,300 troops, and only Saudi Arabia has a credible air defense system.
Sabah left the impression that the council had made a modest beginning on creation of a small joint force after two years of cooperative military exercises and two joint maneuvers among the six countries prompted by fears of an Iranian attack on their vital oil installations.
It was understood that there would be no permanent standing force of troops but that specified units from the six countries would be activated in time of crisis and operate together for its duration or until the host country asks them to leave.
Council Secretary General Abdullah Bishara -- named to a new three-year term -- described the force as "a symbolic expression" of solidarity if one of the six were attacked from outside and needed help.
Training for the joint force took place from mid-September to mid-October, when troops from the six states held joint maneuvers in northeastern Saudi Arabia. The exercises involved 10,000 troops and fighter jets from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
They culminated in a mock assault on a fictitious enemy in which live ammunition was used, including electronically guided antiaircraft guns that shot down several drones. Part of the final exercise was shown on Saudi state television.
Units that participated in this exercise reportedly will provide the bulk of the troops for the new rapid deployment force. The unified command is expected to be centered at the council's headquarters in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.