The U.S. and Bahrain’s Increasingly Tense Alliance
Since the 1970s, Bahrain and the U.S. have maintained a close military partnership. Following 9/11, the Bush Administration elevated Bahrain to “major non-NATO ally” status, making it the first GCC state to join this elite 15-member club. The U.S. Fifth Fleet (headquartered in Bahrain) is responsible for the American naval forces throughout the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Red Sea, and part of the Indian Ocean. It served as an important base of operations during the 1991 Gulf War, the 2001 war in Afghanistan, and the 2003 war in Iraq. As the U.S. military conducts operations against the “Islamic State” (IS) in Iraq and Syria, the Fifth Fleet continues to play a crucial role in America’s strategic posture in the Middle East.
Driving this bilateral relationship is Washington and Manama’s shared belief in the threat posed by Iran and by various militant Islamist groups operating in the region. While common interests and mutual threats are likely to preserve the military alliance, questions regarding Bahrain’s human rights record and the future of U.S.-Iran relations are a source of ongoing tension.