Moonis Ahmar

Security pact for the Middle East?

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Syria is a classic example of proxy war because Iran is supporting the regime of Bashar al Assad and Saudi Arabia is supporting the other side

In his speech delivered on the occasion of annual Munich Security Conference on February 16, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani came up with an innovative idea for a security pact for the Middle Eastern countries in order to establish peace and resolve contentious issues in the region.

The Amir of Qatar gave a detailed account of his proposed security pact for the Middle East by arguing that, “I believe that it is time for wider regional security in the Middle East. It is time for all nations of the region to forget the past, including us, and agree on basic security principles and rules of governance, and at least a minimum level of security to allow for peace and prosperity.”

The Middle Eastern region stretching from Libya to Syria and Yemen is ridden with armed conflicts and displacement of millions of people. It is not only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which is considered as the mother of all conflicts in the Middle East but civil war and armed violence in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen going on since the last many years can rightly be termed as a major source of instability and chaos in the region.

Is the idea for a security pact for the Middle East similar to Europe a wishful thinking or can be transformed into a reality? What are the factors which are an impediment for the proposed pacts and how such obstacles can be removed? These are the questions which are raised from time to time by those who are highly perturbed to observe the growing security deterioration in the Middle East.

The Amir of Qatar tried to address some of the questions for his well-crafted proposal for a new security architecture in the Middle East. According to him, “this should not be a pipe dream. Too much is at risk. The Middle East is at the brink. It’s time to bring it back. All regional nations need to agree on a baseline of coexistence backed by a binding arbitration mechanism.”

Based on Amir of Qatar’s proposal, four major realities should be taken into account as far as proposal about security pact for the Middle East is concerned. First, the heterogeneous, yet volatile region of Middle East, needs a break from decades of armed conflicts and wars. This is only possible when the two organisations representing the Middle East, Arab League (AL) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) play a vital role in resolving issues which cause violence and armed conflicts in the region. Unfortunately, both AL and GCC are incapable of playing that role because of their non-serious and non-professional approach.

When AL proposed setting up an Arab peace-keeping force for Syria, it miserably failed because it lacked the skills and expertise to raise such a force. In case of GCC, one is well aware of its miserable condition since June 6 last year when three of its members Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain decided to cut off diplomatic relations with another member of GCC i.e. Qatar and imposed economic and travel blockade against that state. As a result, instead of playing a viable role to deal with conflicts in the Middle East, GCC got divided because of actions against Qatar. Henceforth, the harsh reality of fragile and non-assertive role of AL and GCC in dealing with contentious issues in the Middle East cannot be denied.

Second, security pact in the Middle East will definitely be a ‘pipe dream’ unless the use of force; political and military intervention in each other’s affairs is not stopped. A unified security architecture in the Middle East requires eradication of armed non-state actors ranging from Libya to Syria, Iraq and Yemen because their presence tends to destabilise the region. Identification of real security threats in the Middle East is the need of the hour and security threats which are genuine are related to underdevelopment, social backwardness, environmental and water crisis along with unemployment and poverty. These are human security threats faced by all the countries of the Middle East barring some oil rich sheikdoms. Non-traditional security threats cannot be met by military build-up and proliferation of weapons.

Unfortunately, no Arab country in the Middle East, including Israel is mindful as far as the need for collective efforts to deal with threats which augment human security. Third, misplaced threat perception is also a major cause of security crisis in the Middle East. For instance, majority of Gulf countries consider Iran as a major security threat whereas, it is Israel which has occupied Arab territories including East Jerusalem and is a cause of instability and insecurity in the Middle East.

The US-led anti-terror alliance primarily composed of conservative Arab monarchs and Egypt identifies Iran as a threat which is counter-productive. Syria is a classic example of proxy war because Iran is supporting the regime of Bashar al Assad and Saudi Arabia is supporting the other side. It should be noted that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while addressing the Munich Security conference on February 19 termed Iran as a major source of instability in the Middle East. It means, the Saudi, Israeli and US Axis against Iran are a major source of instability in the region than Iran.

Finally, inter and intra-Arab conflicts can be termed as a major reality and an impediment as far as reaching a security pact in the Middle East is concerned. Arab nationalism, which was a force during 1960s and early 1970s is not to be seen and its place has been taken by antagonism, hostility and mistrust. Arab League, which should have taken the lead in promoting unity and cooperation among Arabs is in limbo as Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, the four Arab countries since long are in a state of disorder and violence.

The example of European Security Pact given by the Amir of Kuwait in his speech in Munich Security Conference and his urge that it should be seriously considered in the Middle East is misplaced. Since the end of the second world war till now, Europe which was the scene of violence and wars transformed as a stable and peaceful continent albeit civil war in former Yugoslavia during 1990s.

The process of common economic, political and security approach pursued by the majority of European countries first under the European Economic Community (EEC) and then under the European Union (EU) was only possible because of political will, determination and prudence expressed by the members of EU. Such type of an approach is lacking in the Middle East where there is a dearth of dynamic, committed and visionary leadership to transform the region from conflict to peace and cooperation. The issues dividing the countries and people of the Middle East remain unresolved but the leadership vacuum provides an opportunity for the region to seriously work out short and long term plan to address major security issues and develop consensus for a common security plan. Yet structural contradictions in the Middle East are such that these militate against any regional understanding and cooperation for a comprehensive security pact.

  • The writer is Meritorious Professor of International Relations at the University of Karachi. Source:

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