A Utopian Approach of the Middle East


2019, is a year we will all remember as a culminating point, considering the violence and instability that run all the region of the Middle East and ofcourse the remarkable exhaustion of the U.S. government, and the lack of confidence, in its own capacity for problem solving in that area.

The period of the U.S. government's historic dividends, in achieving a position as a "peace maker" in the region of the Middle East, has come to an end for many reasons, and exhaustion of the U.S. troops used in that area, is only one of them. The 1978 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt, the 1991 liberation of Kuwait and the maintenance of oil exports in periods of immense conflict in the region, are already past. The human and financial toll of these endless wars, and the fact that energy markets change, means that the United States, have no reason to continue the role of the arbitrator in the Middle East.

This view of disengagemaent from the Middle East, seems to be not only Trump's decision, but also the voice of many Democratic candidates who run the 2020 presidential campaign, and have argued against the remaining of the troops in those "forever wars" in Afghanistan and Iraq. Ofcourse, this approach of moving the troops out of the area, even when it happens step by step, seems somehow as a defeat, not only for Washington but also for Europe, as these vicious civil wars mean millions of Afghan, Iraqi, Syrian and Yemeni refugees.

Recently i read a book by Patrick Milton, Michael Axworthy and Brendan Simms "Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East". In this book the writers try to find an approach, on resoluting the conflict in the Middle East.

Their approach, uses the lessons we were all taught from  the Thirty Years' War, which ravaged Central Europe between the years 1618 and 1648, and ended with the Peace of Westphalia. The authors consider this Thirty Years' War as the "original forever war". It all began as a Protestant rebellion against the Catholic Holy Roman Empire, and with time it resulted in Denmark, France, Spain and Sweden trying to gain more and more power. The book was released to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the conflict's outbreak.

What the authors try to say, is that Westphalia supported the principles of state sovereignty and non-intervention. They support the argument, that the Peace of Westphalia, put in place a continent-spanning mechanism for dispute resolution. That would seem a great idea ofcourse for the Middle East to imitate. But what happens with these authors, is they seem to deny or simply ignore historical facts. 

Europe's history started from a totally different basis, and has not many common points with that of the Middle East. The authors call for a "wider grand bargain" for all the conflicts raging across the Middle East today. Exactly as it happened with the Westphalia treaty, they envision  a peace congress that will engage all antagonists and will last as long as necessary, even for years. The authors give Russia the role of the security guarantor in the region, a case that seems to be not tangible at all! They also consider bringing together Israel and Hezbollah on the same table of discussion, an argument that the less i can call is, utopic!

It is obvious with all these arguments, that the authors focus too much on European history and too little on Middle Eastern history. The decades of tension between Arabs and Israelis, the war between Iran and Iraq, and many other factors, are not at all analyzed, a fact that makes this study  a bit ahistorical.

Middle East, needs not a new Peace of Westphalia. It needs a new version of the Helsinki Accords. A procedure that will unite domestic political, social and financial reforms with a regional security dialogue. Let this scenario out, and the long wars in the region may continue forever...

                                                        written by Themis Panagiotopoulou, PhD in Political Science


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