Nuke Deal and the emerging security paradigm for Middle East

US Secretary of State John Kerry announced at the trilateral meeting in Doha on August 3 that the US has agreed to speed up arms sales to Gulf countries over their concerns regarding the Iran nuclear treaty. Apprehensively, the attempt might install an innovative security structure for Middle East on the basis of the power balance among the regional giants. The much talked about 'power and influence' achieved by Iran out of the treaty needed to be balanced. The Iran-West rapport following the nuclear deal is likely to bring massive reorientation and redefinition of the state of security in the Middle East.

Historically speaking, the Iran-Israel rivalry and the Iran-West estrangement that grew out of Iran's Islamic Revolution in the 1970s have been considered as the major determining factors behind the political instability and insecurity of the Middle Eastern region. Under these circumstances, my argument for the balance of power through deterrence among the regional great powers, such as Iran, Israel, Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia has been developed in view of the ongoing political realities of the region.

Let's first take a brief look at the strategic theory. Optimists among the two extremes of deterrence theorists are of the opinion that peace and security can be maintained by the balance of power. The effectiveness of the balance of power has been glaring in the current history. For example, notwithstanding the failure of the UN, the then existing balance of power between the two super powers served as restraint and succeeded in stopping them from initiating dangerous wars. The resultant effects of this power balance have been reflected at the individual, domestic, regional and global levels. Some people, families or groups have been subject to forced stability in a number of countries, despite achieving high power at their individual-state levels. Understandably, however, their insurmountable power structure was crushed at some critical juncture of their domestic political turmoil. This means that the inter-individual or inter-group struggle at individual-state levels intensified until their power had been balanced, contributing to a deterrent situation. Thus, the flaming fire of many drastic wars along the Afro-Asian Arab countries could have been extinguished with the emergence of the balance of power at different levels . Another important example of preventing hostility and war by deterrent strategy is the nuclear power balance between India and Pakistan. 

The power imbalance in Middle East has been the result of the hegemonic strategy pursued by erstwhile super powers. Despite arms control and disarmament treaties, both superpowers have continuously enriched the stockpiles of nuclear technology and other weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). On the other hand, the provisions of the treaties have been imposed on others as the binding force, as if these could be used to block their inalienable universal rights to safeguard their own national interests. The creation of the IAEA can be cited as an example of such a measure, which obstructs other countries to build up their security shield. According to structuralist critics, the deviation of IAEA from keeping a provision of universal equal rights for all countries limits it from being justified as the valid, lawful and legal international organisation. Second, the study of Middle East politics of the last 60 years reveals that the elevation of Israel's military strength and the weak, passive, and disorganised Arab resistance to it has been responsible for regional instability. Western powers, including the U.S., have rendered all-out cooperation to develop Israel's sophisticated weapons that include chemical, biological, and possibly, undeclared nuclear arsenals. Unfortunately, these world powers did not pay any heed to other ambitious and dissatisfied countries in the region. Such discriminatory Western policy in the Middle East region has created power imbalance causing regional instability.  

That might make some countries feel vulnerable to the unjust treatment by such international treaties and obligations and compel them to install their own means of self-defense, which may not necessarily exclude the development of nuclear energy, nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Viewed from both a realistic and a structuralistic perspective, Iran could be viewed as such a country. Being frustrated and dissatisfied with the double standard of the existing international system with regard to  peaceful nuclear projects, Iran may rush to develop its nuclear weaponry for its self-defense. This has been the primary concern of the supporters of July's Iran-West nuke deal, including President Obama who poised to ask what would happen if there was no treaty such as this? 

Looked upon the issue from a regional security point of view, in the post-nuke deal era, a new strategic structure seems to be in the offing. Post World War II power balance between Zionist Israel and Arab-Persian Muslim countries, who considered Israel as a "pushed in state" in Middle East, is now being replaced in the post-Iran treaty era by an emerging strategic balance between Iran on one side, and Israel plus Gulf Arab countries on the other side. The nuke deal has been signed through overwhelming nays and objections from parties in both the Middle East and the West. The nuclear deal has tied the dissatisfied Gulf countries and Israel with a bond of strategic alliance. This emerging power balance of Middle East requires an emerging security paradigm so that a group of countries can deter a powerful Israel or a powerful Iran in order to prevent the escalation of war, and can contribute to regional peace and stability through deterrence. 

Proliferation of arms sales to only Gulf countries may further destabilise the region. The best option would be to maintain a balance of power among the big powers, especially between Iran and Israel. Recognising the significance of deterrence, the Foreign Minister of Qatar Khalid bin Mohammad Al-Attiyah, while meeting with John Kerry in Doha, called for a ban on all nuclear weapons not only in Iran but "all the Middle East". The time has come to research and proceed towards a sustainable security paradigm for Middle East. 

Renewed efforts are required for rebuilding the global image of the West so that new leaders may find the Western interests in the region in conformity and coexistence with theirs. The changed reality of regional politics demands international recognition for regional balance of power. It may replace regional enmity with regional rivalry and competition that might prevent any prospective war within the region, laying far-reaching consequences for the security of the Middle East.

The writer is a Professor of the Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka and is currently Dean of the School of Business and Social Sciences, Sylhet International University. Email: [email protected]


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