Minilateralism, a relatively recent concept in international relations, involves small groups of nations cooperating to address common issues and pursue shared objectives. A creative minilateral approach to tackle challenges in the region necessitates acknowledging the importance of authentic frustration, rather than concentrating solely on militancy. It is this genuine discontent that often drives us into political standoffs and a sense of futility. Recognizing and addressing the root causes of this frustration can be key to developing effective minilateral strategies for lasting solutions.
In my region, the Levant region, the prevalence of minilateralism has increased significantly, particularly as numerous countries grapple with the enduring repercussions of prolonged conflict, instability, and external interventions spanning several decades. The region encompasses 90 million people; Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Gaza and the West Bank – 175 million if we count Turkey – across the Greater Levant Within this context, states are showing a growing inclination to establish alliances and coalitions, working together to collectively address shared challenges. This shift towards minilaterism underscores the recognition that collaborative efforts are essential in navigating the complex and longstanding issues that have shaped the region’s dynamics.
The Levant region has experienced its fair share of conflict, ranging from the Arab-Israeli conflict to challenges posed by civil wars across the region, and ongoing security concerns. Traditional multilateral efforts, such as those by the United Nations, often face difficulties due to divergent interests and longstanding hostilities. In response, minilateralism has gained traction as a flexible and adaptive alternative.
Palestinian civilians, whether in the West Bank or Gaza, are increasingly being pushed towards the fringes of extremism and nihilism if we fail to provide protection. It prompts us to inquire about the identity of the key actor capable of influencing Palestinians in their plight or instilling the necessary trust in Israel to construct a much-desired and lasting peace solution. While the need for intermediaries is evident, the conflicting parties show reluctance to assign themselves or each other the responsibility of pursuing political peace.
Cutting off water, food deliveries, electricity generation compounds – all basic human necessities – are challenges that 2.2 million people in the Gaza Strip face today, are leading to dire living conditions. The characterization of this campaign as a massive act of collective punishment against civilians underscores the gravity of the humanitarian concerns arising from the conflict.
The Jenin Refugee Camp has witnessed the evacuation of over a 1000 Palestinians, underscoring the precarious situation and the potential, forcible population transfer. In an ongoing debate of “can Israel do it alone?”, the recent gravity of international legality and UN resolutions has been disrupted by the elevation of proxies. These proxies persist in their designated roles, pushing the boundaries of confrontation. The alignment of resistance and the normalizers does not seem to lead to an agreement on a diverse mutual respect, crucial in determining the future trajectory between war and peace. The intricacies of this dynamic underscore the challenges in achieving a consensus and fostering a pluralistic understanding that embraces mutual respect within the region.
The establishment of regional initiatives that are minilateral and transboundary structures, such as a Citizens’ Assembly for the Levant or an Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), tailored to the unique needs of the region, led and organized by the region itself, would undoubtedly contribute to the advancement of our regional creative commons and that would support the goal of Detente from below. Such initiatives could serve as a platform for fostering economic and social cooperation among the participating countries in the Levant region.
In particular, a Levant Citizens’ Assembly should be homegrown, as a civil society initiative, through a vision of ‘people first’ and ‘people-centered diplomacy’. Similarly, can be said about the establishment of an ECOSOC. Why not empower the youth to create a simulacrum of such council in our region? A youth-led economic and social council could convene regularly, presenting regional priorities directly to the World Bank, the IMF, and remodeling the purposes of the Britton Woods objectives. This approach would enable young people to actively participate in shaping their future by becoming stakeholders in defining and addressing the challenges of their region.
Facing the challenges
Minilateralism while presenting a strategic approach to international relations, is not without its challenges. One notable criticism lies in its limited inclusivity, where the exclusivity of such arrangements may lead to the sidelining of key regional actors and their perspectives. The success of minilateral initiatives is intricately tied to the willingness of all relevant parties to engage, highlighting the ongoing challenge of achieving broad inclusivity.
Additionally, the sustainability of minilateral agreements is contingent upon the stability of participating nations and the durability of their commitment. Shifting geopolitical dynamics or changes in leadership could potentially impact the long-term effectiveness of these initiatives. Another concern revolves around the delicate task of balancing power dynamics among participating nations. Struggles in achieving equitable representation and preventing power imbalances from undermining the objectives of regional initiatives are crucial factors for ensuring its enduring success. Despite its advantages, addressing these issues is imperative for minilateralism to realise its full potential in fostering effective and lasting international cooperation.
While challenges in such approaches persists, minilateralism emerges as a strategic approach offering distinct advantages in navigating evolving regional challenges. One notable strength lies in its inherent flexibility and adaptability, allowing a select group of participants to tailor responses to specific issues, thereby promoting pragmatic solutions.
Moreover, minilateral initiatives prioritise incremental progress, concentrating on achievable goals amidst broader regional complexities. This approach not only facilitates tangible advancements but also enables participants to gradually build trust and confidence over time. Perhaps most significantly, minilateralism plays a pivotal role in conflict prevention by addressing issues at their roots.
By undertaking targeted efforts, this approach holds the potential to prevent the escalation of conflicts, contributing to the establishment of a more stable and cooperative regional environment. In essence, the strengths of flexibility, incremental progress, and conflict prevention underscore the value of minilateralism in addressing complex regional challenges with a nuanced and effective strategy.
Certainly, a minilateral approach provides a fresh perspective for addressing long-standing regional challenges, one that is attuned to the grievances and aspirations of the affected population. By engaging a small group of nations with a shared interest in specific issues, a minilateral framework allows for a more focused and flexible response.
Minilateralism has emerged as a nuanced and practical approach to addressing the intricate geopolitical landscape of the Levant region. While challenges persist, the potential success of initiatives like a Levant Citizens’ Assembly or an ECOSOC underscores the potential of focused collaboration among key stakeholders and enables us to build and sustain peace. As the region continues to navigate its complex challenges, minilateralism is likely to play a crucial role in shaping more effective and tailored diplomatic solutions.