SECRETARY of State James Baker, in a recent appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, referred to the possibility of establishing ``a new regional security structure'' in the Persian Gulf region. The reference was in response to a question and probably does not yet reflect considered policy. Still, Mr. Baker is correct to begin looking beyond the immediate crisis and is correct to assume that, however the crisis is resolved, the volatility of this region will continue to pose a threat to the vital economic interests of the industrialized countries. If, however, he is thinking in terms of a new formal regional security structure, both past and present history suggest major obstacles to such an arrangement. In the 1950s, the United States and Britain sought a formula for Middle East regional security - at that time with the Soviet threat in mind. Efforts to create MEDO (the Middle East Defense Organization) were shot down by the opposition of Egypt's Gemal Abdul Nasser. In 1954, the Baghdad Pact was formed with Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, and the United Kingdom. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles saw this, in part, as an effort to move the security concerns of a key Arab state, Iraq, away from Israel and toward the Soviet Union. Bitter opposition to the Pact within Iraq was a factor in the 1958 overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy. The US, although it fostered the pact, never joined; Secretary Dulles assumed that the US Senate would only ratify such a pact if it were paralleled by formal security pact with Israel - a step that would, at that time, have further complicated US relations with the Arab world.
Then, as now, the US concern for the safety of Israel was an essential factor and complication in any American effort to enlist Arab countries in a security structure. Although, for understandable diplomatic reasons, Washington's interest in Israel is not highlighted in today's military deployments, that interest is a significant element underlying current policy. Saddam Hussein is at least as likely to use his arsenal of unconventional weapons against Israel as against another Arab state. An attack on Israel would almost certainly demand a military response from the US.