The Middle East: From Violence to Security
Session I. The Middle East in a whirlwind of change
The civil protests, revolutions, civil wars, surges of terrorism in the last five years have introduced irreversible changes to the Middle East. The whole system of cultural, social, economic and political relations in the region's societies has undergone a total overhaul.
The overhaul was chiefly sparked by internal causes, both political-economic and cultural-civilizational, but it is apparently fraught with the most alarming trends of global development too. For instance, the region reflects a common loss of controllability by international processes, and the resurgence of the factor of power within them, and enhancement of the role of contingency, and invigoration of the world periphery and the crisis of nation-states and national identities.
It stands to admit that the common outcome of the current transformation has been negative thus far.
• What is the role of the Middle East in world politics?
• The "Arab Awakening" five years ago: what are the outcomes?
• What awaits the Middle East in the years to come: chaos or a new order?
Session II. Conflicts in the Middle East and the prospects of their settlement
Conflicts in the Middle East have become the core elements of regional relations. Their number and intensity have dramatically increased, their nature and structure have changed. Interstate clashes in the region are becoming more often coupled with civil wars. States are opposed by separate groups and movements. Foreign military intervention, which does not always go in line with the international law, has gained a special role.
Formation and strengthening of the conflicts' network infrastructure – financial, information, logistical ties between their members – is conspicuous. Mass violence on the territories of war-torn states is transforming into the backbone of political culture, a sui generis means of coexistence between societies.
• What determines the readiness of conflicting parties for settlement?
• What conflicts can be settled first of all, and why?
• What role could regional organizations play in the settlement process?
• What could be Russia's role – launching of its own initiatives or participation in collective projects?
• What encourages stabilization of the situation – division of states into separate ethnic and religious units or preservation of territorial integrity in the absence of democratic institutions and a powerful authoritarian rule? What other variants could be proposed?
• How dangerous is the unsettled Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What can the international community do?
Session III. Terrorism in the Middle East and methods of combating it
The jihadist threat has a home-policy dimension not only for countries of the Middle East, but also for Russia, who suffered from numerous terrorist attacks. According to official data, about 5,000-7,000 descendants of Russia and other CIS countries are fighting in the ranks of DAISH, in which Russians are represented by natives of the North Caucasus, where radical Islamism existed before, and of the Ural-Volga region and other regions of Russia, by neophytes as well.
The fundamental obstacle in forming a common front to combat terrorism in the Middle East lies in the lack of common understanding of the gist of terrorism and the over-politicization of the term itself, making formation of even a general list of terrorist organizations impossible.
• How can modern terrorism be defined? What are its basic characteristics?
• What methods of combating terrorism in the Middle East can be considered optimal?
• What role do force-based methods play in countering terrorism, what is their potential and restrainers?
• Who hinders formation of a broad coalition to combat DAISH?
• What role could the process of national reconciliation in Syria play in restraining terrorism?
Session IV. Economic development and effective governance in the Middle East
The processes of political transformation of the Middle East have entailed an economic and institutional crisis in the majority of the region's states that had undergone the "Arab Awakening".
Restoration of the economy in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya requires hundreds of billions of dollars throughout years. Egypt and Tunisia face enormous hardships in economic development – terrorist attacks in both countries have already caused a meltdown in the tourism sector and an investment crunch.
It is unknown whether Arab oil-exporting states would want or could play the key role in the processes of economic recovery and development of the region against the backdrop of the falling world prices for hydrocarbons. Prospects for oil markets and the ability to control them is a separate issue.
Another problem is institution enhancement and efficient management. Inefficient institutions are a source of the society's estrangement from the government, the cause of popularity of anti-system, as well as jihadist, political forces amongst marginalized population strata.
• What measures should be taken for post-conflict recovery of the region's economies and their state institutions?
• What are the prospects of diversification of oil-exporting states' economies?
• What should be done to strengthen the economic systems of stable oil-exporting states, to enhance their institutional and economic efficiency?
• What are the opportunities for formation of mechanisms of regional economic security?
• How can the attractiveness of anti-system political projects in the region be weakened?
Session V. Russia and Eurasia: Meeting Middle East challenges
The challenge posed by Islamic terrorist groups from the Middle East is a relatively new phenomenon for Russia and Eurasia.
While the long-standing threat from Afghanistan looms through pressure on the border and has a military and political nature in general, the challenge from the Middle East is a lot more ideology-driven. Ideological paradigm of jihadists appear to be attractive for certain types of citizens.
Complex measures to repel and contain new threats, combination of military-political and ideological instruments, close cooperation of all Eurasian states in this fight gain special significance.
• Do countries have common socio-economic systemic problems determining existence of support to ISIS and similar organizations?
• What are the most promising means of deterring terrorists – multilateral, bilateral agreements, formation of coalitions? Whom can Russia work with effectively in these formats? How can they be extended?
• Are there common approaches to the problems of ideological repulse to terrorists in Europe, Eurasia and in the Middle East? What are the existing differences and can they be overcome?
• How would settlement of the situation in Syria and Afghanistan hamper the activity of terrorists in Eurasia? Could a mass return of militants to their homes be an alternative?
• What other unrealized opportunities of religious-ideological counter to extremism are available? What can the modern Islamic theology put up against the "theology of extremism"? What contribution could Russian Muslims make to this ideological battle?
Session VI. Cooperation opportunities for global and regional powers in the Middle East
Practically all conflicts in the Middle East tend to internationalize rapidly. Military intervention (Iraq and Libya) drew attention to the role of global powers. However, the increased involvement of global powers in the confrontation in the Middle East has not only failed to marginalize regional players (including non-state ones), on the contrary, it encouraged them to take more and more responsibility for reformatting the region.
The relations between Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel have been complicated for a long time and resulted in quite acute crises. Tensions between the old lines of confrontation are escalating, new ones are cropping up. Rivalry between states is often crystallizing into struggles between religions and within religions.
Their hallmark is rapid escalation into military clashes or brinkmanship.
• What regional forces are the most active in the struggle for influence in the Middle East? What is their vision of its future?
• What new/old coalitions appear in the context of conflict situations?
• How much has the role of traditional associations LAS and GCC increased or declined?
• What strategic goals in the Middle East do global players – the US, Russia, the EU, China – pursue?
• Support from which states or non-state actors of the region can they expect?
Session VII. Towards a new regional security system in the Middle East
The main conclusion from the Middle East tragedy is that overcoming differences and creating conditions for normal development of the region and sustainable world order are impossible without returning to the idea of regional security, development of a common project of regional architecture and common strategy of regional development.
The fact that absolutely all countries of the region have encountered common challenges and threats to their very existence may become a crucial motivation for their return to the idea of forming a system of regional security.
Russia is ready to be the initiator of a regional security dialogue and offer its services in organizing it.
• How topical is the idea of regional security?
• What serious obstacles lie in this path, including the problem of inclusiveness?
• What bilateral dialogues could be started basing on this issue?
• What shape could the regional format of multilateral negotiations take?
• What issues could be raised on the global level, for example, on the UN Security Council level?