Arab News

Europe and Middle East would be stronger together


In recent years, the wall that shielded Europe from crises in the Middle East has been shattered. From the refugee crisis of 2015 to the current tensions in the eastern Mediterran­ean, Europe has become directly affected by the dynamics of the region’s geopolitic­al balance. In many ways, when it comes to geopolitic­s, Europe and the Middle East have the same problems.

For many analysts, one of the main reasons for this situation is the reduced US role in both regions, leading to a vacuum that is an open invitation for meddling and destabiliz­ation. In short, it has weakened the transatlan­tic alliance, which also governs the defense and security of the Middle East, at a time when both the global and regional geopolitic­al orders are being reshuffled.

On a global level, it is now obvious that

Russia and China are much more involved in the Middle East than ever before. Russia is a major player in Syria, Libya and the eastern Mediterran­ean; it also has the capacity to play a stronger role in Yemen. The visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Egypt this week shows a strong understand­ing of the region and a closer alignment with Cairo’s vision. China, meanwhile, has increased its economic and trade ties through the developmen­t of its Belt and Road Initiative, from the Gulf region up to the western Mediterran­ean, with a focus on infrastruc­ture and constructi­on. It has been able to secure major deals in both Israel and, as recently announced, Iran.

On a regional level, since the so-called Arab

Spring and accentuate­d by the Iran nuclear deal of 2015, leading Arab countries — namely Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE — have increased their parade grounds and started diversifyi­ng their defense and security strategies, as well as broadening their trade agreements. In short, they have taken a much more proactive policy toward their countries’ security. Despite some setbacks, this has been a successful step. Also regionally, Turkey, following the failed coup of 2016 and its dead-end talks regarding joining the EU, has taken a much stronger stand that clearly opposes Europe but is also challengin­g and divisive within Middle Eastern ranks. Only for Israel and Iran have the dynamics mostly stayed the same.

These changes have led the US and EU to discuss the revitaliza­tion of the transatlan­tic alliance. The outcome of these initiative­s is still unknown, so it might be an urgent necessity for leading countries in the Middle East to engage strongly with the EU on a defense and security level, but also to discuss stronger economic ties. When looking at the various issues that affect both regions, we quickly notice they are the same. We also quickly notice that there is an alignment in views and in necessary action. However, due to the number of actors, there has been a drive toward bilateral agreements and short-term pragmatism rather than a strong and solid infrastruc­ture or alliance. This is clear in both the Libyan and the eastern Mediterran­ean files, in terms of both energy and trade flow security. A listing of last year’s naval exercises between the various countries can quickly clarify this point. And this is the main issue in Europe and the Middle East (EMEA): The lack of aligned policy within the region, as uncovered by the retreat of the US.

I am a big believer in the transatlan­tic alliance and the stability it has brought the world. America’s leading role since the First World

War has generally been a positive one. Despite what most believe, there is less poverty, less conflict and greater stability in the current world order. The announceme­nt of America’s withdrawal from Afghanista­n clearly indicates that it cannot be present on all fronts anymore. This means that the transatlan­tic alliance needs to morph, and it is high time that the old continent took on greater responsibi­lity, with this effort stretching to the Middle East as well. There is also the current sovereign identity debate in the US, which might, in a few years, translate into a total withdrawal from its traditiona­l role and all its alliances. It is a small probabilit­y, but some of Israel’s actions in the past few years are an indicator of this potential outcome. Tel Aviv has used an approach of asking for US forgivenes­s rather than permission while engaging more steadily with both China and Russia. The EMEA region also needs to prepare for such a scenario by taking on more initiative­s. This means a stronger dialogue with the US on the necessitie­s of stability. There have been difficulti­es for both the EU and the Middle East in convincing the US to listen to their point of view on key military and security issues.

The EU has announced a renewed and broader vision for its foreign policy based on multilater­alism and cooperatio­n, which also seems to indicate its preparedne­ss for such a scenario. But the main issue the EU will face is a lack of political vision. The success of the transatlan­tic alliance started with its values and the will to defend them. This was the real drive and partly explains why the EU is now failing in the eastern Mediterran­ean file.

It is why I have trouble understand­ing catchphras­es such as “a multi-stakeholde­r approach,” beyond being a self-gratifying sentence for its speaker. Does that mean that even evildoing stakeholde­rs need to be included in the decision-making process without a change in behavior? Or is it simply another way of justifying purely pragmatic deal-making? And so where does multilater­alism and pragmatism lead us without core values and a political vision? What happens when you abandon common values for prosperity and stability? When do you give up on fighting evil?

The other way of asking this question is what is the result of soft power without hard power? The answer is simply chaos. Therefore, leading EMEA countries need to jointly lobby the US for strategic autonomy along the lines of improving local military and defense capabiliti­es with greater decision-making independen­ce, while still staying committed to the transatlan­tic alliance. This is the only way forward and a guarantee of EMEA stability with a unified leadership. This will, in all likelihood, impact the region positively and avoid the dynamics that lead to conflict and war.

Due to the number of actors, there has been a drive toward bilateral agreements and short-term pragmatism rather than a strong and solid infrastruc­ture or alliance

It is likely that the principal role-players in Afghan politics will be Russia and China, with Pakistan as their ally

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 ??  ?? Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor
of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.
Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.

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