WHILE America's attention is riveted on today's war, we must also begin planning for tomorrow. The United States can bring about needed changes in the Middle East if the coalition defeats Iraq. But it will have to move soon, lest the Middle East settle back into its traditional ways. In the wake of the crisis, a critical American objective must be to forge a more stable balance of power in the Persian Gulf region. Such an international structure must include the following six elements:
A viable local military balance so that no hostile state can dominate the region. A primary objective should be to reconstitute the Iraq-Iran military balance at a lower level of armaments while discouraging expansions by regional powers such as Syria.
The United States simply cannot permit a local hegemonist, be it Iraq, Iran, or Syria, to threaten or destabilize the entire region. This task will require the help of many countries, including Egypt, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Israel, Turkey, other NATO allies, and Japan.
Limiting local military capabilities. Middle Eastern states spend far more on their armed forces in terms of percent of GNP than do most other nations. Although the possibility of addressing this regional problem in the absence of solutions to regional disputes is small, a concerted effort should be made to limit the ability of aggressive local powers to build and utilize military force - particularly weapons of mass destruction.
Regional arms control arrangements. If Iraqi military power and unconventional weapons programs are set back, a more benign security environment will exist. This may provide an important impetus to arms restraint, particularly between Arab states and Israel. Nonetheless, the varying capabilities and motives of regional states will make comprehensive arms control a difficult task.
Instead of striving for the unattainable, it would be best to focus on smaller yet important steps on the road to comprehensive agreements. In the near term, the most fruitful mechanisms may be bilateral arrangements to promote communication in periods of crisis, notifications of exercises and patterns of deployment. The United States can play an important role here, both in the provision of intelligence and in protecting American friends, as it is doing with respect to the Iraqi threat to Israel today.
International mechanisms for crisis intervention. The current crisis has created opportunities for future collective security arrangements in the Persian Gulf. While efforts to work in a collective international setting such as the United Nations can be complex, it should nonetheless be energetically pursued.
For example, if a continuing US ground-force presence is required in the region, it would be advisable to consider placing these forces - as well as those of Arab states - under a dual-hatted UN-US commander. Such an approach could lessen the potentially destabilizing effects of a long-term US ground force presence in the region.
Improving US military capabilities. Despite the importance of international cooperation, at the outset of the Gulf crisis the United States had to act unilaterally. Looking to the future, the US must maintain a rapid-deployment capability to confront regional threats.
This capability will be comprised of some degree of peacetime presence, prepositioning of equipment and access to local facilities, cooperation with capable local militaries, and strengthening US defense programs - including many of the high-tech programs that have proved so capable in the battle with Iraq.
Promotion of conflict resolution. The resolution of regional disputes, particularly the Arab-Israeli conflict, would greatly facilitate regional stability. A successful conclusion of the Gulf crisis could offer opportunities for progress between Israel and those states which have joined the anti-Saddam coalition.
However, a UN-sponsored international conference - inevitably seen in Israel as a kangaroo court - would be ill-equipped and unlikely to advance the process of direct negotiations under foreseeable circumstances.
Instead, the US should retain its primacy in peace efforts, while working with others to promote regional talks. If Moscow is willing to adopt the same supportive and constructive role it has played in the current crisis, it might be possible to convene a regional forum under superpower auspices.
These six elements provide an essential framework for regional stability. Plans for their implementation must be developed now. The United States can ill afford to win the war and lose the struggle to reestablish stability in the region.