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News | June 23, 2021

Centcom Commander Describes Regional Threats to Stability

By David Vergun DOD News

Sustainable states throughout the Middle East and Central Asia are important for regional peace, stability and prosperity, the commander of U.S. Central Command said.

Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. discussed today how non-military factors, such as environmentally sustainable public utilities advance U.S. security interests in the Middle East, at a Center for Strategic and International Studies' web event on Why Sustainable Public Utilities Are a Security Issue.

"Environmental concerns are often a key driver of conflict because they deal with basic human needs. Water scarcity, in particular, is an area of increasing concern throughout the region and beyond, McKenzie said. 

Soldiers work on a helicopter.
Helicopter Repairs
Army Pfc. McKinnley Gantt, Army Spc. Anthony Danna, Army Spc. Michael Melvin and Army Spc. Kyle Bartelt, all-attack helicopter repairers with Alpha Company, 1st Attack Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, work to remove the last helicopter blade from an AH-64E Apache attack helicopter at Erbil Air Base, Iraq, June 6, 2021.
Photo By: Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Sheldon
VIRIN: 210606-Z-VC646-0032C

As an example, one of Egypt's top foreign policy priorities is finding a diplomatic resolution to Ethiopia's filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, he said, mentioning that it's on the Nile River which feeds into neighboring Sudan and Egypt.

Egypt characterizes the dam as an existential threat to its water supply, he added. 

The Hindu Kush and Himalayan glaciers are quickly melting and can undermine the water supply for 2 billion people living across central South Asia, he said, citing another example.

"It is certainly not inconceivable that issues like water scarcity could drive a conflict involving three nuclear armed states: Pakistan, India and China," he said.

An airman works on a tarmac.
Flight Procedures
Air Force Airman 1st Class Robert Burrows, a 61st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, performs post-flight recovery procedures on a C-130J Super Hercules at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Aug. 5, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force Capt Keith Schiesz
VIRIN: 200810-F-D0439-1006C

Of note, 12 of the 17 most water-stressed countries in the world are in the U.S. Centcom region, McKenzie noted.

"Many of us take for granted access to basic services such as water, sanitation and electricity," he said. "That's not so in much of the world where a lack of access to these services often gives rise to the underlying frustrations that fuel local instability, [weaken] governance structures, and also embolden extremist groups that exploit community grievances."

China, which still relies on the Persian Gulf for half of its energy supplies, is eager to supplant the United States as the preferred partner in the region, and is actively making inroads there, he said. 

China's principal mechanism for doing so is its Belt and Road Initiative, which offers nations the promise of a quick and easy infrastructure development at the cost of long term debt, disregard for sustainability and eventual entanglement, he said.

Soldiers work on a truck.
Tactical Truck
Army Spc. Rogelio Chavez and Army Spc. Marvin Caparas, with E Company, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), recirculate the fuel in a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck on the night shift at the motor pool at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, June 12, 2021. The fuel is recirculated to remove condensation and contaminants before fueling aircraft.
Photo By: Army National Guard 2nd Lt. Olivia Richart
VIRIN: 210612-A-A3568-003C

"China's interest in the Middle East and North Africa extend well beyond oil. Straddling the world's major shipping routes, the region will remain key terrain in a geostrategic sense, long after we've completed the transition to renewable sources of energy. As such, it is one of the principal arenas for strategic competition between two systems with very different values when it comes to fair play and the international system of states and indeed basic human rights," McKenzie said.

McKenzie also mentioned other threats to the region, including:

  • Spread of diseases and the need for better medical infrastructure.
  • Deterring Iran from undermining security and stability in the region.
  • Countering malign and opportunistic actors who work in the digitized shadows of social media to exploit discontent, and radicalize society's youngest members in order to further their agendas to devastating effect. 
  • Vulnerabilities of refugees in displaced persons camps, such as in Syria.

Solutions

Dealing with all of these problems will require a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach, he said.

"When a country is stable politically and economically, it is less likely to exhibit violence," he noted.