Nowadays in different parts of the world, countries discuss the possibility of establishing regional order. The conversation, of course, emerges out of necessity. Especially after the decline of the unipolar international system and increasing instability in regional dynamics, there is a heightened need for this type of conversation. For years now, countries in the region have complained about their skepticism in regards to U.S. commitment in the region and discuss different types of ways to balance threats. However, the recent U.S. election and the diversifying of threats gave new urgency to these debates.
This debate is particularly important in the Middle East. For years now due to various security concerns, countries have discussed the possibility of regional security architecture and the possibility of regional economic integration, which would spill over to a more political nature. For the last few years, the emergence of two failed states in the region, the eruption of sectarian conflicts and the increasing intensity of interstate tensions led to further concerns about stability. Violent non-state actors, such as ISIS, made it difficult for countries to handle these problems individually. In particular, in the last eight years, the indecisiveness and inaction of the U.S. administration (and of course too much military interventionism in the Bush administration) made the situation more challenging. There is now an increasing set of questions about the feasibility of a regional security framework and what kind of process and steps are necessary to establish this framework.
At this critical juncture, the SETA Foundation and Doha Institute organized a very timely and important conference in regards to Turkish relations with Gulf countries. As mentioned by Burhanettin Duran in his introductory remarks, the biggest problem for years among these countries was a lack of meaningful conversation and dialogue among their academics and think tankers, which has contributed to a lack of common understanding of their problems. In one daylong meeting in Doha, both Turkish and Gulf experts extensively discussed regional issues and tried to explore divergences and convergences of interests, and several issues emerged.
First, there is almost a consensus to establish a security framework to deal with violent non-state groups. Everybody recognizes these groups as the biggest regional destabilizers. Cooperation among states is an important step for security cooperation. However, there is an urgent need to institutionalize this cooperation. Ad hoc partnerships for common threats have proved to be short lived and ineffective. The new type of cooperation needs to be forward looking to contain, control and prevent various types of threats. To provide an institutional framework, an experienced security bureaucracy and increased preparedness in the security sector these countries must work together. Sometimes how to cooperate is a more challenging issue than whether to cooperate or not. This framework can be a ready answer with regard to future threats.
Second, extensive debates about diverging threat perceptions are needed. Every country demands an appreciation of its threat perceptions and asks for support and solidarity from other states. At this juncture, it is important for states to convey their threat perceptions to other states, which is only possible through security cooperation and strategic dialogue meetings. One of the most important questions to be discussed is diverging threat perceptions in regards to Iran. Iran's destabilizing role in countries like Iraq and Syria has been debated extensively. However, how to deal with this is a challenging question. On the one hand, some argue for a significant pact to stop this by using whatever mechanisms necessary. On the other hand, there is a debate about how to integrate Iran into the regional system and convince it to stop these destabilizing influences. There is a lack of common understanding about this issue. How to balance these different concerns is a question that needs to be answered.
Third, other dimensions of security cooperation must be improved, particularly human security in the Middle East since refugee crises need to be dealt with collectively. There should be a regional collective effort to resolve the humanitarian crises in Syria and to prepare for other forms of emergency management issues. Considering the number and extent of the conflicts in the region, post-conflict reconstruction attempts and a conflict resolution framework are needed to deal with the destructive impact of intra-state and inter-ethnic and inter-sectarian conflicts.
In fact, there is a laundry list of things to do in the region. Despite high demand for security cooperation, the diversification of economic relations, strengthening social and educational interactions and launching different forms of cultural exchanges is important. And everybody in the region argues that there is a need for cooperation that must go beyond words and promises, and certain steps need to be taken to start this process. The brainstorming among think tankers was particularly important. These debates will show the states a road map to establish realistic goals and achievable targets in terms of providing fertile ground for future cooperation.
About the author
Kılıç Buğra Kanat is Research Director at SETA Foundation at Washington, D.C. He is an assistant professor of Political Science at Penn State University, Erie.