The Gulf has the highest military expenditure in the world. The proxy wars between the Gulf States led by Saudi Arabia, and Iran in their quest for regional hegemony and for leadership of the Islamic world, have further heightened the arms race in the region, writes Priya Ranjan Kumar for South Asia Monitor
By Priya Ranjan Kumar
West Asia, after the Arab spring, has become the epicentre from which various prevailing threats to international peace and security have originated. Politically, the interplay between internal and external actors and the legacy of the victorious powers of World War II have been instrumental in creating the ground for the current volatility in West Asia.
Artificial creation of state boundaries, imposition of Western institutions detached to the regional customs and practices and the creation of Israel in the centre of the Arab world are primarily why the conflict originated and violence has continued in the region. Subsequently, the existence of inter-state border disputes, the Arab-Israeli conflict, cross border linkages of extremism and the emergence of international extremist non-state organisations like Al- Qaeda and Islamic States of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), have become the reason for instability and underdevelopment in the region. West Asia is now facing a complex combination of both traditional and non-traditional security threats on primarily three levels: regional, national and social level.
At the regional level, the existence of the unresolved Arab-Israel conflict provides a conducive environment for the survival of many authoritarian states in the region and popular support to non-state actors which, in turn, give rise to political instability and militant insurgencies in the region.
Egypt under Hosni Mubarak, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Syria under the Bashar al-Assad and the monarchies of the Gulf region led by Saudi Arabia have, in fact, exploited the Arab-Israel conflict to consolidate their power, contain the opposition and suppress dissenting voices.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies have benefited from utilizing the Arab-Israel conflict while negotiating arms deals and military alliances with Western powers in the name of peace and security in the region. Ironically, so has Israel. This has allowed western powers, particularly the United States, to penetrate the region while enhancing their own vital interests by maintaining security and survival of client states and ensuring their own energy security.
At the national level, most countries in the region have unresolved border conflicts and historical claims in neighbouring states, a legacy of the colonial era. Examples of these are Saudi Arabia’s conflicts with Yemen, Iran’s border issues with Iraq and Iran laying claim to territory in Bahrain. These conflicts have been instrumental in fomenting wars and increasing military expenditure manifold in the region.
The Gulf has the highest military expenditure in the world. The proxy wars between the Gulf States led by Saudi Arabia, and Iran in their quest for regional hegemony and for leadership of the Islamic world, have further heightened the arms race in the region.
On the social level, the region faces multiple security challenges due to the existence of conflicts based on sectarian divides, ethnicity, ideology, tribes and beliefs. The region is divided on sectarian lines between Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. This division had provided fertile ground for external intervention and internal disturbances in the region.
Saudi Arabia and Iran, with their own interpretation of Islam, attempt to advocate their beliefs and mobilise people through funding, arming and spreading violence through various organizations. Iran through Hezbollah and the Shia Crescent, and Saudi Arabia through Sunni extremist groups, have created an environment of acute insecurity and instability in the region. The persistent demand of Kurds for self-rule along the border of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey has been one of the most fundamental causes of instability in the region. The emergence of ISIS is a consequence of fragmentation of society along these lines.
In the era of globalisation when the world is interconnected through various channels, cooperation across national borders is vital. The establishment of comprehensive security mechanisms would be best to solve all three; regional, national and social levels of conflicts.
Barry Buzan, a prominent international relations analyst, talking about comprehensive security, says security has to be understood not only as military and state security, but also as a combine of other socio-economic factors and the integrated, subjective feeling of security or insecurity of individuals in a certain society. Thus, there is an urgent need to attempt to form a comprehensive regional security mechanism by both internal and external actors in West Asia while keeping greater interests of people of the region in particular and peace and security of the world in general in mind.
(The author is Assistant Professor, Centre for Gandhian Thought and Peace Studies, School of Social Sciences, Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)