Emerging Powers and the Middle East
Competition or Partnership in a Multi-Polar World Order?The role of emerging powers on the scene of international politics has been the focus of a lot of interest over the past years. One of the most important focal points of overlapping and competing interests of both established and emerging powers is the Middle East. This region is an arena where the new rules of the game are being developed and acted out. In the post Iraq-war era, the return of power-politics and the principle of “national interest” appear to strike back with a vengeance, while new alliances are forming in response to complex security challenges.
This publication attempts looking at the effects of the global shift of power on the Middle East bringing together Chinese, Indian, Russian, Western and Middle Eastern experts, to explore the perspectives of the region to become a partner in an emerging multi-polar system, rather than a stomping ground or even a battlefield for the interest and the prestige of others.
With contributions by Azmi Bishara, Parag Khanna, Hermann Schwengel, Vitaly Naumkin, Ibrahim Saif, Yasmeen Tabaa, Sven Behrendt, Mingjiang LI, Praful Bidwai, Ziad Abdel Samad, and Kinda Mohamadieh.
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The role of “emerging” or “rising” powers on the scene of international politics has been the focus of a lot of interest and a growing body of research over the past years. With the end of the Cold War, expectations of a new era ruled by multilateral approaches and liberal concepts of international relations, guided by the motto “democracies solve their problems peacefully”, held sway. In the post Iraq-war era, however, the return of power-politics and the principle of “national interest” appear to strike back with a vengeance, while new alliances are forming in response to complex security challenges. China and India are seen as racing ahead in terms of explosive economic growth, as competitors over energy markets and increasingly indispensable pillars of regional stability. A resurgent Russia may move to challenge US presence and influence in Central Asia, the Middle East and South East Europe. At the same time, the vision of liberal democracy and free markets as the inevitable template for development and modernization does no longer appear to be the only game in town. Chinese forays into development cooperation, South-South alliances on international and regional levels may inaugurate a more multi-polar world system where different models of development coexist and compete.
The Middle East is one of the most important focal points of overlapping and competing interests of both established and emerging powers, and hence, an arena where the new rules of the game are being developed and acted out. During much of the 1990s and the early 2000s, the United States was considered the only power of consequence in the Middle East. Ten years into the new millennium, however, strategic shifts in international power relations suggest that unilateral approaches are no longer tenable. Persistent conflict and instability on the one hand and ballooning energy prices on the other, have propelled the Middle East into the spotlight of international attention, competition and involvement.
Today, the Middle East is of paramount importance for the arguably three most important new players who are striving to define their areas of influence and interest, and to carve out a role for themselves: China, India and Russia. Booming Chinese exports have changed modes of consumption and production in the Middle East, while the concomitant rise in oil prices is boosting the leverage of Arab investors in international finance markets. Labor imported from the Indian subcontinent fuels the hubs of these new patterns of commerce and consumption that have mushroomed along the Eastern shores of the Arabian peninsula. At the same time, the success of the Chinese developmental model serves as a major ideological boost to Arab autocrats seeking to decouple economic from democratic reform. Energy as well as security are major concerns for both India and China. Russia, on the other hand, is surging back to major power status on the back of high energy prices. All three are neighbors to the region and liable to be affected should conflicts escalate, and may see the Middle East as a region where immediate interest converges neatly with the claim to become pillars of a new, multi-polar global order.
Yet, research looking at the implications of these strategic shifts for the Middle East typically restricts itself to only one aspect of this complex web of relations, the strategic competition over access to energy resources; and focuses mostly on the potential role of only one country at a time, and in particular China. In addition, it is mainly concerned with exploring to what extent Western interests in the region will be affected. Middle Eastern perspectives on the other hand, often limit themselves to the creation of wishful scenarios where the powerful position of the United States may be checked or even supplanted by a rising China or a resurgent Russia.
This publication attempts at looking at the effects of the global shift of power on the Middle East from a more comprehensive angle, bringing together Chinese, Indian, Russian, Western and Middle Eastern experts, to explore the perspectives of the region to become a partner in an emerging multi-polar system, rather than a stomping ground or even a battlefield for the interest and the prestige of others. It also aims to look at sub-state or trans-national actors and flows that often remain invisible to purely strategic analysis, but create powerful crosscurrents that may affect or even derail attempts to project national or imperial power, and create patterns of influence of their own. The papers gathered here were written at a crucial time, when both the initial euphoria over the new US administration has begun to sober and the obstacles that it is facing in the Middle East have become clearer, and the repercussions of the global financial crisis have started to surge across the region with varying degrees of gravity.
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