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Focusing on menacing Middle East geopolitical environments

Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan

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Simmering geopolitical environments in Middle East (ME), characterised by violence and conflicts have posed a challenge as well threat to the security, peace and stability of Western Balkan Region (WBR).

EU also woke up to its surprise when a wave of instability swept across ME and authoritarian governments, considered strong and stable thus far, fell like pack of cards (Arab Spring). “Middle East is the most important geography which can directly affect the EU’s well-being in economic and security aspects. Therefore, the EU ought to redefine and reorganize itself in order to pursue a common policy towards the Middle East for its future.”[1] Weak governance if not absolute corruption, absence of rule of law and justice, nepotism and non adherence to the democratic processes were main collapse-syndromes that many see as possible recurring phenomenon in Western Balkan if these were let to pass by in ME without inferring clues to achieve peace and prosperity in WBR. The proposition, as a rider clause, would be examined in the context of overall EU’s philosophy of affording entire Europe conducive geopolitical environments through an umbrella of peace and prosperity.

WBR, the periphery of Europe, some call it even periphery of the periphery is vital ground that Europe cannot remain oblivious about it. Though it poses no military threat of any significant magnitude, it has the potentials to become a conduit for the threats and challenges that emanate from the Middle East and Sahel-Sahara Region. In other words, not only the brilliant future of WBR, in the realm of peace and security would remain eclipsed because of transnational actors, it would also prevent Europe to achieve disconnect from turbulent past when Balkans were inclined to be gripped by the euphoria of fragmented supremacy, having roots in ethno-religious and imperial incentives of the powers that contested for influence, even territorial expansions. The Balkans historical narrative is not pleasant, particularly for Europe as its reminiscences would only yield a kind of pessimism but if it stays at back of the minds while looking forward, the narrative can become a sort of force multiplier for EU and WBR to push their gigantic energies to crave for peace and stability which, not only is European dream but hugely becoming a global necessity. Though the subject does not offer the opportunity to determine empirical deductions, it does offer the flexibility for a critical enquiry, which would focus on transnational organised crimes likely to plague WBR. Anis H. Bajrektarevic is of the view, “Although visibly evident on the old continent over decades, the issue of Organized Crimes has attracted very little attention at higher politico-economic levels in Europe in the last decades of the 20th century. Simultaneously, the radical changes in CEE/SEE countries of the late 1980s implied growing possibilities for organized crime to carry out trans-frontier operations throughout Europe. Consequently, the criminal markets have become very mobile, more flexible, transnational and transcontinental, highly accumulative and increasingly aggressive.”[2] In other words, expanding dimensions of the threat ought to be perceived.

While going through the arguments, impression would emerge that no mention of the critique has been made from some credible sources about the possible anomalies, EU pursues wittingly or unwittingly. For example, some lament about its ‘tough love’[3] or its status to have become an ‘Alphabets Soup’ and so on. Such notions can lead to a very lively debate about EU’s functional deficit if any and remedial strategies that would make a strong case to examine separately and hence out of the purview of this article. Here threat of main organised crimes to WBR at the hands of international and transnational actors would be dealt with.

Geopolitical Contours and the Regional Primacy

 

Western Balkan Region. Briefly touching on the geography to refresh our focus, WBR includes Croatia, Serbia (and Kosovo), Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania. To the east lies Eastern Balkan Region (EBR), comprising Romania and Bulgaria. Greece hugs its territory in the SE. To the north Slovenia and Hungary sit on top of Balkans. To the west, the region has Adriatic Sea that slants from NW to SE. Viewing Balkans as WBR and EBR has been a moot point, as some  scholars contend that Balkan could be logically split as geographical entity like Northern Balkan and Southern Balkan because a prominent mountain range divides the two as it traverses in East-West direction. In the beginning of 19th Century, August Zeune, a German geographer named it ‘Balkan Peninsula’ after the Bulgarian mountains.  Historically it constituted borders between empires, religions and civilizations. Imperial wars and ethnic massacres to achieve homogeneous character by dominant ethnic segments that forced persistent displacements, led to disproportionate ethnic dispersion. A reviewer highlighted the era of revenge and retribution, “The Chapter Five discusses the manner in which atrocities committed by empires can be seen as conspicuously stamped into the culture of those empires in their music, art and literature. Poets and the philosophers were swayed by the desire to portray horror and glorify imperial wars out of an urge to deride the oppressors.”[4] WBR now is like a buffer for the West and in the obtaining paradigm of 21st Century, it thus gains tremendous weight in geopolitics once the West has launched itself in the quest for sustainable peace, a peace that would not recognise earlier points of fissure and proverbial tectonic plates but subdue Balkans thorny issues with promise of respect, equality, security, peace and stability for better ‘tomorrow’ for all and sundry. European Security Strategy also hinges on the premise of enabling its Eastern, South Eastern as well as Mediterranean border countries to become sound and stable governments that is a prerequisite for peace and prosperity of the states. EU is in the forefront to turn such dreams into reality though it faces a usual critique as well.

 

Middle East.  The region has unique geographic connotations. It sits at the junction of Europe, Asia and Africa and thus it dominates strategic approaches, leading to the three continents. Impressed by its geostrategic importance, George Lenczowski remarked in 1952 that still holds the ground, “No intelligent foreign policy today can ignore the Middle East and its impact upon the rest of the world.”[5] However, the impact analysis here pertains to the threats and challenges emanating from ME that confront WBR with strong under currents reaching EU space. ME geography is remarkably simple to grasp but its internal dynamics make it the land of complex scenarios historically as well as in the recent context. The span of Asian territories lying south of erstwhile Soviet Union, west of Pakistan and Egypt included, makes the ME. If referred to by an older term, Near East, which pops up in certain accounts, some geographers tend to include Greece as well as Aegean Sea in ME. Mainly it can be divided into two main zones: the Northern Belt that is ethnically non-Arab and the Southern Belt that constitutes Arabs hard core. ME has two distinctions. The holiest of the places for Jews, Christians and Muslims are located in the ME. In other words, it is the cradle of three divine religions, the people of the books and the largest of oil and gas reserves are found here. In the recent history, Arab-Israel wars, Iran-Iraq war, Iraqi attack on Kuwait and in response US drubbing of Iraqi forces, US war on Iraq and Afghanistan in post-eleven scenario, Israel-Hezbollah conflict, Iran-Israel nuclear tangle, ever festering Palestinian wound and now Syrian cauldron where people of same nationality are killing each other, have reduced ME to a blazing inferno. The unfortunate part is that the severity of conflicts is likely to exacerbate than diminish in full view of plethora of peace restoring institutions, major powers and above all human passion and genius. As a consequence, the adjoining regions, WBR included, have either come to the brink of being sucked in or have been impacted dangerously by the fall out of simmering conflicts, one way or the other. EU effort to douse ME creeping fires, some analysts opine, need even handed as well as sure handed treatment. “…EU policies and their implementation have worked towards preserving the status quo in the Mediterranean despite the declared goal of transforming the region in line with the EU values, such as democracy, human rights and rule of law. This is because in practice the priority has been improving European security and not the needs of the individuals or societies in the region.”[6] History guides us that whenever violence rules, dispensation of justice becomes an unfulfilled dream and writ of the states weakens, then threats and challenges emerge for the host states as well as for the neighbours like a hydra-headed monsters. They not only survive in the same very masses but also draw succour from them and employ them to advance asymmetrical political agenda which is more often diametrically opposed to conventional themes of International Relations, practiced by the comity of nations.

What Makes Two Regions Asymmetric?

 

Before attempting to determine the politico-military and socio-economic disparities that constitute the incentive for organised crime from ME to WBR, one would reemphasise that the entire discussion has EU in the frame in ultimate context. Therefore, sometime WBR and EU sound as the interchangeable entities because what is dangerous for WBR would certainly be repugnant to EU as well. Now the relevant asymmetries between the two:

  • EU as Patron. EU has embraced the role of a patron for all its members as well as neighbours where it wishes to introduce peace and prosperity as the means to eliminate historic deficit of mutual harmony among the nations as well as regions. For the EU, WBR is a contiguous stretch of territory that it wants to influence for extending to them an umbrella of peace and prosperity which is the hallmark of EU philosophy. Advancement of Kosovo, Bosnia and Serbia towards reconciliation under EU patronage, albeit gradually, suggests that EU is determined in resolve to expand its parameters firmly. The so called footnote or asterisk agreement between Prishtina and Belgrade in February was yet another breakthrough. Not only did it pave Serbia’s way to candidacy and open the gates to Balkan regional bodies to Kosovo, but also it helped the Commission start work on a feasibility study in March…. Such steps will strengthen the EU’s hand while inaugurating a more mature and even relationship with both Kosovo and Bosnia, well beyond crisis management.[7] ME, despite its resources, largely squandered, has not seen any initiative of this kind.
  • No Parallel. Being an economic power house, EU has no parallel. After Maastricht and throughout the rest of the 1990s, the European Union remained what it was once famously compared by Belgian Minister of Stat, Mark Eijskens as an, ‘Economic giant, political mouse and military worm.’[8] One may differ with his statement partially but in spite of colossal fragmentation of the societies within, EU is gradually and consistently expanding its sphere and building the bridges of harmony within and without but seems to draw grudge of the devastated elements from ‘arc of instability’,[9] who attempt to violate international laws and resort to such measures that would undermine EU’s ability to achieve its goal i.e. peaceful and prosperous united Europe including its peripheries.
  • EU Inspires. EU serves as an inspiration for the fence sitters who want to join EU. It has not relented about the values-mark, the candidates have to achieve by laying down conditionalities to abide before they join. Not stopping here it is extending enormous help at the same time to the candidates to qualify for the membership. There is no such model in ME.
  • ME and Youth Bulge. ME is devastated by conflicts or the threat of impending conflicts where poverty is rampant and unemployed ‘youth bulge’ instead of becoming a strategic asset for the states, has shifted allegiance to become strategic asset of the non-state actors. The prospective milieu is also very threatening. A

credible report in the sphere of ‘likely impact’ of untapped ‘youth bulge’ underscores year-2025 scenario, “Opportunity for mass-casualty terrorist attacks using chemical, biological or less likely, nuclear weapons will increase…”.[10] It also highlights that ‘arc of instability’ stretches from Andean Region in Latin America though Sub-Saharan Africa, ME, Caucasus and northern South Asia where unemployed youthful age group and demographic explosion mark the crescent as a threatening scene. On the other side, WBR is relatively more prosperous where humans are now cared about and their youth, in pursuit of life-long objectives are busy to remain an asset for heir states.

  • Non-State Actors. They resort to terror, arms smuggling, loot, plunder, hostage taking, high seas piracy, narcotics and human trafficking as the means to support their minimal expenses. The young adventurous minds of the available youth bulge are readily drawn to them and be the party to their crimes, some becoming the hardened terrorists and gang leaders later. EU is fortunate to be free of such risks except presence of small pockets that may have penetrated from the countries located on the arc of instability. It makes the crux of focus of EU endeavour to deny them such capability.
  • ME Lacks Will. EU worry should be compounded to learn that some poor ME countries have no or at best rudimentary will to rehabilitate the youths and stem out the poverty that needs to be tackled through expanding education base, establishing rule of law to prevent exploitation of the poor masses and affording them equal opportunities for surviving with dignity. Middle East countries, some exceptions apart are marred by poor governance, corruption and squandering of their national wealth in wrong priorities. EU is almost free of such malice and is also inspiring the candidates of WBR to come up to the mark. EU being a vibrant model of peace and prosperity serves as a beacon for them to emulate.
  • ME Statesmanship Not Reconciliatory. In ME the statesmanship, as in Iran, Hezbollah’s and Israel, generally thrives on the conflicts, which the leadership uses as pivots of popularity and maintaining appeal among their masses. EU has turned away from the conflicts, denouncing them out rightly as loathsome phenomena. It affords peace of mind to EU but no such luxury of peace of mind is available in ME. As a result, bitterness is compounding that denies logical thought process to contemporary approaches and hence reactionary, some time, violent discourses are preferred by the belligerent states.
  • EU’s Diplomacy and Politics. Whenever EU came across a road block en-route to peace and harmony, it effectively employed its political and diplomatic muscles to eliminate the hurdles in WBR through UN, NATO, OSCE and Council of Europe options, besides committing its own platform for moving on with consensus among the member states. In ME, other than UN, there exist such apparatuses as Arab League (AL) , Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and an overlap of OIC (Organisation of Islamic Countries) but the consensus on critical issues among the major ME actors, namely Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia is non-existent.

 

  • No Direct Threat. WBR or the EU has no direct enemy that may consume their efforts and budget for the military spending. In ME, the scenario is bleak when there is perpetual standoff between Israel and Iran, Israel versus other Arab states and Iranian tiff with Gulf countries over territorial disputes. Maintaining large standing armies thus becomes their compulsion, a practice that engulfs their large chunks of GDPs and also creates a lucrative sophisticated weaponry market for the developed countries. Thus the bad news is that with the status quo perpetuating in ME, the people are not likely to witness any lustrous transformation unless the causes that lend longevity to their true and false pretexts of the parties are eliminated. US interventionist strategy, the regime-change mantra, has not only drawn considerable flak but has been challenged by Syria on the grounds of legitimacy when two of the P5 are singing discordant tunes. Among the Muslim world, US neutrality in ME, particularly on Palestinian and the occupied Arab territories issues is ‘monumentally’ suspected. Hence US have lost the lustre of an honest peace broker, a virtue that had characterised Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and even George H. W. Bush era. Tragedy of the time is that there is no hope of recovery. In fact breakdown of Turkish-Israel relations recently, euphemistically speaking, have cast deep shadows on the prospects of restoration of peace in ME. Turkey’s demonstration of military restraint in case of Israel and Syrian provocations has been remarkable that gave boost to the Turkey’s grace and international stature. However Syrian antagonism when seen against Turkey in the NATO’s context is becoming unbearable. Syria’s mighty allies, Russia, China and to an extent, Iran are showing some signs of fatigue. Yet Turkey appears inclined to let the tyrant sink in the predicament of his own follies. Logically ME has emerged as a revealing challenge for the EU which, when some other actors stoke the fury of conflicts, can broker peace. One would hope that ME and the world powers would heed, if no one else, at least to Jesus, revered both by Christians and Muslims, He (Jesus Christ) said to the crowd: ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time? “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?”[11]

Middle Eastern Threats Profile

 

Threats and Challenges for WBR and EU. After a brief view of the prevailing dynamics of the conflicts in ME, it makes it feasible to assess the threats and challenges as corollaries that confront WBR in specific terms though there appears a consensus that no potent military threat from ME to Balkans and hence to the EU is on the horizon. However, transnational organised crimes, pertaining to some of following areas is a possibility that needs to be taken cognisance of:

  • Illegal Immigrants Traffic It involves an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harbouring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them. Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad. Every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country

Of origin, transit or destination for victims.[12] In the wake of visa liberalisation for the WBR by EU, there has been tendency of its immigrants to seek better living standard from the relatively poorer to the richer states of WBR or EU. This trend is historic and perhaps manageable by WBR or at least not as risky as the inflow of Asians and Africans who beat the Border Check Points ability to interdict illegal immigrants. Such illegal immigrants may be criminals, potential terrorists or arms and drug smugglers as no record of their credentials is available as compared to those falling in the category of regular immigrants. WBR would certainly be impacted, as the statistics prove, increasing number of them are appearing on Greece-Turkish, Romania-Serbian and Serbian-Macedonian borders. Out of total 7400 detections of irregular traffic in 2011, on nationality basis, Afghans had 28 % share, followed by 25% of Pakistanis. This increase resulted from the combination of increasing flows and more efforts undertaken by the Serbian authorities to detect migrants at their green borders. Consequently, Serbia’s 2011 share in the region’s overall total for illegal border-crossing rose to a massive 40%, up from just 3% during 2010. [13] Yet there appear some deterring arrangements in place that keep WBR somewhat immune from the machinations of the organized crime axis. Therefore, the criminals who facilitate the illegal immigrants from Africa and ME, by employing modes worst than those meted to animals, have not been able to develop WBR as huge market of profit so far that revolves around $ 150 million as compared to illegal immigrants from East, West and North Africa to Europe and from Latin America to North America that fetched them a bonanza of about $ 6.75 billion last year. UNODC plays crucial role to train and built the target states capacity to combat organised crimes. EU in concert with UNODC appears to be mindful of the aspect and the vulnerability that confronts WBR. Remedial improved options have to be exercised, soonest the better.

 

  • Drug Trafficking. It poses a threat to the entire world but predominantly to the Western Europe that makes lucrative market for the drug traffickers. Annual flow of drugs to global market is to the tune of about 450 tons. Out of this, the statistics for 2008 show, 380 tons of heroin and morphine were produced in Afghanistan only, finding access to Western Europe and Russia through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and WBR that constitute Western Approach as well as through Caspian and Central Asia which is the Northern Approach. There have been sizeable seizures also, conspicuously in Turkey and Iran but the drug barons appear determined to swallow the losses for the sake of Western European market ($ 20 billion) and the Russian Federation market ($13 billion).[14] Along the route, some quantities are sold to the locals that are wreaking havoc on the societies where one finds large number of young addicts with no hope of recovering them. To put simply, when the drug route of western approach from Afghanistan is fairly broad, it converges on WBR that should rightly worry its governments. They are left with no choice but to accept the challenge to eliminate it through operational as well as pre-emptive strategies in concert with EU. In other words, EU is compelled to consider that its stakes are heavy in WBR while confronted by the drugs assault with dangerous consequences. Covering the threat of huge quantities of Cocaine from Colombia is not direct concern here because no significant source is located in ME. However Europe shares a big brunt. In 2008, 470 tons of Cocaine moved to North America, Canada and Europe when 40 % was consumed in North America only, and a quarter of it reached Europe.

 

  • Terrorism. Terrorists have invariably a political agenda, often ambitious. They enjoy universal alliance, though unspoken, with all such elements in any part of the world across all conceivable divides because their mutual interests do not clash. In other words, at least their sympathisers if not abetters are found everywhere that facilitate their clandestine operations of sabotage and destruction. Such vulnerability haunts the WBR because conventionally drugs, illegal human trafficking, arms smuggling and terrorists are traditional allies that move hand in glove and follow common trajectory. In WBR, ordinary crimes have shown decline but strong foot prints of organised crimes have remained indelible. Corruption and crime nexus could not be refuted, particularly when ethnic wars were rampant. In case of Bosnia-Herzegovinian, there has been Middle Eastern militants support though no conclusive evidence has come forth, not necessarily because it did not exist but for the possibility that these groups may have managed clandestine support effectively. This is partly due to difficulties in defining the concepts. But it is also due to the difficulties of identifying the motives of groups operating within a network.[15] Elsewhere, WBR region has remained generally inwardly focused on ethnic roots and, at least for now, has not been enthused by the ideological incentives. Similarly where ethnic division in WBR are settling down in the new found status of states, having common border(s) with previous entity, threat of influx of potential terrorists may be lurking, abetted by erstwhile parent state(s) in their efforts to undermine the fragile governance of the breakaway state(s) through a design of outsourcing the terror that some states are inclined to adopt worldwide as costs of conventional interstate wars have become colossal. WBR remains prone to such threats because of some complexities the budding states have inherited. Of all, Bosnia-Herzegovina is most fractured. Milan Jazbec rightly observes, “It seems that most complex state structure in the sub-region lays at the foundation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Created by the DPA, the country consists of three nations and two entities, numerous local authorities and a three-member state presidency.”[16] What WBR has to strive for is that they got to evolve happy societies through efficient governance because threat of terror tends to emerge from poverty stricken regions and heads for areas where instability and chaos rules. Out of the two components of the threat, the one that is immediately within reach of WBR governments is to focus on the public inspiration and faith in the democratic states as pre-emptive strategy. That is what EU is committed to, for WBR.

 

  • Money Laundering. The organised crimes perpetrators need to funnel money to give it needed legitimacy or stash it at such locations and banks that their wealth remains out of sight because they got to maintain the flexibility of uninterrupted financing of the criminal networks working for them. Bojan Dordevic contends that money laundering involves disguising the source of illicit profits and is achieved through a basic process (although money laundering typologies differ in complexity):
    • Placement – illicit proceeds are placed within the formal banking sector;
    • Layering – illicit proceeds are redistributed through a series of accounts in small amounts so as to disguise the origin of the funds; and
    • Integration – the once-illicit proceeds are now licit and are used to purchase property, stocks and bonds so that they can be deposited legally into client bank accounts.[17]

To afford the states the desired ability to nab these ill-gotten treasures, UNODC has been  assigned the role to enforce laws to combat money laundering and terror financing in shape of Global Programmes against them, employing its unit that was established in 1997. The unit mandate was reinforced by subsequent protocols and legal instruments to enable the states for implementing necessary measures to combat the curse of money laundering. The unit also provides guidance and technical assistance. WBR certainly deserves to seek help from UNODC.

Global Overview of Tangential Threats to EU

Brief reference to the global conflicts away from ME that pose danger to EU may be a pertinent proposition. The destiny of Balkans, more importantly of the WBR is intertwined with the destiny of Europe. Therefore any conflict scenario looming on the horizon worldwide, threatening Europe would be a dire challenge for the Balkans as well. As the globalisation is characterised by the universal interconnectivity through rapid communication means hence long stretch of spaces have shrunk. EU thrust in European as well as adjoining continents is not only to manage the conflicts but to resolve them despite not possessing any integral military might except within the NATO Charter. On the threat perception chapter, some areas can devastate the world peace, being potentially loaded with the risk of turning into a wide spread conflagration. Though the peace is contingent upon reconciliatory strategies but world powers maintain deterrence at the same time for the potential adversaries. The conflict issues in ME, Caucasus, Korean peninsula, Indian Subcontinent and recently in Asia-Pacific can wreck EU efforts to quell eruptions in and around Europe as well as in far flung areas to the East. For instance, in all cases, if diplomacy fails and conflict graph probability picks up a hype; US, India, Japan, Australia, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, China, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, North and South Korea, Egypt, Iran and Turkey are likely to be sucked in by any of the imbroglios one way or the other. EU that maintains ideal relations with large spread of countries would be the first casualty by way of resultant traction on Euro-Atlantic alliance directly and on trade volumes indirectly that would tailspin because future conflicts would also be riddled with economic blockades and severing of sea lanes. The point to emphasise here is not to give the probable dimensions of each conflict but to elucidate a point that the EU has on its responsibility card, not only the European continent and ME but the stretch of spaces that could become war arena anywhere in the world. What really emerges from the prevailing strategic and global military orientation is that EU has to be forthcoming to conduct dispassionate critique of its own erring allies as well as others when the friendly and not so friendly powers are suspected to embrace too much of Richelieu Concept and show scant regard for the urge to sustain peace. It also implicitly means that world’s greater expectations for conflicts resolution would seek a major shift from the traditional titans to would-be honest brokers. EU is in unique position to adjust to the emerging global realities.

Conclusion

 

To conclude, one would briefly emphasise on two aspects. First, WBR deserves break from violence and chaos. Any effort by EU to help WBR emerge as peaceful, secure and prosperous entity would draw a loud applause internationally. Award of Nobel Peace Prize to EU is not only the recent manifestation but also an acknowledgement of its peacemaking efforts within and beyond Europe. Secondly, efforts should be made while emulating EU to seek prosperous societies across the continents that are sinking in the quagmire, largely of their own making. The advanced world owes much to humanity in this context for addressing their miseries that are heaped on large swaths of Afro-Asian territories. Simple deduction establishes the wisdom that mode and manoeuvres notwithstanding, fires in the neighbourhood and afar would always remain a challenge as well as a threat. Therefore, desirability to quell these fires needs no arguments.



[1] . Kenan Dagci, “The EU’s Middle East Policy and its Implications to the Region”, ‘ALTERNATIVES: Turkish Journal of International Relations’, Volume 6, Number 1&2, Spring & Summer 2007, p. 177

[2] . Anis H. Bajrektarevic, “The Justice-Home Affairs Diplomacy”, International Institute for Middle East and Balkans Studies, Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU, pp.4-5, accessed on www.ifimes.org, on 29 October 2012.

[3] . The aspect inspired Steven Blockmans to write a book, “Tough Love: The European Union’s Relations with the Western Balkans”, (T.M.C. Asser Press, The Hague, Netherlands-2007).

[4] . Muhammad Aslam Khan Niazi,   (Book Review of) Cathie Carmichael’s ‘Genocide Before the Holocaust’ ‘Europe-Asia Studies Journal’, Volume 63, Number 2 (University of Glasgow/Routledge:Taylor & Francis Group, March 2011) p. 347

[5] . George Lenczowski, ‘The Middle East in World Affairs’, 3rd, (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York-1962) p.xxv

[6]. Zerin Torun, ‘The European Union and Change in the Middle East and North Africa: Is the EU Closing its Theory-Practice Gap?”, ‘Middle East Studies, Journal of Politics and International Relations’ Volume 4/Issue 1, July 2012. P. 83.

[7] . Dimitar Bechev, “The Periphery of the Periphery: The Western Balkans and the Euro Crises”, ‘Policy Brief’, European Council of Foreign Relations, p.2, accessed at www.ecfr.eu on 10 September 2012.

[8] . Steven Blockmans, “Tough Love: The European Union’s Relations with the Western Balkans”, (T.M.C. Asser Press, The Hague, Netherlands-2007), p.1

[9] . See the text following foot note 10 for the description of ‘arc of instability’.

[10] . National Intelligence Council, US DoD document, “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World”, (US Government Printing Office, 2008), p. iv

[11] . Luke; 12:54-57.

[12] . UNODC: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, report, “Transnational Organized Crimes: Let’s put them out of business”, accessed at www.unodc.org/unodc.en/human-trafficking, on 2 October 2012.

[13].  “Western Balkans: Annual Risk Analysis 2012”, (Report), FRONTEX: European Agency for the Management of Operational Co-operation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union, Warsaw, Poland, April 2012, accessed at www.frontex,europa.eu on 10 October 2012.

[14] . UNODC Drug Report-2010, accessed at www.unodc.org/unodc.en/drugs on 29 September 2012.

[15] . “Organized Crimes and Corruption Threaten Human Security in the Western Balkans”, accessed at www.scoopproject.org.uk/incorporating, on 6 October 2012.

[16] . Milan Jazbec, “Security and Diplomacy in the Western Balkans”,  International Institute for Middle East and Balkans Studies, Ljubljana,2007, p.84

[17] . Bojan Dordevic, “Underground Banking: Legitimate Network or Money Laundering System”, in Claude Berthomieu and Srdjan Redzepagic (eds), “Financial System Integration of Balkan Countries in the European Financial System”, Institute of Economic Sciences, Znaj Jovina, Belgrade, Republic of Serbia, 2008, p.33

* An abridged version of the article was presented by the author at Crans Montana Forum’s 14th International Annual Summit (cmf.ch) in Geneva, Switzerland on 19 October 2012 as a part of IFIMES International Institute’s (www.ifimes.org) panel proceedings. Director of IFIMES, Zijad Bećirović, Slovenia,  received ‘Gold Medal’ for the Institute, conferred upon it by Crans Montana Forum, graciously recognizing its contributions in exploring and charting Balkan’s path to peace, security and stability in concert with EU.

Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan is a retired Brig Gen from Pakistan Army, served 32 years. A veteran of ‘1971 Indo-Pak War’ has been instructor in officers’ Pakistan Military Academy, commanded Divisional as well as Corps Artillery. Holds first class Masters degree in International Relations and PhD degree, acquired in 2002-2007 from University of Peshawar, Pakistan. Authored a book, writes frequently in national and international media. Has attended several seminars and conferences within the country and abroad on invitation. Travelled to Switzerland (twice), UK, US, UAE, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Germany (twice). Cambodia and Thailand. Email: dr.makni49@yahoo.com

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Middle East

Syria’s Kurds: The new frontline in confronting Iran and Turkey

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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US President Donald J. Trump’s threat to devastate Turkey’s economy if Turkish troops attack Syrian Kurds allied with the United States in the wake of the announced withdrawal of American forces potentially serves his broader goal of letting regional forces fight for common goals like countering Iranian influence in Syria.

Mr. Trump’s threat coupled with a call on Turkey to create a 26-kilometre buffer zone to protect Turkey from a perceived Kurdish threat was designed to pre-empt a Turkish strike against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) that Ankara asserts is part of the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a Turkish group that has waged a low-intensity war in predominantly Kurdish south-eastern Turkey for more than three decades.

Like Turkey, the United States and Europe have designated the PKK as a terrorist organization.

Turkey has been marshalling forces for an attack on the YPG since Mr. Trump’s announced withdrawal of US forces. It would be the third offensive against Syrian Kurds in recent years.

In a sign of strained relations with Saudi Arabia, Turkish media with close ties to the government have been reporting long before the October 2 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul that Saudi Arabia is funding the YPG. There is no independent confirmation of the Turkish allegations.

Yeni Safak reported in 2017, days after the Gulf crisis erupted pitting a Saudi-UAE-Egyptian alliance against Qatar, which is supported by Turkey, that US, Saudi, Emirati and Egyptian officials had met with the PKK as well as the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey says is the Syrian political wing of the PKK, to discuss the future of Syrian oil once the Islamic State had been defeated.

Turkey’s semi-official Anadolu Agency reported last May that Saudi and YPG officials had met to discuss cooperation. Saudi Arabia promised to pay Kurdish fighters that joined an Arab-backed force US$ 200 a month, Anadolu said. Saudi Arabia allegedly sent aid to the YPG on trucks that travelled through Iraq to enter Syria.

In August last year, Saudi Arabia announced that it had transferred US$ 100 million to the United States that was earmarked for agriculture, education, roadworks, rubble removal and water service in areas of north-eastern Syria that are controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces of which the YPG is a significant part.

Saudi Arabia said the payment, announced on the day that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in the kingdom, was intended to fund stabilization of areas liberated from control by the Islamic State.

Turkish media, however, insisted that the funds would flow to the YPG.

“The delivery of $100 million is considered as the latest move by Saudi Arabia in support of the partnership between the U.S. and YPG. Using the fight against Daesh as a pretext, the U.S. has been cooperating with the YPG in Syria and providing arms support to the group. After Daesh was cleared from the region with the help of the U.S., the YPG tightened its grip on Syrian soil taking advantage of the power vacuum in the war-torn country,” Daily Sabah said referring to the Islamic State by one of its Arabic acronyms.

Saudi Arabia has refrained from including the YPG and the PKK on its extensive list of terrorist organizations even though then foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir described in 2017 the Turkish organization as a “terror group.”

This week’s Trump threat and his earlier vow to stand by the Kurds despite the troop withdrawal gives Saudi Arabia and other Arab states such as the United Arab Emirates and Egypt political cover to support the Kurds as a force against Iran’s presence in Syria.

It also allows the kingdom and the UAE to attempt to thwart Turkish attempts to increase its regional influence. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt have insisted that Turkey must withdraw its troops from Qatar as one of the conditions for the lifting of the 18-month old diplomatic and economic boycott of the Gulf state.

The UAE, determined to squash any expression of political Islam, has long led the autocratic Arab charge against Turkey because of its opposition to the 2013 military coup in Egypt that toppled Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brother and the country’s first and only democratically elected president; Turkey’s close relations with Iran and Turkish support for Qatar and Islamist forces in Libya.

Saudi Arabia the UAE and Egypt support General Khalifa Haftar, who commands anti-Islamist forces in eastern Libya while Turkey alongside Qatar and Sudan supports the Islamists.

Libyan and Saudi media reported that authorities had repeatedly intercepted Turkish arms shipments destined for Islamists, including one this month and another last month. Turkey has denied the allegations.

“Simply put, as Qatar has become the go-to financier of the Muslim Brotherhood and its more radical offshoot groups around the globe, Turkey has become their armorer,” said Turkey scholar Michael Rubin.

Ironically, the fact that various Arab states, including the UAE and Bahrain, recently reopened their embassies in Damascus with tacit Saudi approval after having supported forces aligned against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for much of the civil war, like Mr. Trump’s threat to devastate the Turkish economy, makes Gulf support for the Kurds more feasible.

Seemingly left in the cold by the US president’s announced withdrawal of American forces, the YPG has sought to forge relations with the Assad regime. In response, Syria has massed troops near the town of Manbij, expected to be the flashpoint of a Turkish offensive.

Commenting on last year’s two-month long Turkish campaign that removed Kurdish forces from the Syrian town of Afrin and Turkish efforts since to stabilize the region, Gulf scholar Giorgio Cafiero noted that “for the UAE, Afrin represents a frontline in the struggle against Turkish expansionism with respect to the Arab world.”

The same could be said from a Saudi and UAE perspective for Manbij not only with regard to Turkey but also Iran’s presence in Syria. Frontlines and tactics may be shifting, US and Gulf geopolitical goals have not.

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‘Gadkari effect’ on growing Iran-India relations

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If the ‘Newton Effect’ in physics has an equivalent in international diplomacy, we can describe what is happening to India-Iran relations as the ‘Gadkari Effect’.

Like in the case of the 18th century English scientist Isaac Newton’s optical property of physics, the minister in the Indian government Nitin Gadkari – arguably, by far the best performing colleague of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – has created a series of concentric, alternating rings centered at the point of contact between the Indian and Iranian economies.

‘Gadkari’s rings’ around the Chabahar Port in the remote province of Sistan-Baluchistan in southeastern Iran are phenomenally transforming the India-Iran relationship.

The first definitive signs of this appeared in December when the quiet, intense discussions between New Delhi and Tehran under Gadkari’s watch resulted in the agreement over a new payment mechanism that dispenses with the use of American dollar in India-Iran economic transactions.

Prime facie, it was a riposte to the use of sanctions (‘weaponization of dollar’) as a foreign policy tool to interfere in Iran’s oil trade with third countries such as India. (See my blog India sequesters Iran ties from US predatory strike.)

However, the 3-day visit to Delhi by the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on January 7-9 highlighted that the application of the payment mechanism to the Indian-Iranian cooperation over Chabahar Port holds seamless potential to energize the economic partnership between the two countries across the board. In a historical sense, an opportunity is at hand to make the partnership, which has been ‘oil-centric’, a multi-vector ‘win-win’ relationship.

The meeting between Gadkari and Zarif in Delhi on Tuesday signaled that the two sides have a ‘big picture’ in mind. Thus, the opening of a branch of Bank Pasargad in Mumbai is a timely step. Pasargad is a major Iranian private bank offering retail, commercial and investment banking services, which provides services such as letters of credit, treasury, currency exchange, corporate loans syndication, financial advisory and electronic banking. (It is ranked 257th in the Banker magazine’s “1000 banks in the world”.)

Bank Pasargad is establishing presence in India just when the Chabahar Port has been ‘operationalized’ and a first shipment from Brazil carrying 72458 tons of corn cargo berthed at the port terminal on December 30.

More importantly, the discussions between Gadkari and Zarif have covered proposals for a barter system in India-Iran trade. Iran needs steel, particularly rail steel and locomotive engines “in large quantities, and they are ready to supply urea,” Gadkari told the media.

Then, there is a proposal for a railway line connecting Chabahar with Iran’s grid leading northward to the border with Afghanistan. Zarif summed up the broad sweep of discussions this way:

“We had very good discussions on both Chabahar as well as other areas of cooperation between Iran and India. The two countries complement each other and we can cooperate in whole range of areas… We hope that in spite of the illegal US sanctions, Iran and India can cooperate further for the benefit of the people of the two countries and for the region.”

Paradoxically, the collaboration over Chabahar Port, which has been a “byproduct” of India-Pakistan tensions, is rapidly outgrowing the zero-sum and gaining habitation and a name in regional security. There are many ways of looking at why this is happening so.

Clearly, both India and Iran have turned the Chabahar project around to provide an anchor sheet for spurring trade and investment between the two countries. This approach holds big promises. There is great complementarity between the two economies.

Iran is the only country in the Middle East with a diversified economy and a huge market with a fairly developed industrial and technological base and agriculture and richly endowed in mineral resources. It is an oil rich country and the needs of Indian economy for energy, of course, are galloping.

Second, Chabahar Port can provide a gateway for India not only to Afghanistan and Central Asia but also to Russia and the European market. Logically, Chabahar should be linked to the proposed North-South Transportation Corridor that would significantly cut down shipping time and costs for the trade between India and Russia and Europe.

Thus, it falls in place that the Trump administration, which keeps an eagle’s eye on Iran’s external relations, has given a pass to the Indian investment in Chabahar. Prima facie, Chabahar Port can provide access for Afghanistan to the world market and that country’s stabilization is an American objective. But then, Chabahar can also provide a potential transportation route in future for American companies trading and investing in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

According to a Pentagon task force set up to study Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, that country is sitting on untapped rare minerals, including some highly strategic ones worth at least 1 trillion dollars. Indeed, President Trump has pointedly spoken about it to rationalize the US’ abiding business interests in Afghanistan. Now, from indications of late, conditions have dramatically improved for an Afghan settlement that provides for enduring US presence in that country.

We must carefully take note that Iran is in effect supplementing the efforts of Pakistan and the US to kickstart an intra-Afghan dialogue involving the representatives from Kabul and the Taliban.

Importantly, China has also adopted a similar supportive role. A high degree of regional consensus is forging that security and stability of Afghanistan should not be the stuff of geopolitical rivalries.

The bottom line is that Iran’s own integration into the international community, which the Trump administration is hindering, is inevitable at some point sooner than we believe.

The disclosure that behind the cloud cover of shrill rhetoric against Iran, Washington secretly made two overtures to Tehran recently to open talks shows that Trump himself is looking for a deal to get out of the cul-de-sac in which his Iran policies have landed him.

Washington cannot but take note of the constructive role that Tehran is playing on the Afghan situation. (Interestingly, Zarif and Zalmay Khalilzad, US special representative on Afghanistan who go back a long way, have paid overlapping visits to Delhi.)

There is an influential constituency of strategic analysts and opinion makers within the US already who recognize the geopolitical reality that American regional policy in the Middle East will forever remain on roller coaster unless and until Washington normalizes with Tehran. They acknowledge that at the end of the day, Iran is an authentic regional power whose rise cannot be stopped.

From such a perspective, what Zarif’s discussions in Delhi underscore is that while Iran is keeping its end of the bargain in the 2015 nuclear deal, it is incrementally defeating the US’ “containment strategy” by its variant of “ostpolitik”, focused principally on three friendly countries – Russia, China and India.

This is where much depends on the Indian ingenuity to create new webs of regional partnerships. There are tantalizing possibilities. Remember the 3-way Moscow-Baghdad-Delhi trilateral cooperation in the bygone Soviet era?

That is only one model of how the three big countries – Russia, India and Iran – can have common interest to create sinews of cooperation attuned to Eurasian integration. It is a rare convergence since there are no contradictions in the mutual interests of the three regional powers.

The Indian diplomacy must come out of its geopolitical reveries and begin working on the tangible and deliverable. That will make our foreign policy relevant to our country’s overall development. Gadkari has shown how geo-economics makes brilliant, purposive foreign policy. Equally, he followed up diligently what needed to be done to get Chabhar project going so that an entire architecture of cooperation can be built on it. Zarif’s extraordinary remarks testify to it. Even a hundred theatrical performances on the Madison Square Garden wouldn’t have achieved such spectacular results in a short period of time.

*Nitin Jairam Gadkari is an Indian politician and the current Minister for Road Transport & Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation in the Government of India.

First published in our partner MNA

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Reasons behind the eventual withdrawal of Kuwait from PGCC

Javad Heirannia

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After several years since the beginning of Syria crisis, the Persian Gulf Arab states are changing their policies towards this county, and following the move of UAE and Bahrain, Kuwait will soon expand its relations with Syria.

Along with this policy change, the Arab leaders of Persian Gulf countries are warming up their ties with Israel.

The Arab-Israel relations get closer but Kuwait does not agree with this policy and intends to maintain its foreign policy outside Israeli influence, but it’s possible as a result Kuwait might be separated from the PGCC.

In this regard, it should be noted that the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council was an organization that was set up in 1981 to control Iran and was attempting to take steps to control Iraq, too.

Alongside these issues, the international and regional powers’ role in influencing these countries also reflects the lack of trust between the PGCC countries. For instance, while Qatar hosts a Turkish military base, this is seen as a threat to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain.

A recent international summit was held in Doha, Qatar, by high-profile figures, while earlier the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh took place with the absence of Qatar, Oman and the UAE’s leaders.

By holding this important summit and gathering outstanding international figures from Iran, Turkey and Russia, Qatar has shown that it could be more widely recognized in the international arena despite the hostile actions of the Persian Gulf Arabs states with the Doha blockade.

On December 12, 2019, Riyadh hosted the first Arab-African conference of foreign ministers of six countries bordering the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, a strategic area vital to global shipping.

During the summit an agreement was made on the establishment of a legal regime for the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The objective of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden regime was to support world trade, international shipping lanes, regional stability and the investment and development of the member states. The plan, proposed by the King of Saudi Arabia, will be implemented in pursuit of security and stability in the region.

The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on December 12 that Saudi Arabia agreed to establish a Red Sea regulatory regime aimed at strengthening security and investment in the Red Sea bordering countries.

According to the statement, the seven countries are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Djibouti, Yemen, Somalia, and Jordan.

The conference also features a new Saudi-led regional bloc that shows the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council’s failure.

Regarding the normalization of relations with Tel Aviv and the “deal of the century”, we are also seeing disagreements among members of the Council. Kuwait is one of the countries that disagrees with the policy of normalization of relations with Israel by some member states of PGCC. Kuwait has never wanted to be dominated by the Saudis. We also see a sharpening of the country’s disagreements with Saudi Arabia over joint oil fields, too.

This disagreement is over the Neutral Zone, and area of about 5,700 square kilometers. Its dividing line begins north of Khafji oil field  and runs straight to the west.

Kuwait disagrees with the resumption of oil extraction from the neutral zone without its recognition, and calls for its control as a Kuwaiti-dominated area.

Kuwait has discovered that Saudi Arabia is not a true friend of the Persian Gulf states, but an interventionist in the Persian Gulf states’ internal affairs.

Kuwait knows that the deal Saudi Arabia and its allies, the Emirates and Bahrain made with Qatar may repeat with Kuwait and Oman. In fact, what caused Qatar not to invade Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE was the resistance and meddling of Kuwait and Oman.

Accordingly, Kuwait seeks to strike a balance between the three countries. Although Kuwait has military and security ties with the U.S., it well knows that the U.S. is constantly threatening regional security. No one has forgotten what Trump said about  Saudi Arabia, : “You might not be there for two weeks without us”.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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