Arab Geopolitics in Turmoil – Perceptions, Unknowns and Policies

  • 28 Jun. 2016 -
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  • Last updated: 08 Jul. 2016 09:50

Ahead of the Warsaw Summit, in which NATO’s strategy towards the South will be a key topic of the agenda, the Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme hosted a timely book discussion on Arab geopolitics. The publication resulted from an SPS Advanced Research Workshop (ARW) in cooperation with the NATO Defense College Foundation and the Gulf Research Center Foundation as well as the University of Jordan.

“It is essential that we ‘unpack’ the Middle East. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for developing a security strategy,” said Dr Christian Koch, Director of the Gulf Research Center Foundation, highlighting the complexities of the region.

Deciphering the dynamics of the Middle East was precisely the aim of the ARW “Arab Geopolitics in Turmoil: Perceptions, Unknowns and Policies”, held in Rome in February 2016. “The conference provided a platform to deepen defence and security cooperation, bringing together scientists, researchers and specialists from NATO nations, as well as Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative partner countries,” explained Ambassador Sorin Ducaru, Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges.

Ambassador Minuto-Rizzo, President of the NATO Defense College Foundation and former NATO Deputy Secretary General, and Mahmoud Gebril, former Prime Minister of Libya, also took part in the conference to share their in-depth knowledge of the region. The book, published under the same title as the ARW, reflects the four panel discussions that touched upon key issues of concern, such as the role of non-state actors or the power struggle among nations. It successfully offered an added value input in order to understand and analyse the crucial security developments in the Middle East that directly impact NATO member states.

“We in the West directly experience the consequences of the developments in the region, not only in terms of migration and terrorism, but also with regard to organised crime,” emphasised Professor Alessandro Politi, Director of the NATO Defense College Foundation.

During the book discussion, the speakers also underlined that as long as the underlying issues are not resolved there is a likelihood of further revolutions sweeping across the region. Acute conflicts and inter- and intra-sectarian tensions in the Middle East give rise to the question of what can be done against the challenges and threats emanating from the Middle East. The conference held in NATO Headquarters on 28 June provided a number of observations and suggestions in this respect.

Dr Koch underscored the importance of engaging with the youth and the need to focus more on education. The Gulf region is experiencing a generational change, with new leadership emerging in countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia which can be seen as representative of the young generation. “What we are witnessing is a growing population that is becoming younger and has been empowered by information and communication technologies. Saudis are the most active Twitter users in the world,” he said. Dr Koch explained that strengthening ties with the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative to reach out to these critical groups is an important aspect to consider, he explained.

The SPS Programme is a key initiative in this regard. “SPS projects can be launched fast and successfully in spirit of flexibility and versatility,” Ambassador Ducaru emphasised. The SPS Programme has actively launched activities involving Mediterranean Dialogue (MD) partner nations in order to advance changes in the Middle East. In 2015, ten new SPS activities with MD nations were approved, which help to foster cooperation and dialogue among the nations.

NATO has launched several key initiatives to project stability in the region, including the training of Iraqi officers in Jordan in areas such as countering improvised explosive devices. The project, which includes technical training and the provision of search equipment, was developed and initiated by the SPS Programme and is supported by the NATO Counter Improvised Explosive Devices Centre of Excellence.

For over two decades NATO has developed individualised programmes of cooperation with countries of the Mediterranean Dialogue, the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative and with Iraq, tailored to the specific security needs of these countries, based on joint ownership and a two-way engagement, explained Nicola de Santis, Head of the Middle East and North Africa Section in NATO’s Political Affairs and Security Policy Division. “At a time of rapid regional change, NATO will continue to assist our partners in the Middle East and North Africa in modernising defence and security institutions, so that they can effectively address the security challenges and threats affecting them. The Alliance will also be ready to provide advice in the field of defence and security institution building to countries asking for NATO’s assistance in developing these institutions following a military crisis, like for example in Libya as stated at its Wales Summit.”

This SPS workshop and book discussion contributed to developing common understandings and perceptions of shared challenges, threats and risks in the sphere of defence and security, which is increasingly relevant as NATO responds to its immediate geographic environment.