Dampening the fuse in the wider Middle East

Dampening the fuse in the wider Middle East

The Association of World Citizens has for a good number of years proposed a Conference for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East with full recognition of all States in the region, with steps toward a Middle East Common Market, and cooperation on water issues. Such a Middle East Conference is based on the Helsinki Conference of 1973-1975.

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By Rene Wadlow

In an article “The Fuse: A Chain of Nations in Conflict” in the Bulletin of Peace Proposals (Number 2, 1980) Alan and Hanna Newcombe compared adjacent States in conflict to a fuse of a bomb which would be a wider or more violent armed conflict.

“The diffusion of war from nation to nation along the chain is facilitated by certain properties of the chain: geographic adjacency, high military preparedness, substantive conflicts between successive neighbors and a chain of two against one alliance which cause each nation to see itself surrounded by enemies.”

There is now a danger of creating such a chain of two against one alliance which would institutionalize the current divides among States in the wider Middle East. Tentatively set for October 12-13, President Trump plans to bring Arab allies to the White House to forge a military alliance against Iran. Officially known as the Middle East Strategic Alliance, it is often called the “Arab NATO” – a Saudi-led effort that includes the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt and Jordan.

Such a formal military-political alliance could be the match that sets the fuse burning. The wider Middle East is the scene of rapid socio-economic change and political flux. Factions from this Arabo-Islamic heartland are considered prime movers of terrorism, both within the heartland and reaching out to Europe and the USA. Countries from outside the heartland zone of instability, in particular the USA, Russia, and Western Europe consider this zone of Middle East important to their national interests.

Moreover, the Arabo-Islamic heartland which includes Israel is by far the largest importer of major conventional weapons and associated military services. Hostility is the order of the day. “My enemy’s enemy is my friend” is the first rule of the conflict game.

Efforts by the United Nations to foster negotiations in good faith in the armed conflicts of Yemen, Syria, and Libya have not been successful. The withdrawal of the USA from the Iran Nuclear Accord has seriously weakened the Accord. Negotiations on Yemen are to start at the U.N. in Geneva in early September, but there are few signs that the parties in this conflict are willing to compromise. Negotiation among Israelis and Palestinians, at least in public, are at a dead point, and tensions are growing.

A wider awareness of the fuse effect should lead to a wider vision of the issues. The lack of this wider vision is one of the major weakness of the policy making of States. A wider vision would stress three inter-related aspects:

  1. the wide geographic area and the impact of extra-regional States;
  2. the many regional factors that interact: the social structures, the economic production, ethnic loyalties, religious convictions, political power struggles, external influences;
  3. the long time dimension which has created the institutions and the attitudes now present.

Thus, there is a need for what is likely to be a slow and difficult reweaving of the social fabric of the Arabo-Islamic heartland: a social weave that will include many different ethnic groups and religious currents, a weave that will integrate people at very different stages of modernization.

This weave of a new society will have to integrate Israel which is a regional power in the same way that Israel will have to integrate the Arabo-Islamic culture as a legitimate component of Israeli society. The weave of a new Arabo-Islamic society will contain three types of strands:

  1. new attitudes;
  2. new institutions of consultation, compromise and cooperation;
  3. new governmental policies based on compromise and cooperation.

The Association of World Citizens has for a good number of years proposed a Conference for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East with full recognition of all States in the region, with steps toward a Middle East Common Market, and cooperation on water issues. Such a Middle East Conference is based on the Helsinki Conference of 1973-1975.

Some seeds for a Middle East version of the Helsinki process were planted but have not yet sprouted. The 1975 Helsinki Final Act has a chapter entitled “Questions relating to security and cooperation in the Mediterranean”. The link between security in Europe and the Mediterranean has been formalized starting in 1994 with the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation: Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel. It is theoretically possible for leadership from these six states to propose an enlargement. Libya and Lebanon can also be considered Mediterranean. One cold also start with a totally new process – inspired by the example of the Helsinki process but with no organic link.

Thus, it is not an “Arab NATO” which is called for but a Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Middle East that is needed.

Rene Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens, an international peace organization with consultative status with ECOSOC, the United Nations organ facilitating international cooperation on economic and social issues.

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of TransConflict.


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