December 17, 2018

New opportunities for a durable solution in the Middle East?















By Corneliu Pivariu.

There are certain voices, strong enough from the standpoint of the international audience, saying that the current developments in the Middle East would represent opportunities for a positive evolution in a foreseeable future in this area. Is it really like that?

Most of the Arab states have, especially after 2011, weak political leadership, without vision and that ignore the experts’ warnings concerning the serious problems they are confronted with since almost half a century such as weak economic policy, population growth and the dictatorial ruling of the states. A report published in 2016 on the situation in the Arab countries contains many data revealing the difficult situation of the Arab countries:
The Arab world is the epicentre of global conflicts. Although it has only 5% of the global population, from 1947 to 2014 registered 17.6% of the world’s conflicts. Between 1989-2014 it registered 27.7% of the total dead people in wars and this percentage raised to 68.5% in 2014.

 in 2014, 45% of the terrorist attacks took place in the Arab world;

 in the same year, 2014, 57.5% of the total number of refugees and 47% of the internally displaced persons belonged to the Arab countries;

 until 2020, the Arab world has to create 60 million jobs as it is an area where youth (15-24 years) unemployment represents almost 30% and growing; the unemployment rate among young Arab people is double compared to the countries with average economic development, and the percentage of young women in the working force is 24% as compared to 50% globally.

Wars and political crises as well as the drop in oil prices and consequently drop in revenues from marketing the oil affected most of the countries in the region such as Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Bahrein, Yemen etc. Military spending represented for the Arab countries on the average 6% of the GDP and some of the countries exceeded by far this level: between 2014-2016 Iraq spent from 8.5% to 11.6% of GDP, Oman between 11.8%-15.3% of the GDP and Saudi Arabia spending raised from 8.9% in 2014 to 12.7% in 2016.

The divisions between Sunni majority countries increased after the crisis between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and breaking off of relations with Qatar that was pushed to increase its relations with Iran, distanced Oman from GCC, allowed maintaining the inter-communities tensions in Bahrain and contributed to Kuwait’s increased exposure while the war in Yemen limited the role Saudi Arabia can play in the Arab world. We have to see the outcome of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s (MBS) tour to France and Great Britain (delayed from the end of February to the beginning of March) and then to the USA.

In Iraq, the state leadership does not succeed in being united for solving the serious domestic problems it is confronted with while the Iranian influence is constantly growing. In Syria, the civil war resulted in almost 500,000 dead and difficult to estimate destruction (some sources assess the reconstruction effort to $250 billion – taking into account the so far losses) while Assad seems to cling on to power keeping the country divided and on the brink of self-destruction, escalation signs are being registered (downing the Russian jet Su-25 on February the 3rd and the provocation of the Iranian drone that entered the Israeli territory followed by Israeli retaliation that resulted in downing an Israeli F-16) represent as many elements showing that Russia wants to maintain its image of “broker” making all games in Syria, keeping its good relations with Israel and not hurting its alliance with Iran (yet, not allowing the latter a wider expansion in Syria) and to keep Assad under control.

The general situation in the Arab world favors Iran in achieving its strategic objective of securing a direct terrestrial corridor to the Mediterranean Sea (a corridor it could not keep permanently in our opinion). Israel and then, Turkey are important players that may influence the evolution and solutions including the Kurdish and Palestinian issues.

The European Union, with its own problems, is a less important player in the Middle East while the USA will shape a clearer position in this area after solving the domestic problems the current administration is confronted with. China tries, too, to position itself as best as possible in this complex conjecture. The huge resources of the region will further contribute to maintaining a tense and conflict climate in the Middle East for the next decades.


About the author:

Corneliu Pivariu, former first deputy for military intelligence (two stars general) in the Romanian MoD, retired 2003. Member of IISS – London, alumni of Harvard – Kennedy School Executive Education and others international organizations. Founder of INGEPO Consulting, and bimonthly Bulletin, Geostrategic Pulse”. Main areas of expertise – geopolitics, intelligence and security.

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