The Emerging ‘Inward Looking’ System in the Middle East

The emerging “inward looking” system in the Middle East links the stability of the state to regional stability. It is the result of states’ efforts to adjust their position in the changing regional balance of power in facing the current geopolitical and economic constraints.

The inefficiency of the current global order in solving the regional multi-layered crises in the context of a collective security system has changed the notion of peace and security and even economic development before the nations of the region to the extent that they are currently requesting more responsibilities from their governments for strengthening their countries’ sources of national power in form of an “inward looking” system.

In such circumstances, the way to attain a sustainable peace and security in the region is neither resorting to a foreign solution and connectivity to world economy, nor to a collective regional security system. It is rather strengthening the regional “national systems” economically, politically and even militarily. The existing historical differences between regional states in preserving their geopolitical interests and tackling security threats require enhancing national discourses and political consensus at the domestic level to ensure the benefit of the state in any meaningful regional cooperation at the first stage.

Strengthened national systems in the region lead the state to employ its own individual share of stability, security, and economic development and growth, based on its “competent local geopolitics.” This situation will result in the “accumulation” of states’ capabilities for establishing further stability. In other words, the path to a sustainable regional and subsequently global security crosses only through states’ internal stability and with a bottom-up approach.

The emerging “inward looking” system in the Middle East links the stability of the state to regional stability. It is the result of states’ efforts to adjust their position in the changing regional balance of power in facing the current geopolitical and economic constraints. The post-conflict situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the ongoing and multi-layered crises in Syria, Yemen and Libya, have changed public’s inclinations realizing the necessity of strengthening the “state system” as the main source of establishing sustainable security and stability in the Arab world.

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Other geopolitical developments such as the Qatari blockade crisis, the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) imposing new rounds of economic sanctions on the country, have led these countries to look inward, strengthening their national trends, based on diversified and strategic-oriented economy, striving to bypass the sanctions and simultaneously enhancing their deterrent national military power. In different forms, this situation also includes Saudi Arabia and Turkey by introducing their ambitious economic, political and military plans.

Resorting to strengthening national systems is significant in three aspects. First, it is simultaneously legitimized by regional and global powers. The criterion of increased national power is designed to be from inside and focusing on domestic resources. Based on the logic of collective benefit, strengthened states naturally attract other states to request for increased relations. In this respect, states’ proactive regional role for preserving their geopolitical interests and tackling national security threats should be limited, managed, and merely for the time of insecurity and for preventing the immediate threats crossing states’ national boundaries.   

Second, such a system is more compatible with the internal economic and political-security realities of the state in the region. It has the necessary theoretical basis for acceptance by the domestic policy and intellectual circles, as well as the public. At present, one dominant debate inside the regional countries is that how regional states could balance between the country’s strategic constraints in entering a “great geopolitical game” and the available national resources in favour of economic growth and development.

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Third and finally, it could converge the geopolitical interests of regional and trans-regional actors. The complexities of post-conflict situation such as managing inclusive governments and avoiding intra-state and sectarian divisions require regional actors to become stronger from the inside, enabling them to better contribute to establishing peace and security in the broader region. The growing tendency of “pre-empting” the spread of regional insecurity to the European zone is only one example, making the necessity of strengthening national state systems inevitable.
In sum, while the state in the region is convinced that any collective security system will benefit its geopolitical interests, it could contribute its own individual share of establishing security, based on its competent geopolitics.

Usually stronger states have more tendencies to engage with regional cooperation. If foreign actors are genuinely searching for sustainable peace and stability in the region, the best policy would be to support the strengthening of national systems first and then look for a collective regional security system.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.