The 2019 Beijing Xiangshan hosted a variety of concurrent sessions focusing on critical issues facing China, the region, and the world. Two of the sessions addressed Security Developments in the Middle East. SIGNAL’s Executive Director, Carice Witte, spoke at the first session about regional developments. Also on the panel were experts from China, Germany, and Pakistan. Joining the second session on the Middle East was former UAE parliamentarian, Ahmed Almansoori from Dubai. Mr. Almansoori’s talk presented an analysis of key challenges facing the Middle East and offered fresh ideas on how to address these issues. Mr. Almansoori is an innovative thinker who is committed to re-examining existing conventional wisdom to identify new ways to foster the development and success of societies in the Middle East. The full transcript of his talk can be found here.
Distinguished colleagues, delegates and participants
I would like to extend my thanks to your kind invitation and for giving me this opportunity to address this very important event and share with you our Middle East experience in its wide and complicated geopolitical and economic dimensions. I will address three specific questions. First, what Kind of Impact will the changes in the security situation in the Middle East have on the international security situation, global politics, and economy? Second, what is the current Middle East policy of the major Powers, and do they have converging Interests and possibilities for cooperation in this region? And lastly, how can a new security structure be built in the Middle East?
My first question is: what kind of impact will the changes in the security situation in the Middle East have on the international security situation and global politics and economy?
First, it should be stressed that the Middle East, particularly the Arabian Gulf Region, is of vital importance to the entire world; whether in terms of economics, or as the world’s largest supplier of conventional energy (oil and gas) which constitute the backbone of the world’s economy, or its strategic location which connects the East with the West. Thus, any security deterioration in this region will ultimately have a negative impact on the whole world. What we had seen recently when the oil installations in Abqaiq and Khurais in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were attacked, the direct effect of which is the increase in global oil prices by more than 20 percent. The attacks could have caused greater turmoil in the global energy markets had it not been for the fact that Riyadh had assured the world that it has the capacity to meet the needs of its clients worldwide. Therefore, large-scale security unrest in the Gulf region, in particular, would inevitably lead to a global economic crisis, given that most of the economies of major powers depend on the energy resources coming from this region.
On the issue of security, we should recall the serious implications that Europe and other major powers have endured as a result of the deterioration of circumstances in the region following the events of the so-called “Arab Spring” as probably thousands of refugees flooded into Europe. We should also refer to the terrorist acts that targeted the United States on September 11, 2001, as well as several other European countries due to impaired security conditions in the Middle East, which in turn provided a conducive environment for the growth and spread of terrorist groups, making everybody across the globe less safe. This means that any deterioration of the security situation in the Middle East, in particular, the Gulf region, would undoubtedly increase the tensions and instability all over the world.
At the political level, it is a known fact that there is ongoing competition between major world powers to impose their hegemony over the region, or at least to protect their strategic interests within it. Thus, their coalition networks with regard to regional and Arab countries tend to overlap, even conflicting at times. The deteriorating security situation in the region will pose serious challenges for these coalitions, defining the limits of the role that each world power can assume in protecting its allies and interests.
Secondly, what is the current Middle East policy of the major powers, and do they have converging interests and possibilities for cooperation in this region?
There is a clear disparity in the major powers’ positions and policies toward the Middle East.
Although there is a general understanding that security and stability should be maintained in this part of the world, there is clear contradiction over how to realize this objective and how to preserve and enhance the interests of each major power in this region.
Since US President Donald Trump came to power in January 2017, the United States has adopted policies that consolidate the stability of the Arab countries, particularly the GCC countries, as well as combating extremist religious groups and Iran’s hostile policies. This is clearly reflected in Trump’s withdrawal from the infamous nuclear deal of 2015 between Iran and the major western powers, the sanctions and political pressures he has imposed on Tehran for its destabilizing policies. This package of policies differs from those pursued by the former Obama administration, which had adopted that of creative chaos and supported democracy at the expense of stability. That policy undermined the confidence of the Arab and Gulf countries in their American ally. When we look at Russia, it has proved the credibility of its alliance with its friends in the region by fiercely defending them, e.g., Bashar Assad and Iran. Russia supports the Iranian and Syrian regimes vehemently but also seeks to build good relations with the rest of the countries in the region and combat extremist organizations.
Meanwhile, China focuses on its economic interests by building commercial partnerships with countries of the region and launching initiatives, such as the Belt and Road Initiative. Its policies have begun to change in recent years, as it pays more attention to the security dimension in order to provide protection for its extensive economic interests in the region. However, China’s policies remain largely neutral at both security and political levels, as it maintains good relations with Iran and Arabian Gulf countries alike.
Regarding European policy, I think its main focus is to ensure stability in the region, particularly in light of the security disorders and refugee influx in the wake of the Arab Spring chaos. Thus, we can understand their persistent attempts to uphold the Iranian nuclear deal, and to discourage the US policy of sanctions and political pressure against Iran, despite the fact that this encourages Iran to implement its destabilizing policies in the region.
I would like to note here that the different, and sometimes opposing positions, of international powers toward the developments in the region, are among the factors that lead to instability and security disorder. Each party supports the positions of its allies against the other, protecting them against sanctions and international pressure, as Russia and Europe do with Iran, encouraging Iran to proceed with policies that undermine regional stability.
There are undoubtedly close interests and opportunities for cooperation between these major powers in the region. As I said before, there is an agreement on the importance of maintaining security and stability in the Middle East, but the approach to that differs from one country to another. These international powers could make arrangements to protect their interests and at the same time, sustain regional stability, particularly considering that all these powers share huge economic interests in the Arabian Gulf region and the Middle East at large. Most importantly, countries of the region should be involved in these arrangements, as well as any other agreements to ensure durable regional stability.
The last question which I would like to address is: how can a new security structure be built in the Middle East?
Undoubtedly, there are multiple visions and perspectives on how regional security can be achieved in the Middle East, particularly in the Arab Gulf region. There is the US perspective, as well as those of Russia, Iran, Turkey, and the Gulf. My personal perspective is that, to build a new security structure that guarantees stability and security in the region, I believe there are some key issues that need to be considered:
First: Complete respect for the principle of national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of any country. Negative interference from some regional and international powers has proven to be the main cause of regional and internal unrest and tensions.
Second: Reiterating the sovereignty of any state in the Middle East Region and rejecting any dispute of a country’s control over its territory by any sectarian, tribal, or religious entities. This entails rejecting any form of support given to these non-state entities.
Third: Confronting extremist and terrorist groups, incriminating them, and condemning any form of support extended to them. This also requires collective defiance of hate speech and extremist discourse and spreading a culture of tolerance and peace amongst the local communities of the region.
Fourth: Impose agreements of nuclear disarmament in the Middle East, providing guarantees to ensure no country in the region possesses nuclear weapons.
Fifth: Supporting domestic development efforts in the countries of the region to enhance their internal stability.
Thank you once more and for giving me this opportunity to address this outstanding gathering.