As new alliances are being born all over the world as a result of the already-existing decline of the United States, the centuries-old disputes between the West Asian nations continue to prevent any opportunities for cooperation and make the region highly vulnerable to any foreign interference.
The opportunities created by the new multipolar world, are being lost in religious, ethnic and historical dilemmas within West Asia, and in the void of foreign policies that are far from a fully independent course. However, we are in a new era in which the old players start to fade out politically, economically, militarily and culturally.
The World Is Giving Itself a New Definition
The vacuum created by the America’s decline, are either already being filled or still are waiting to be filled with new mottos, methods and new models of relationships.
The whole world is seeking to define this new extent, and to take its place in this “new extent”; under this context, Europe has adopted an approach that prefers cooperation rather than the clashes within itself, and is still trying to maintain this approach under the name of the European Union. This Eurocentric experiment is still going on despite all misfortunes and mistakes.
In the East Asia, the other side of the world, China is looking to further expand its area of movement in many different geographies, through its foreign policy approach based on an equal relationship, with its unique economic model, and still tries to redraw the global trade routes through the Belt and Road Initiative or similar projects.
Russia on the other hand, is still shifting towards Asia, while also pursuing a line that does not stay isolated from Europe, and is defining itself through the concept of Eurasia. While Moscow accepts its history including the Soviet era with the concept of “continuity”, this method is rather Machiavellian in practicing of the foreign policy. Therefore, both countries aim to use both regional and international cooperation opportunities, and to create new areas of cooperation through the BRI, the SCO or similar projects.
Examples are not limited to these few, and all nations are trying to re-define their place in this new world and to review their alliance potentials from Australia to South American continent on the other side of the globe.
Even the United States, which has been considering itself as the world police since the 1980s, has somewhat accepted its diminish, and is now trying to adapt to the new conditions. Under the current arguments between the notions of Biden and Trump, and the bringing up of the Monroe Doctrine back again in Washington recently, this new reality lies.
Just as in the rest of the world, the peoples of the West Asia also have this duty to understand the new conditions of this new world and to come up with solutions for it.
Cooperation or Conflict in the West Asia?
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Kazem Sajjadpour has given the following statements that summarize the new situation and that urge the countries of the region to adapt to the new conditions, during a conference in Ankara, November 2017;
“Conflicts are continuing. The reason for that is to allow the countries to continue the arms race and to create a global hegemony. Is this any good for our region? We have to cooperate and to take the control over the situation. Of course, there is a precondition for such cooperation. And that is to accept the other sides and the presence of many other political actors. Rejecting this cooperation, would be the main source of these conflicts. I think that our region will be much safer as Turkish-Iranian cooperation continues to cover around the conflicts in our region. Turkey and Iran should also cooperate with Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well. (…) It would be much better if the four regional players would work together in the Middle East, West Asia and in North Africa. The cooperation among the regional actors will surely benefit our entire region.”
As Sajjadpour’s statements suggest, Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia make up of the main bulk of the West Asia. The political course these countries adopt in terms of foreign policy, or even the changes they go through in their domestic policies, largely affect the entire region.
However, given the already existing conditions and the non-regional factors, it is not possible for these countries to radically change the entire region, all on their own. Also when we look at the other side of the coin, we see that the clashes between these countries make the region open to other non-regional actors. For example, the actual winners of in the Sunni-Shiite clashes, the Iranian-Arab conflicts or the anti-Turkish sentiment fabricated throughout the Arab World, are the non-regional actors.
And even today, these countries take different sides and follow different courses that focus on contrasts rather than cooperation, with some small exceptions. While two neighbors of Turkey and Iran are both fighting against the US presence in the region at different areas, unfortunately their cooperation is limited to only few areas. These two countries take different sides on issues such as crises in Syria, Northern Iraq, and the Kurdish problem on a region basis, and the Azerbaijani-Armenian disputes, which negatively affects the currently existing areas of cooperation.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, are the actors closer to the United States in the region. Although Egypt has taken a distance from the United States in some areas, its economic responsibilities to Saudi Arabia largely restrict the Cairo administration’s area of movement. The Saudi administration on the other hand, has shown some recent tendencies of rapprochement with Moscow and Beijing, but still is intrinsically aligned with Washington. Let us also add here that Washington is quite satisfied by the anti-Turkey and anti-Iranian policies pursued by the Riyadh administration.
Finding Common Grounds
Of course, it is not possible to end the disputes between all these four countries, but an equation can be formulated with an approach that rather focuses on cooperation, and not on contrasts. If we put it on solid terms;
1.Respect for Territorial Integrity
The partitioning of Syria or any other country in the region would not be beneficial for all these four countries. An understanding between them, on an approach centered on keeping the territorial integrity of the countries in the region, rather than religious, ideological or ethnic clashes, would increase the overall stability in the region.
2.Mutual Respect for Internal Affairs;
All four countries take actions by using different method, aiming not only interfere in the internal affairs of the other minor actors in the region, but also of each other. This attitude taken by these four countries, allow the non-regional actors a fair space of movement both within the region and also among these four countries.
The United States keeps Riyadh and Cairo close to itself, over the fear that Iran will threaten Riyadh leadership due to its Shiite-based presence in Saudi Arabia, or the fear that Turkey might to use the Muslim Brotherhood to change the government in Egypt. Likewise, Saudi Arabia is trying to intervene in the internal affairs of both Turkey and Iran by using different means, and especially the media.
On the other hand, Turkey and Iran have not yet taken a common stance on the Kurdish issue, which concerns both the internal affairs of these and is also a regional problem, and these countries have caused harm in each other’s internal affairs at different time periods.
3.Mutual Dialogue in Foreign Policies
Instability in the region is quite important for these four countries, which all contain different religious and ethnic groups within them.
The side effects of the conflicts throughout Syria, Iraq or Yemen are greatly felt from Ankara, Tehran, Cairo or Riyadh. Despite this reality, these four countries are still refraining from reaching a common ground to discuss the existing problems.
Turkey and Iran or Cairo and Riyadh come together at only separately. The lack of a common dialogue makes it much easier for the non-regional powers to intervene and to provoke the parties against each other.
Although there are many diverging points in national interests between the European countries or between China and Russia, these forces do not hesitate to come together or to show a common stance against problems.
In a world where the United States and Russia can negotiate about the conflicts in Syria on a common ground, it quite embarrassing in terms of our region that Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are not able to do the same. Likewise, the issues in Yemen, Iraq and Palestine still wait to be discussed about.
We are currently in a process where those who trapped inside old stereotypes will lose. The need for an approach that focuses on the potentials for cooperation, and not the contrasts, is growing on each day.
Ankara, Tehran, Cairo and Riyadh here have two options: They will either accept the side roles in other actors’ projects, or they will come together and continue to exist in the new world on a joint vision…