The Return of Diplomacy?
The Middle East as a Prototype for Polycentricity

Today the Middle East can be described as independent and sovereign. The relations of powers with each other and intraregional processes will determine the nature of regional politics to a much greater extent than the West’s previous relations with regional powers, Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov writes.

The modern world is the most mobile that it has been in the last 30 years. For many years, the relatively stable situation in Europe seemed exemplary to many, and its security complex was perceived as a prototype for other regions to emulate, including the Middle East. However, we see that the tectonic plates of the leading powers’ interests are now in motion. When they clash, the sparks can lead to massive geopolitical upheaval. Perhaps the European region is now further away from the formation of a regional security system than it was just a few years ago.

In the Middle East, we are witnessing another round of violence provoked by the unresolved crisis in Palestine. This long-standing conflict has lasted decades, despite a series of UN Security Council resolutions that were supposed to pave the way for its settlement. The causes of this crisis are multidimensional, but in its last phase the United States took an active part, virtually monopolising the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. As a result, the explosive status quo was mothballed and finally exploded.

As a consequence of the Palestinian crisis, there has been a spill-over of instability into the Red Sea region, which has led to a paralysis of transport and logistics processes between South Asia, the Middle East and Europe and has affected a significant share of world trade. It has encouraged major shipping companies to sail their container ships and oil tankers around Africa rather than taking the short route through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. This in itself has a large impact on the structure of international trade and indirectly on the structure of the world economy.

In the modern world, the role of large centres of power and regional powers is growing, including many states in the Middle East: Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel. In this complex configuration of interests and relationships, many countries are experiencing escalating conflicts with their neighbours and extra-regional forces. Some of the major powers are choosing a strategic path to becoming a great power, as, for example, Turkey is trying to do by declaring the 21st century its own. We see throughout the region a desire for strategic autonomy and the strengthening of its sovereignty.

As in any transitional era, international organisations have faded into the background. The main actors are nation-states, which deliberately act offensively and proactively, protecting their interests. The challenge for organisations is to find a niche in a simmering international environment.

Asia and Eurasia
Dilemmas of the World Majority
Timofei Bordachev
We are dealing with a rather unique example of a struggle in which the forces of the opponents are approximately comparable, although the superiority of the West is significant. We absolutely do not know how the countries of the World Majority would behave in conditions where the USA and Europe launched an offensive against a weaker adversary: for example, against Iran or another country of a comparable scale. Therefore, we cannot say to what extent the self-confidence of those countries that do not obey US orders now, would manifest itself in a different situation, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.

For centuries, Russia has been one of the key participants in Middle Eastern processes and participates in most multilateral negotiation formats. The network of partnerships and allies between Russia and the countries of the region is becoming denser.

Russian interests in the region range from security issues to energy, transport, industrial and technological exchange and humanitarian ties. In the security sphere, Russia is actively promoting its idea to create a zone in the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. Russia was one of the co-sponsors of the five-country negotiations with Iran regarding its nuclear programme and was one of the initiators of the most constructive ideas within these negotiations. At the initiative of the United States, this agreement was broken: this rolled things back several years, possibly decades.

Russian cooperation with oil-producing countries in the region became the basis of the OPEC+ agreement, which has made it possible to maintain stable and fair oil prices on the world market for many years. This agreement strengthens Russia’s authority and autonomy in the context of the largest geopolitical crisis in Europe and helps regional states seeking autonomy to solve their problems. The Russian goals of creating a polycentric world order are also strengthened through interaction with states in the region.

None of the Middle Eastern states have imposed sanctions against our country; on the contrary, they offer themselves as a platform for international economic, trade and financial activity. This allows them to occupy niches in trade with our country that unfriendly states miss, excluding themselves from this process. They demonstrate reckless strategic behaviour, while the Middle Eastern powers act from a position of common sense and self-interest.

The impact of the European crisis on the Middle East has become indirect. When the West attempted to put pressure on the states of the Middle East to alter their relations with Russia, it came off as issuing an ultimatum, which didn’t please the regional powers, which sought to take a neutral or opportunistic position. We see that the deterioration of Russian-Western relations and the US attempt to take advantage of the crisis to strengthen its dominance have led to increased tension in the region. Ultimately, the echo of this crisis was the complication of US relations with Iran and the gradual escalation of tension.

The crisis in relations between Russia and the West has accelerated the decline of the neo-colonial practices of Western powers, which began to tell developing countries how to assess what was happening in relations between the West and Russia. The countries of the region resolutely reject this gross relapse into the colonial policies of previous years. The system of economic relations that developed throughout the 20th century between former colonies, great and regional powers also did not take into account the interests of developing countries, was unbalanced and was based on unequal exchange.

Now this system is beginning to come into greater balance, especially given the fact that not only Russia, but also China is taking a leading position in the region. Beijing is becoming one of the main consumers of energy resources and is creating the conditions for regional powers to better experience the possibility of autonomous action without the need to rely on relations with the United States, balancing between Washington, Beijing, Moscow and their own interests. This creates a significantly more complex picture, which is no longer post-colonial in nature. Today the region can be described as independent and sovereign. The relations of powers with each other and intraregional processes will determine the nature of regional politics to a much greater extent than the West’s previous relations with regional powers.

Modern Diplomacy
The World in Search of a New Balance of Power
Andrey Sushentsov
The impossibility of achieving a strategic victory over the enemy through military means, the continuing interconnectedness of the world, the constant military conflict as one of the tools of grand strategy introduces us to the era of constant indirect war, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.