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Focusing on menacing Middle East geopolitical environments

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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

Saudi Arabia and Iran want to be friends again

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Eventually the ice-cold relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia began to melt. The two countries sat at the negotiating table shortly after Biden came to power. The results of that discussion are finally being seen. Trade relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have already begun to move. Although there has been no diplomatic relationship between the two countries since 2016, trade relations have been tense. But trade between Iran and the two countries was zero from last fiscal year until March 20 this year. Iran recently released a report on trade with neighboring countries over the past six months. The report also mentions the name of Saudi Arabia. This means that the rivalry between the two countries is slowly normalizing.

Historically, Shia-dominated Iran was opposed to the Ottoman Empire. The Safavids of Persia have been at war with the Ottomans for a long time, However, after the fall of the Ottomans, when the Middle East was divided like monkey bread, the newly created Saudi Arabia did not have much of a problem with Iran. Business trade between the two countries was normal. This is because the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Iran at the time were Western-backed. That is why there was not much of a problem between them. But when a revolution was organized in Iran in 1979 and the Islamic Republic of Iran was established by overthrowing the Shah, Iran’s relations with the West as well as with Saudi Arabia deteriorated. During the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini called for the ouster of Western-backed rulers from the Middle East. After this announcement, naturally the Arab rulers went against Iran.

Saddam Hussein later invaded Iran with US support and Saudi financial support. After that, as long as Khomeini was alive, Saudi Arabia’s relations with Iran were bad. After Khomeini’s death, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatemi tried to mend fences again. But they didn’t get much of an advantage.

When the Bush administration launched its invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran’s influence in Shiite-majority Iraq continued to grow. Since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011, Iran’s influence in the region has grown. Saudi Arabia has been embroiled in a series of shadow wars to reduce its influence. It can be said that Iran and Saudi Arabia are involved in the Cold War just like the United States and the Soviet Union. Behind that war was a conflict of religious ideology and political interests. Diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran came to a complete standstill in 2016. Iranians attack the Saudi embassy in Tehran after executing Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimar al-Nimar.  Since then, the two countries have not had diplomatic relations.

Finally, in April this year, representatives of the two countries met behind closed doors in Baghdad. And through this, the two countries started the process of normalizing diplomatic relations again. The last direct meeting between the two countries was held on September 21.

Now why are these two countries interested in normalizing relations? At one point, Mohammed bin Salman said they had no chance of negotiating with Iran. And Khomeini, the current Supreme Leader of Iran, called Mohammed bin Salman the new Hitler. But there is no such thing as a permanent enemy ally in politics or foreign policy. That is why it has brought Saudi Arabia and Iran back to the negotiating table. Prince Salman once refused to negotiate with Iran, but now he says Iran is our neighbor, we all want good and special relations with Iran.

Saudi Arabia has realized that its Western allies are short-lived. But Iran is their permanent neighbor. They have to live with Iran. The United States will not return to fight against Iran on behalf of Saudi Arabia. That is why it is logical for Iran and Saudi Arabia to have their ideological differences and different interests at the negotiating table. Saudi Arabia has been at the negotiating table with Iran for a number of reasons. The first reason is that Saudi Arabia wants to reduce its oil dependence. Prince Salman has announced Vision 2030. In order to implement Vision 2030 and get out of the oil dependent economy, we need to have good relations with our neighbors. It is not possible to achieve such goals without regional stability, He said.

Saudi Arabia also wants to emerge from the ongoing shadow war with Iran in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon to achieve regional stability. The war in Yemen in particular is now a thorn in the side of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are unable to get out of this war, nor are they able to achieve the desired goal. Saudi Arabia must normalize relations with Iran if it is to emerge from the war in Yemen. Without a mutual understanding with Iran, Yemen will not be able to end the war. That is why Saudi Arabia wants to end the war through a peace deal with the Houthis by improving relations with Iran.

Drone strikes could also have an impact on the Saudi Aramco oil field to bring Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. Because after the drone attack, the oil supply was cut in half. The Saudis do not want Aramco to be attacked again. Also, since the Biden administration has no eye on the Middle East, it would be wise to improve relations with Iran in its own interests.

Iran will benefit the most if relations with Saudi Arabia improve. Their economy has been shaken by long-standing US sanctions on Iran. As Saudi Arabia is the largest and most powerful country in the Middle East, Iran has the potential to benefit politically as well as economically if relations with them are normal.

While Saudi Arabia will normalize relations with Iran, its allies will also improve relations with Iran. As a result, Iran’s political and trade relations with all the countries of the Saudi alliance will be better. This will give them a chance to turn their economy around again. The development of Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia will also send a positive message to the Biden administration. It could lead to a renewed nuclear deal and lift sanctions on Iran.

Another reason is that when Saudi Arabia normalizes relations with Iran, it will receive formal recognition of Iran’s power in the Middle East. The message will be conveyed that it is not possible to turn the stick in the Middle East by bypassing Iran. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran need to be normalized for peace and stability in the Middle East.

But in this case, the United Arab Emirates and Israel may be an obstacle. The closeness that Saudi Arabia had with the UAE will no longer exist. The UAE now relies much more on Israel. There will also be some conflict of interest between Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Prince Salman wants to turn Saudi into a full-fledged tourism and business hub that could pose a major threat to the UAE’s economy and make the two countries compete.

Furthermore, in order to sell arms to the Middle East, Iran must show something special. Why would Middle Eastern countries buy weapons if the Iranian offensive was stopped? During the Cold War, arms dealers forced NATO allies to buy large quantities of weapons out of fear of the Soviet Union. So it is in the Middle East. But if the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia is normal, it will be positive for the Muslim world, but it will lead to a recession in the arms market.

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Middle East

Turkey and Iran find soft power more difficult than hard power

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The times they are a changin’. Iranian leaders may not be Bob Dylan fans, but his words are likely to resonate as they contemplate their next steps in Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon, and Azerbaijan.

The same is true for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The president’s shine as a fierce defender of Muslim causes, except for when there is an economic price tag attached as is the case of China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims, has been dented by allegations of lax defences against money laundering and economic mismanagement.

The setbacks come at a time that Mr. Erdogan’s popularity is diving in opinion polls.

Turkey this weekend expelled the ambassadors of the US, Canada, France, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden for calling for the release of philanthropist and civil rights activist Osman Kavala in line with a European Court of Human Rights decision.

Neither Turkey nor Iran can afford the setbacks that often are the result of hubris. Both have bigger geopolitical, diplomatic, and economic fish to fry and are competing with Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama for religious soft power, if not leadership of the Muslim world.

That competition takes on added significance in a world in which Middle Eastern rivals seek to manage rather than resolve their differences by focusing on economics and trade and soft, rather than hard power and proxy battles.

In one recent incident Hidayat Nur Wahid, deputy speaker of the Indonesian parliament, opposed naming a street in Jakarta after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the general-turned-statemen who carved modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire. Mr. Wahid suggested that it would be more appropriate to commemorate Ottoman sultans Mehmet the Conqueror or Suleiman the Magnificent or 14th-century Islamic scholar, Sufi mystic, and poet Jalaludin Rumi.

Mr. Wahid is a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and a board member of the Saudi-run Muslim World League, one of the kingdom’s main promoters of religious soft power.

More importantly, Turkey’s integrity as a country that forcefully combats funding of political violence and money laundering has been called into question by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international watchdog, and a potential court case in the United States that could further tarnish Mr. Erdogan’s image.

A US appeals court ruled on Friday that state-owned Turkish lender Halkbank can be prosecuted over accusations it helped Iran evade American sanctions.

Prosecutors have accused Halkbank of converting oil revenue into gold and then cash to benefit Iranian interests and documenting fake food shipments to justify transfers of oil proceeds. They also said Halkbank helped Iran secretly transfer US$20 billion of restricted funds, with at least $1 billion laundered through the US financial system.

Halkbank has pleaded not guilty and argued that it is immune from prosecution under the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act because it was “synonymous” with Turkey, which has immunity under that law. The case has complicated US-Turkish relations, with Mr.  Erdogan backing Halkbank’s innocence in a 2018 memo to then US President Donald Trump.

FATF placed Turkey on its grey list last week. It joins countries like Pakistan, Syria, South Sudan, and Yemen that have failed to comply with the group’s standards. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned earlier this year that greylisting would affect a country’s ability to borrow on international markets,  and cost it an equivalent of up to 3 per cent of gross domestic product as well as a drop in foreign direct investment.

Mr. Erdogan’s management of the economy has been troubled by the recent firing of three central bank policymakers, a bigger-than-expected interest rate cut that sent the Turkish lira tumbling, soaring prices, and an annual inflation rate that last month ran just shy of 20 per cent. Mr. Erdogan has regularly blamed high-interest rates for inflation.

A public opinion survey concluded in May that 56.9% of respondents would not vote for Mr. Erdogan and that the president would lose in a run-off against two of his rivals, Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas and his Istanbul counterpart Ekrem Imamoglu.

In further bad news for the president, polling company Metropoll said its September survey showed that 69 per cent of respondents saw secularism as a necessity while 85.1 per cent objected to religion being used in election campaigning.

In Iran’s case, a combination of factors is changing the dynamics of Iran’s relations with some of its allied Arab militias, calling into question the domestic positioning of some of those militias, fueling concern in Tehran that its detractors are encircling it, and putting a dent in the way Iran would like to project itself.

A just-published report by the Combatting Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy West Point concluded that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) faced “growing difficulties in controlling local militant cells. Hardline anti-US militias struggle with the contending needs to de-escalate US-Iran tensions, meet the demands of their base for anti-US operations, and simultaneously evolve non-kinetic political and social wings.”

Iranian de-escalation of tensions with the United States is a function of efforts to revive the defunct 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program and talks aimed at improving relations with Saudi Arabia even if they have yet to produce concrete results.

In addition, like in Lebanon, Iranian soft power in Iraq has been challenged by growing Iraqi public opposition to sectarianism and Iranian-backed Shiite militias that are at best only nominally controlled by the state.

Even worse, militias, including Hezbollah, the Arab world’s foremost Iranian-supported armed group, have been identified with corrupt elites in Lebanon and Iraq. Many in Lebanon oppose Hezbollah as part of an elite that has allowed the Lebanese state to collapse to protect its vested interests.

Hezbollah did little to counter those perceptions when the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened Lebanese Christians after fighting erupted this month between the militia and the Lebanese Forces, a Maronite party, along the Green Line that separated Christian East and Muslim West Beirut during the 1975-1990 civil war.

The two groups battled each other for hours as Hezbollah staged a demonstration to pressure the government to stymie an investigation into last year’s devastating explosion in the port of Beirut. Hezbollah fears that the inquiry could lay bare pursuit of the group’s interests at the expense of public safety.

“The biggest threat for the Christian presence in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces party and its head,” Mr. Nasrallah warned, fuelling fears of a return to sectarian violence.

It’s a warning that puts a blot on Iran’s assertion that its Islam respects minority rights, witness the reserved seats in the country’s parliament for religious minorities. These include Jews, Armenians, Assyrians and Zoroastrians.

Similarly, an alliance of Iranian-backed Shiite militias emerged as the biggest loser in this month’s Iraqi elections. The Fateh (Conquest) Alliance, previously the second-largest bloc in parliament, saw its number of seats drop from 48 to 17.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi brought forward the vote from 2022 to appease a youth-led protest movement that erupted two years ago against corruption, unemployment, crumbling public services, sectarianism, and Iranian influence in politics.

One bright light from Iran’s perspective is the fact that an attempt in September by activists in the United States to engineer support for Iraqi recognition of Israel backfired.

Iran last month targeted facilities in northern Iraq operated by Iranian opposition Kurdish groups. Teheran believes they are part of a tightening US-Israeli noose around the Islamic republic that involves proxies and covert operations on its Iraqi and Azerbaijani borders.

Efforts to reduce tension with Azerbaijan have failed. An end to a war of words that duelling military manoeuvres on both sides of the border proved short-lived. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, emboldened by Israeli and Turkish support in last year’s war against Armenia, appeared unwilling to dial down the rhetoric.

With a revival of the nuclear program in doubt, Iran fears that Azerbaijan could become a staging pad for US and Israeli covert operations. Those doubts were reinforced by calls for US backing of Azerbaijan by scholars in conservative Washington think tanks, including the Hudson Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

Eldar Mamedov, a political adviser for the social-democrats in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, warned that “the US government should resist calls from hawks to get embroiled in a conflict where it has no vital interest at stake, and much less on behalf of a regime that is so antithetical to US values and interests.”

He noted that Mr. Aliyev has forced major US NGOs to leave Azerbaijan, has trampled on human and political rights, and been anything but tolerant of the country’s Armenian heritage.

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Middle East

Process to draft Syria constitution begins this week

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The process of drafting a new constitution for Syria will begin this week, the UN Special Envoy for the country, Geir Pedersen, said on Sunday at a press conference in Geneva.

Mr. Pedersen was speaking following a meeting with the government and opposition co-chairs of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, who have agreed to start the process for constitutional reform.

The members of its so-called “small body”, tasked with preparing and drafting the Constitution, are in the Swiss city for their sixth round of talks in two years, which begin on Monday. 

Their last meeting, held in January, ended without progress, and the UN envoy has been negotiating between the parties on a way forward.

“The two Co-Chairs now agree that we will not only prepare for constitutional reform, but we will prepare and start drafting for constitutional reform,” Mr. Pedersen told journalists.

“So, the new thing this week is that we will actually be starting a drafting process for constitutional reform in Syria.”

The UN continues to support efforts towards a Syrian-owned and led political solution to end more than a decade of war that has killed upwards of 350,000 people and left 13 million in need of humanitarian aid.

An important contribution

The Syrian Constitutional Committee was formed in 2019, comprising 150 men and women, with the Government, the opposition and civil society each nominating 50 people.

This larger group established the 45-member small body, which consists of 15 representatives from each of the three sectors.

For the first time ever, committee co-chairs Ahmad Kuzbari, the Syrian government representative, and Hadi al-Bahra, from the opposition side, met together with Mr. Pedersen on Sunday morning. 

He described it as “a substantial and frank discussion on how we are to proceed with the constitutional reform and indeed in detail how we are planning for the week ahead of us.”

Mr. Pedersen told journalists that while the Syrian Constitutional Committee is an important contribution to the political process, “the committee in itself will not be able to solve the Syrian crisis, so we need to come together, with serious work, on the Constitutional Committee, but also address the other aspects of the Syrian crisis.”

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