I argue in The Atlantic that the United States should make preparations to remove the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in order to demonstrate that we are serious about supporting peaceful protests and human rights in Bahrain.

The tiny island kingdom has been beset by increasingly-violent protests since February 2011. During that period, protestors have called for democratic reforms and equal rights under the law, with some going so far as to demand the dissolution of the monarchy. Those protests have been met with force by the regime, aided by a symbolic deployment of Saudi and UAE security forces.

My full argument offerng one way to stop the brutal repression in Bahrain is available at The Atlantic. Below is a bit more background about the conflict in Bahrain.

Bahrain in Context

The island kingdom of Bahrain is wedged between three much larger neighbors—Iran to the north, Saudi Arabia to the south and west, and UAE to the east.

The Century Foundation

Bahrain’s geographical location also puts its squarely in the center of a major cultural divide in the Arab world. Like Iran to its north, Bahrain’s citizens are mostly Shia. But Bahrain’s government is mostly Sunni, much like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The video below provides a bit more detail on the Sunni-Shia divide in Bahrain.

A Brief History of the Conflict

For over two years, the Al-Khalifa monarchy in Bahrain has attempted to quell serious political and social upheaval within the tiny island nation. All signs point to continued, if not intensified, violence between the Sunni regime and the protesting Shia majority. Prior to the two-year anniversary of protests on February 14, 2013, the Al-Khalifa government reconvened a national dialogue, bringing together both pro-government Sunni groups and anti-regime Shia groups.

The latest round of talks were derailed when regime forces shot and killed a protester on the anniversary of the uprising. Violent protests resulted in the death of a police officer less than a day later.

These deaths continue to fuel sectarian strife. In March of 2011, Saudi troops intervened in Bahrain to secure critical infrastructure and to support government troops, while police from the UAE aided in the crackdown. That Sunni troops Saudi Arabia and the UAE have supported Bahraini security forces—a force which also actively recruits Sunni foreign nationals—further entrenched the sectarian divide between the regime and the mostly Shia protestors.

My piece in The Atlantic has a more detailed timeline of the conflict.

Arms Sales to Bahrain

The Fifth Fleet’s presence isn’t the only U.S. military involvement in Bahrain. United States’ weapons sales to Bahrain have totalled $1.4 billion since 2000. Historically, the United States and other Western nations have had close ties to the Al-Khalifa regime. According to Amnesty International, eight European countries and the United States have given significant amounts of arms and other tools to the regime since 2007.

Arms Transfers to Bahrain 2005-2012


The Century Foundation

* Mark Bromley and Pieter Wezeman, Policies on exports of arms to states affected by the Arab Spring, International Arms Transfers, SIPRI Yearbook 2012.