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Research Report

The Middle East:: Fragility and Crisis

Markus E. Bouillon
Copyright Date: Feb. 1, 2007
Pages: 21

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. None)
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  3. (pp. i-ii)
    Terje Rød-Larsen

    The International Peace Academy (IPA) is pleased to introduce a new series of Working Papers within the program Coping with Crisis, Conflict, and Change:The United Nations and Evolving Capacities for Managing Global Crises, a four-year research and policy-facilitation program designed to generate fresh thinking about global crises and capacities for effective prevention and response.

    In this series of Working Papers, IPA has asked leading experts to undertake a mapping exercise, presenting an assessment of critical challenges to human and international security. A first group of papers provides a horizontal perspective, examining the intersection of multiple challenges in specific regions of...

  4. (pp. 1-1)

    The Middle East is perhaps the world’s most crucial region: economically and strategically, the Middle East occupies a top rank on the international agenda, with significance far beyond its geographical bounds.¹

    In the coming five to ten years, the highest number of key global security challenges is likely to be concentrated in the Middle East, or be related to it. The 2006 crises in Lebanon and Gaza, involving a wide range of regional actors including Syria and Iran, may have given only a taste of what is yet to come. They certainly manifested the reality of fragility that characterizes the...

  5. (pp. 1-2)

    The traditionally most significant challenge in the Middle East is the Arab-Israeli conflict and its core, the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians. It is a center of gravity around which the region has revolved, and remains of vast political and symbolic significance. Both in its own right and due to its (positive or negative) signaling effects, reinvigoration of the peace process is a key challenge for regional and international policy-makers in the coming five to ten years. Success in this area will facilitate the capacity of the international community to deal with a variety of other epicenters of instability; sustained...

  6. (pp. 2-4)

    Iran’s role in the region, which, according to some regional observers, is underpinned by the emergence of a ‘Shi’a crescent,’ poses a second key challenge in the coming period, especially given its evolving nuclear program. Indeed, Iran is involved in all other arenas of instability in the Middle East to a degree that it is all but replacing the Arab-Israeli conflict as the new center of gravity for conflict and instability in the region and beyond. Many actors, in particular in the Gulf and the wider Arab world, interpret Iran’s quest for nuclear capacity as motivated by regional hegemonic aspirations....

  7. (pp. 4-5)

    Iraq is connected closely with the Iranian epicenter but poses the immediate (and separate) challenge of stabilization and state-building. Since the US-led invasion of 2003, Iraq has become a battlefield for other disputes to be fought out in a power vacuum. For this reason, but also in its own right, the country’s political and economic reconstruction and re-integration into the region and the international community remains another key challenge. Iraq’s current instability and looming deterioration into a failed state make a comprehensive state-building enterprise, undertaken domestically but with the assistance of the international community, an immediate necessity. For the time...

  8. (pp. 5-6)

    Similar prospects now confront Lebanon, where the state-building exercise has faced obstruction and delay since the end of the civil war in 1989. Much like Iraq, Lebanon remains a battlefield for other conflicts and conflicting parties from the surrounding region. Its political and economic reconstruction is therefore not only important in its own right; it is also a necessary element in a wider, regional strategy of stabilization. Lebanon’s neighbor, Syria, too, needs to be addressed and situated within the broader context of such a strategy, as it is both political battlefield and client; patron and conflict party. Key challenges related...

  9. (pp. 6-7)

    In the coming period, beyond the immediate and specific arenas of crisis, the Middle East will also likely confront a number of cross-regional challenges, which are of a much longer-term nature but equally affect stability. One of the most important such challenges is posed by demographic trends, coupled with their effects.⁸ The Middle East today has one of the largest proportions of youth (12-24 year olds), as well as the highest levels of youth unemployment, in the world.⁹ Population growth is predicted to continue until 2025, with the present total population of around 400 million expected to swell to about...

  10. (pp. 7-8)

    Against this background, political reform and democratization is a complementary long-term challenge. If unaddressed, continued political exclusion of large segments of societies in the Middle East threatens domestic political stability within the region and global co-existence more broadly, as anti-Western ideologies and vocabularies are often employed in the domestic mobilization of dissent.15

    The Middle Eastern model of political organization has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, as international actors have placed much emphasis on the promotion of democracy. Early, if not premature, elections have brought to the fore political Islamists in a variety of arenas, and are likely to...

  11. (pp. 9-9)

    An important additional measure is economic reform and structural adjustment. In the same way that the political model prevailing in the Middle East is no longer tenable, the economic structures underpinning it have also increasingly been drawn into doubt. Substantial job creation, combined with the parallel need to service and eliminate considerable debt burdens, is required in many economies. External financial support will have to be reduced and compensated for by domestic economic performance in the coming period.

    Reforms in trade and in the large government bureaucracies are inevitable.At the same time, reforms in these fields are particularly difficult to...

  12. (pp. 10-11)

    Regional organization in the Middle East has been remarkably weak. Thus, crisis management of the various challenges confronting the Middle East will hardly be sufficient on the regional level in the coming five to ten years. In fact, the establishment of effective crisis coping mechanisms on the regional level is as much one of the challenges confronting the Middle East in the coming years, as it is a necessary response to the manifold crises in the region. At the same time, given the high level of international involvement in the region, in particular that of the United States, the European...

  13. (pp. 11-13)

    While regional crisis coping mechanisms remain underdeveloped, the Middle East has always inherently been a region of global interest, and of global interventionism.

    By far the most significant actor in conflict resolution throughout the region is the extra-regional United States. US policy choices vis-à-vis individual actors or epicenters of crisis and instability are among the most decisive elements in managing crises in the Middle East. In the Arab-Israeli conflict, in particular, there is no alternative broker of comparable weight to the United States. The US has also consolidated close military ties with all Arab Gulf states; warm relationships had long...

  14. (pp. 13-14)

    Crisis coping strategies in and vis-à-vis the Middle East in the coming period will need to reflect the multiplicity of conflict and the interrelatedness of the various challenges by engaging on multiple levels and involving multiple players. International conflict resolution efforts need to be led by the United States, despite the growing perception of its partisan role within the region, with (for that very reason) the active and legitimizing involvement of the United Nations as well as the economic underpinning support of Europe. The Middle East Quartet, though far from successful in its efforts vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict until 2006...

  15. (pp. 15-15)
  16. (pp. 16-16)