7-23-2013By Benjamin Weiner
Human Rights Defenders Program
Bahrain’s political volatility is causing increased concern in Washington, DC. On July 22, 2013, Congressional Quarterly reported that Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Defense asking if there is a contingency basing location for the U.S. Fifth Fleet should instability make its current location in Bahrain untenable.
“I fully support efforts to address Bahrain’s political unrest before the situation degrades further. However, I am concerned that we apparently have not developed plans for an alternative contingency facility in this strategically critical and dynamic region,” Senator Casey wrote to Defense Secretary Hagel.
There is mounting anxiety in Washington that the Bahrain regime’s failure to introduce real human rights reform threatens the country’s stability and its ability to be a reliable host for the fleet. Last month, U.S. Navy Commander Richard McDaniel authored a Brookings Institution report entitled “No ‘Plan B’: U.S. Strategic Access in the Middle East and the Question of Bahrain.” In this report, Commander McDaniel wrote that “the situation in Bahrain could deteriorate very rapidly, leaving the U.S. without a key maritime hub in the Middle East.” McDaniel also wrote that failure to have a plan B for the Fifth Fleet “could have disastrous results for the United States’ strategic interests.” Senator Casey echoed those concerns in his letter to Secretary Hagel.
Others, including former Director of National Intelligence and Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command Admiral Dennis Blair, have also weighed in on the issue. Senator Casey’s letter cites Admiral Blair’s call for the U.S. to prioritize peaceful democratic change in Bahrain over short-term military or economic gains. Admiral Blair has called for moving the Fifth Fleet to a flagship.