CUPRINS nr. 118


Politica internationala

The Middle East: Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up Security Perceptions


“The formulation of a problem is often more
essential than its solution, which may be merely
a matter of mathematics or experimental skill.”
(Albert Einstein)

In the broader context of discussions regarding a global “Islamic threat” and of the mainstream interpretation of the Middle East as a region to which the classic realist theory of International Relations fits par excellence, the present article’s aim is a comprehensive comparative analysis of six alternative perspectives on regional security in the Middle East - “Cold War”, linked to the former US and Soviet security strategies; “Arab”, corollary of pan-Arabism; “Islamic”, based on the guiding principle of Islamic “ummah”; “Greater Middle East”, of the current American strategists; “extended Barcelona”, an incipient stage attempt of extending EU’s Mediterranean process to the East of Jordan; “Broader Middle East and North Africa”, recognizable in a G8 project of trans-level partnership adopted last year.1 Built upon significantly different understandings of the concept of “security”, subsequent to different philosophical traditions, these six contending security perspectives appear to reveal a surprising application of Einstein’s aforementioned words to our theme of analysis: a proper nomination, delimitation, understanding and explanation of the Middle Eastern area and its problems represents the crucial prerequisite for a successful formulation and implementation of regional security policies. As a last preliminary observation – in order to understand how and why the Middle East provides “the” case study on different regional security perspectives, our comparison is preceded by some conceptual and methodological observations focused on historical definitions of the “Middle East” on the one hand (because different representations of regions are most commonly rooted in different security perceptions) and on the post Cold War reformulation of security concepts and policies on the other hand (as the meaning of security highly depends on the moment of the representation).

I. Preliminary conceptual and methodological observations
I.1. Historical definitions of the analyzed region
The today differently understood label “Middle East” dates back over a century ago, being most frequently ascribed to the US navy officer A. T. Mahan, who, in an article published in 1902 in The National Review, stated that Great Britain should assume the responsibility of maintaining the security of the Persian Gulf in order to protect the commercial route to India and simultaneously to neutralize Czarist Russia’s regional influence. Alternatively, some contemporary authors point out to a previous reference to the “Middle East” made a few years earlier in an article of the Royal Navy officer Sir Thomas Edward Gordon2.

What remains certain is that, until the beginning of the 20th century, the region delimitated by Europe, The Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, Africa, and Central Asia carried different names at different moments in history. Whereas till the Early Middle Ages, it was no­mi­nated in relation to the regionally dominant states (e.g. the Oriental provinces of the Roman Empire, the Western territory of the Persian Empire, the Arab Caliphate, the “Holy Land” of the Crusaders), the Ottoman Empire was the first to provide a distinct term for the Eastern Mediterranean coast – “Levant”, used in parallel to the French label “Orient Prochain”.

During the last century, the label “Middle East” gradually surpassed the area considered by Mahan and transgressed the Gulf towards West, especially in the interwar period, parallel to the discovering of huge oil reserves in the Arab Peninsula and the progressive Jewish immigration waves to British colony of Palestine.3 Then, during World War Two, British strategists expanded the term over all Asian and North African territories located West of India. Meanwhile, Arab nationalists began considering an Arab identity as the regio­nal marker, while the 1960-70 Islamic movements placed the region as the spiritual center of the Muslim World.

Not surprisingly in the context of such multiple representations of an identically named area, a renowned historian of the region rhetorically asked: “Where is the Middle East?”4. This question, as we intend to show in the following, still keeps a remarkable up-to-dateness, in light of not as much as the geophysical and geopolitical definition and delimitation of the region, but the variety of contending regional security perspectives, calculations and policies.

I.2. Reformulation of security concepts and practices after the Cold War
In the aftermath of the Cold War, given the tectonic processes of de- and re-structuring of the international system, the formerly mainstream realist approach of security and foreign policy was fiercely challenged in a so-called “wide versus narrow” debate over the content of security concepts and policies. Opposed to the traditional understanding of security, advocates of the new “wide” approach argued that security could no longer be narrowly conceptualized as one facetted, with a strict focus on the military dimension, but should instead be analyzed in the sum of some interconnected sectors. Thus, defining security more flexibly as “the move that takes politics beyond the established rules of the game and which frames the issue either as a special kind of politics or as above politics”5, Barry Buzan, Ole Wsver and Jaap de Wilde, leading figures of the “Copenhagen School”, proposed a triadic framework for security analyses, based on: a referent subject (who is or at least perceives to be threatened); a referent object (what element of the subject is perceived to be threatened); a referent threat.

In this new framework, adopted by our following analysis, the mentioned authors made a Neorealist-inspired distinction among five levels of analysis: of the international system, of regional and non-regional sub-systems, of units, of sub-units and of individuals. At the first four of them, security was to be understood as the sum of five sectors - military, political, economical, societal, and environmental, each of them prioritized differently on each level addressed.6

The most acute preoccupations for security were recognizable at the key-regional level, where Buzan termed the concept of regional “security complex” in order to properly identify each “group of states whose primary security concerns link together sufficiently closely that their national securities cannot be realistically considered apart from one another”7. Based on the local security perceptions, this concept suggests what we consider as a “bottom-up” perspective, as opposed to “top-down” approaches chosen by non-regional, external actors who pursue their own strategic interests and often operate at a level superior to the regional one. True, sometimes – as it is the case of the “Islamic” and “Greater Middle East” – top-down and bottom-up perspectives may overlap in their geographical delimitations, but they nevertheless differ significantly in regard to the regional security risks they identify and hence the solutions they prescribe. As for the security complex of the Middle East, as we will detail below, we identify it as composed by three sub-complexes: the Arab Peninsula, including the Mashreq region (also called “Levant”) and Egypt, plus Iran; the Maghreb (composed by Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco); the “Horn of Africa” (composed by Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, and Somalia).8

Finally, another key-concept underpinning our analysis is the one of “human security”, associated with the individual level of analysis and with two noteworthy approaches made to it in the 90s. The first one, recognizable in the 1994 Human Development Report of UNDP and UNHCR, distinguished 7 dimensions/sectors of human security: economic (to which the main threats are represented by unemployment, job insecurity, disparities in income, poverty, or homelessness); food; health; environmental; personal (conflict, poverty, terrorism); community (ethnic and cultural conflict); political security (violation of human rights). Alternatively, in a more accurate approach, Garry King and Christopher Murray defined human security as including all elements “important enough for human beings to fight over or put their lives or property at great risk” and identified 5 indicators of well-being: poverty, health, education, political liberty, and democracy.9

II. The Cold War perspective
What we term “Cold War perspective” belonged to strategists and researchers of both the US and the USSR during the Cold War and operationally defined security of the Middle East as based on four pillars: the constant supply with oil from the region10; (hence) the military security of the regional allies; the management of the Arab-Israeli conflict or at least its maintenance within the region’s frontiers; the prevention of the emergence of any regional hegemony (for instance the politics of the so-called “double containment” of both Iran and Iraq by the US during the war of 1980-88). Obviously built in a top-down manner, since represented as such by the two external superpowers, this perspective and the covering of the regional security complex subsequent to its implementation may explain why, “from all the regions in the world, the American and Soviet involvement in the Middle East had the greatest impact and posed the greatest threat to their bilateral relations”11.

In this pattern, as a reaction to the Soviet deployment of rocket units in Bekaa Valley (Syria) and the involvement in the Suez War of 1956, the US interests were asserted plain: saluting the summit of the Baghdad Pact (between the leaders of Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and the UK), the Secretary of State publicly warned on November 26, 1956, that any threat to the territorial integrity or to the political independence of its members will be regarded most seriously.12 Then, after only four months, the “Eisenhower doctrine”, of the threefold program of economic aid, military assistance, and protection against the Communist aggression in the Middle East revealed the same pattern of interpreting the regional security. Moreover, it signified the beginning of the Middle East segmentation according to the line that divided pro-Western from pro-Russian regimes, thus artificially fragmenting the regional security complex.

An eloquent proof of the caducity of the here-discussed perspective was provided by the lamentable fate of the Baghdad Pact. Tributary to the American idea that the security of the regional states depended on their entering of alliances with Western states, the top-down conceived security structure was established in 1955 as a bilateral military agreement between Turkey and Iraq, joined in the following months of the same year by the UK (April), Pakistan (September) and Iran (November) and caused a huge shock for the Arab world for mainly three reasons: firstly, given Turkey’s membership in NATO, the Pact was largely perceived as an unpardonable intrusion of the West towards whom the Arab World had already begun to manifest a visible hostility13; secondly, Turkey was not just a non-Arab state, but an “antagonist” (in the Copenhagen School terminology), the Ottoman Empire’s successor who had ruled over the Arab Peninsula for over three centuries – not surprisingly in the security complex’ division, Egypt soon after proposed Saudi Arabia and Syria a military alliance meant to counterbalance the Baghdad Pact14; thirdly, and above all, this outside-inspired alliance was viewed as an attempt to undermine the idea of pan-Arab unity (discussed in the following section), as the Cairo press decreed: “the Iraqi government demolishes our efforts to strengthen the Arab League and the Arab Pact of Collective Security”.15

Though highlighting certain regional security elements, this perspective unfortunately shadowed others, equally relevant, as, focusing exclusively on threats (external security risks by definition) and on the military sector of security, it omitted significant (internal) vulnerabilities like women’s treatment in Muslim societies. Moreover, the US approach of regimes like those of Saudi Arabia or Kuwait (or even of Turkey, whose regime suppressed the huge Kurdish minority for decades) as allies generated in each such state lines of tension between the military and economic security on the one hand and the political and societal security on the other hand.

III. The pan-Arab perspective
The pan-Arab perspective on security in the Middle East developed gradually in the aftermath of World War Two, both in reaction to the creation of Israel and, interrelated, as a bottom-up alternative to the external approaches of the United States and of the Soviet Union, locally regarded as a euphemism for the securing their influence spheres16. As for the very label “Middle East”, Arab pan-nationalists considered it to either undermine the alleged “Arab” substance of this region (as in this perspective, the region does not include non-Arab Turkey, Israel and Iran), or “tear up” the “distinct unity” of the Arab homeland17. Instead, proponents and adherents of the pan-Arab perspective assume that regional security is correctly understood and approached only if holistically addressing all Arab people and states as referent security subject.

A closer analysis of the core-concept “Arab” in its different regional interpretations however unveils the existence of two distinct alternative Arab security perspectives on the Middle East, distinguished on the basis of the exact definition of their referent subject of security. The first one emerged gradually in the interwar years and matures in the aftermath of World War Two, pari passu with Arab nationalism developing as a considerable political movement, whose program rested on three pillars: first – descriptive, that there was a single Arab nation which transgressed state frontiers and was composed by all those who shared the Arabic language, from Mauritania to Yemen (the usage of Arabic language providing, along with self-identification, the essence of what Arab identity means); second - evaluative, that the Arab nation was meant to inhabit a single political unit instead of being fragmented by arbitrary externally-imposed state frontiers18; and third – prescriptive, that a development of the consciousness of all its members that this unity was to guide all political behavior was needed, and that all Arab states’ ultimate task was to strengthen their economic, cultural and political ties in order to increase the cohesion and unity of the Arab community (al-Alam al-Arab, or the Arab ummah). Transposed in security terms, this idea was embraced by scholars like Eddin Hillal Dessouki and Jamal Mattar, who, considering a “society of Arab states” as the referent subject of security, criticized the Cold War approaches for concealing the fact that the real security threats to Arabs came both from the three regional non-Arab states and from external intrusive powers19 seeking to secure their oil supply.

The second perspective, developed during the de-colonization wave of the ‘60s and ‘70s and pursuing “Arab national security” as its core-concept and aim, by contrast tolerates the political frontiers within the Arab world, and focuses on the security concerns of societal actors, differing among them according to each one’s socio-economic background: whereas those benefiting from a higher social status usually pursue democratization and respect for human rights (societal and political security), those at the basis of the societal pyramid are preoccupied with proximate problems like job security, health problems and income disparities20 (economic and human security).

Whereas these two perspectives coexisted for some time in a rivalry pattern, most analysts agree that after the “Six Days War” of 1967 it was the second one to prevail in the Arab states’ political practice, given the interplay of three factors: an increasing regional conviction that pan-Arab political unification was a both remote and misbegotten objective21, especially after three Arab-Israeli wars, all of them lost; the rejection by most Arab leaders of the unacceptable constraints exerted upon their decisions by pan-Arabism; the extraction by Arab leaders of the status-quo advantages, in the context of the complete covering of the regional security complex by the US and the USSR, each of them granting rewards or concessions to their allied regimes, thus making the existent reality more attractive.

Subsequently, as a possible proof that Arab leaders finally accepted the “real” state-based political structure of the region, the latest decades witnessed a visible decrease of the pan-Arab support shown by Arab peoples and states for the Palestinian cause22. Moreover, a general overview eloquently illustrates a visible ineffectiveness of the various pan-Arab institutions active in different fields of security. The most relevant among them, the Arab League (officially named the League of Arab States23), was conceived as a common defense organization, later on doubled by a collective security pact and has thus represented the most ambitious attempt to put in (the security) practice the idea of Arab ummah. Taking a look at the concrete results however shows a League not only failing in satisfactory solving the Palestinian problem, but also functionally altered by the divergent positions of its member states towards the US involvement in the Middle East. Aside from this, the very fact that the UN-reform plan advanced recently by Secretary General Kofi Annan doesn’t reserve a permanent seat in the Security Council for an(y) Arab state seriously questions the League’s influence over the international decision-making.

The case of the Arab League is by no means a singular one. It may be accompanied, in a not exhaustive enumeration24, by the examples of the Golf Cooperation Council (GCC) or of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries: the GCC, founded in 1981 and generously pursuing as its main objective the development of “means for realizing the coordination, integration and cooperation” of Arab states in “econo­mic, social and political”25 issues, was revitalized in its activity rather by the cooperation agreement with the EU (within the larger “Barcelona process” of 1995) than by any internal effort or concern; OAPEC, meant to promote and protect the interests of oil-exporting Arab countries, remained by far less known and effective than OPEC. Moreover, if we were to consider a “hard core” of pan-Arab institutionalism as comprising the four Arab states simultaneous members of GCC, OAPEC, OPEC and the Arab League – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar, we may easily notice that the oil policies of these states frequently contradicted the positions and interests of the other member states in a rather “free rider” behavior than a genuine pan-Arab.

But aside from the institutional failure - ultimately dependent on the will and ability of political leaders, another observation seems much more relevant in the context of current security initiatives and approaches such as the “Greater Middle East: though favoring the second of the two pan-Arab security perspectives and adopting stat-centered security practices, Arab political leaders of the last decades paid increasing attention to non-military security concerns voiced bottom-up by societal actors, unlike American and Soviet strategists of the Cold War. Numerous proofs in favor of this preoccupation for non-military, societal security preoccupations range from the tolerance of Arab leaders towards the huge protest manifestations against the American intervention in Iraq in 2003 (in a radically different manner from, let’s say, the expulsion of PLO members and adherents from Jordan some decades ago) to Al Riyadh’s refusal to logistically assist the US intervention; or from Hussein of Jordan’s 1997 refusal to join the so-called “Peace Camp” because of the public opinion’s pressure against any betrayal” of the “Arab consensus” to the recent Kuwait leader’s decision to expand the number of vote-entitled citizens. Finally, it was exactly as a (non-explicit) tribute to this perspective that in June 2004, Egyptian president Mubarak launched his “Alexandria initiative”, whereas a month earlier the Arab League’s summit declaration had stated the need to “to firmly establish the basis for democracy”.

To preliminary conclude, the pan-Arab perspective in both its versions may be viewed as a progress in relation to the classic top-down security approaches of the Cold War for at least two reasons: first, being constructed bottom-up, the pan-Arab perspective grasps more accurately the security concerns of the regional people and thus emphasizes non-military security issues, especially societal ones, of major relevance in the regional security calculations, as non-military problems often represent the very cause of military turbulence – the general difference between the EU and the US in approaching conflicts; second, it highlights an in security strategies helpful distinction between leaders and public opinion – an extremely useful distinction in the successful formulation of security strategies.

IV. The Islamic perspective
The Islamic perspective on security in the Middle East has become subject of extreme controversies, especially nowadays, when al-Qai’da and Bin Laden seem to have “kidnapped”, at least on the American political and security agenda, the true meaning of it and of the word “Islamic” in general. It is in this spirit that I use the term “Islamic perspective” and not “Islamist”, as the suffix makes all the difference of the analysis. Addressing such confusion, the clarification of three security-related aspects may appear helpful: the variety of Islamic security practices; the dichotomy-indicator of what was termed in social sciences as “institutionalization”, applied to the Muslim world; finally, and generally, the referent subject-object-threat of security.

The issue of the first subject of analysis is related to the already classical problem of transferring over local specific realities concepts and theories mostly of Western origin. The lack of universality of analytical instruments, the inappropriateness of expanding concepts and research methods associated to external theories over local highly specific realities are anything but a new problem that researchers over the globe have to cope with. But they seem to remarkably fit to the Middle East in particular and the Muslim world in general, especially in regard to concepts and named realities like “Islamization”, “ummah”, or “religious democracy”.

Defined from the perspective of a religion scholar like Jean Delumeau as “global reaffirmation of Islam”26, what would be translatable as “Islamization” represents a contemporary phenomenon affecting the cultural, social, political and even economic spheres of the Islamic world’s daily life. Historically, Delumeau distinguished three phases and correspondent manifestation forms of the phenomenon: a.): the first, directed top-down from the end of the 1970s to the beginning of the 1980s, featured the enforcement of more or less Islamic public policies, as it was the case of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 Iran, of the proclamation of the “Islamic republics” Algeria (1976) and Pakistan (1977), or of the destabilizing of the Afghan, Syrian, and Egyptian regimes; c.) the second, bottom-up, phase, manifested between the late 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, showed the rebirth of Islamic practices among Muslim people and their more or less violent projection on the ruling political elites, as it happened in Algeria (whose population, saturated by economic and ideological experiments, made the Islamic Salvation Front win the 1990 elections), Turkey (the Refah Islamists winning the 1995 legislative elections), Sudan (1989, Islamic Salvation Front), Egypt, and Palestine (the 1987 Intifada); c.) the last phase, of an “armed Islamism”, began in the last decade with an intensifying of terrorist attacks and Islamist-inspired military coups - this would be the case of 1992 Egypt (the military officers), and of the attacks on the Dahran US military base in Saudi Arabia (1996), WTC (1993), Mogadiscio (1993) or the assassination attempt on Hosni Mubarak (1995).

Not insisting on the facile possibility to extend this taxonomy till the present time (with an overlapping of the second and third phases27), I confine myself at this point to only suggest the extreme diversity of actors, instruments and objectives that some Western analysts unfortunately tend to reunite under the same (terrifying) umbrella of the term “Islamists”; the difference between on the one hand outside-oriented and of military-essence fundamentalism that led to events such 9/11 and on the other hand inside-oriented Islamic NGOs active in the field of social security remains not only crucial, but also useful in elaborating successful security strategies.

In light of this, what I analyze as “Islamic” security perspective is related to the first two types of Islamization. As such, the phenomenon is a truly global one, transgressing the frontiers of the Middle East, in at least two regards: the covering by the Islamic world of a significant portion of the globe, with an increasing surface due to the numerically developing Muslim communities in the West; more important than the geographical point of view, it is global(ist) through the implications of the fundamental organizing principle of ummah, which, after the fall of Communism, remained the only idea or reorganizing the world on another basis then a stat-centric one28. Simultaneously translatable from Arabic by “unity”, “nation”, and “community”, ummah names the referent security subject of the perspective and normatively and prescriptively signifies the social, political, economic and cultural cohesion of the entire Muslim community of the world. Hence, its usage provides the Islamic traditional distinction between Dar al-Islam (“The House of Peace”, of the believers), and Dar al-Harb (“The House of War”, of the infidels).

However, to simply assume the validity of ummah would equate with a hasty generalization. Part of the reasons for the diversity of Islamic security perceptions and practices, also recognizable in today Iraq, stem from the deep religious cleavages within the Muslim world; the “Great Discord” of 655-661, generated by a dispute over political power and Mohamed’s entitled successor led to a Muslim world fragmented in at least four groups, each of them subdivided in further rites: Sunnah (some 85% of all Muslims), Shi’ah (some 15%)29, Khariji (0,2%), and various other confessions considered sectarian (Bahai, Sikh, etc.).

Aside from these intra-religious lines of division, the multitude of security concerns is also due to certain geographical, social and economic factors; as it has rightfully been suggested30, it’s quite questionable for instance to which extent Muslims in Morocco can properly address the problems of their Malaysian fellows, the Kurdish immigrants in Germany those of the Palestinians, as well as the Pakistanis in Britain seem more interested in defeating their adoptive country in cricket than in the fights in Baghdad.

Basically, aside from the obligation to respect the 5 pillars of Islamic faith (fara’id), the only true common feature of the Muslim world would remain a more or less acute feeling of anti-Americanism, rooted in the conviction of a so-called al-Mu’amarah al-Taghrib (“the conspiracy of the Westernization”31). Hence, one can identify several Islamic security sub-perspectives, whose common core is the triadic representation of ummah as referent subject of security, of the traditional Islamic lifestyle as the object, and of any non-Islamic influence as the threat.

A preliminary gross comparison of the pan-Arab and Islamic perspectives, as the only two bottom-up constructed perceptions, reveals three differences and six similarities: the first difference roots in the fact that, whereas the Islamic perspective has a global representation (Dar al-Islam versus Dar al-Harb), the other one’s referent subject is more precisely anchored in terms of geography and population; secondly, the criterion of defining the referent subject of the first case is religion (this line of division being subsequently crosscut by ethnic, cultural and religious cleavages, whereas identification in the other case rests upon the usage of the Arabic language along with self-identification; thirdly, whereas for Arabs, the Muslim world centers spiritually, politically and strategically upon their Middle East homeland, the remaining 4/5 non-Arab Muslims, using their population size’s argument, view the region only as the sanctuary of the holy places of Mecca, Medina and East Jerusalem32.

As for the similarities, which are more relevant, it should be first noted that both perspectives, being constructed bottom-up, successfully rivaled with the US/Soviet perspective of the Cold War – as such, they still provide a superior alternative to the “Greater Middle East” perspective, which in the local view represents only an avatar of the Cold War approaches; secondly, both regard states as artificial exogenous transplants; thirdly, at least mentally rejecting the idea of the state, both perspective largely focus on non-military aspects of security; fourthly, none of the two ummah has a leading state to articulate, aggregate and promote the community’s security interests (albeit considerable Saudi efforts in this direction); fifthly, regarding the referent security subjects, their common core is compounded by Arab Muslims, whereas the specific difference is provided by non-Arab Muslims in the first case, respectively by Arabs of Christian faith in the second case33; finally, in their extreme versions, both incriminate in the “securization” discourses an alleged “conspiracy” directed against them by a morally and spiritually decaying West.

Finally, most relevant in regard to this common population core, it should be noticed that, despite their difference in interpreting, granting and accepting legitimacy, the pan-Arab and Islamic movements have several times manifested an only apparently paradoxical convergence: during the colonial years, the defense of Islam has overlapped the national liberation objective; nowadays, Islamic organizations like HAMAS or hizb’Allah34 wage a war in the name of Islam, but are to no lesser degree concerned with the liberation of their Arab homelands Palestine and Lebanon35; similarly, as another proof of the often materialized symbiosis between pan-Arabism and Islam, the common aim of the coalition’s retreat from Iraq is today a common objective of Islamic fundamentalists, of pan-Arab nationalists former Ba’ath members and of the mujahedeens as well.

V. “Greater Middle East”, “extended Barcelona perspective”, or “Broader Middle East and North Africa”?
The events of September 11, 2001 were immediately followed by a landmark change in the Unites States’ foreign and security policy, with the potential of even reshaping the structure of the internal system. Becoming the central concern and the guiding principle of the American security agenda, terrorism was suddenly transformed by the Bush administration into an interpretative lens of all international problems, the Middle Eastern “problem” included.

Though inspired by totally different events, the Greater Middle East (hereafter GME) seems to still repeat the errors of the Cold War perspective, e.g. to address rather the symptoms than the causes. Thus, as their latest intervention in Iraq may suggest, it emphasizes only the traditional aspects of military stability in the region, predictability, political security and the threat of using force whenever (critics may add “unilaterally”) considered necessary: “the greatest threats”, it is said, “come in the form of foot soldiers for future terrorist attacks, the proliferation of WMD that can be used against us, the overflow of civil wars … and refugee flows …”36. Reasonably enough, the problem of WMD or of religious fundamentalism cannot and should by no means be underestimated, but still, the visible continuity of the top-down manner of approach is susceptible to neglect the deeper sources of regional and instability.

In reality not “invented” by the Neo-conservatives, but “borrowed” from the academic and research sphere37, the concept of GME nominates its area in a striking similar way to the Islamic perspective (and also to Brzezinski’s “Euro-Asian Balkans”), except the fact that it does not include the Muslim immigrants communities spread all over the globe: “the region starts with Northern Africa and Egypt and Israel and the eastern end of the Mediterranean and extends throughout the Persian Gulf to Afghanistan and Pakistan”38.

Well, even disregarding the strategic mistake of reuniting all Muslim countries in the same camp39 in spite of an extreme diversity of local sub-realities, motivations, interests and practices, another shortcoming of the GME perspective is that it indirectly, but subversively argues in favor of the (pseudo-) paradigm of the “clash of civilizations”, which further generates a self-fulfilling prophecy-spiral by the negative reactions within the Muslim world and the subsequent (false) confirmations of the external strategists’ fears. In this regard, a statement made by Syrian Foreign Minister on an official visit to Teheran in September 2003 is more than illustrative: “The current US administration has put the theory of the civilization clash on the top of its agenda and is now trying to reshape what it names the Middle Eastern map”.40

Moreover, false assumptions generate practical errors inflicting on the very asserted objective – regional security. Of such errors, for the GME particular case, two seem noteworthy. First, in regard to the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US troops’ proclaimed mission of peace keeping after the cessation of military hostilities unfortunately risks to be doomed to failure; the first and foremost condition for a peace keeping mission to succeed is the (credible) neutrality of the troops deployed between the former enemies. Well, the shifts in the US troops mission from peace enforcement (not presupposing neutrality) to peace-keeping, and further, peace-building, compromises the latter two. In light of this, the failures to genuinely stabilize both countries should not come as a surprise, though they are due to other reasons as well.

The second, largely discussed, error points out to the US approach of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Once again, the by the US administrations self-declared role of a mediator is still demised because of the American direct interests in the conflict (even if only through the couple of billions USD aid annually granted to Israel), which transforms the US into a de facto disputant. Hence, it’s lack of credibility, explicitly stated even by US-located RAND Corporation, may be part of the reasons why so many US-mediated peace proposals failed.

A significant alternative to the GME perspective was elaborated in the form of a political declaration following the G8 summit of Sea Island, on June 9-10, 2004, which was preceded, as usual, by some preliminary meetings of the members’ foreign ministers. In the context of a clear insistence to introduce the Middle East on top of the discussion agenda and some concrete proposals advanced during the preliminary meetings, both the French and Russian ministers expressed their reluctance towards the US plan of including some problematic states like Afghanistan or Pakistan, aside from the risk for their proposals to be viewed (once again) in the Middle East as externally imposed. It was indeed the case, since, the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Morocco refused to accept the invitation to the summit, though, on the preliminary meetings State Secretary Colin Powell publicly acknowledged that “change should not and can not be imposed from outside”41.

Given this (one might say traditional) divergence of opinions between the “old Europe” and the US on the issue of the Middle East, the final result of the summit was the issuance of a joint declaration conceived as a compromise under the title “Partnership for Progress and a Common Future with the Governments and peoples of the Broader Middle East and North Africa” (region hereafter abbreviated BMENA)42. Not only eluding the regionally already negatively perceived label “GME” by speaking of “the Broader Middle East” and of “North Africa”, the statement also differs from the US usual perspective in mentioning and addressing not only governments, but also the civil society and the businessmen. Plus, it was announced that G8 members’ support for reform in the area of BMENA “will go hand in hand” with the support for a “just, comprehensive and durable” resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict43.

However, in the post2003 context of a trans-Atlantic disagreement that seems more acute then ever, it was only a week after the G8 summit that the European Council of June 17-18 adopted the project of its working group on a “Report on the EU Strategic Partnership with the Mediterranean and the Middle East”. Before commenting it, it should be noted that in 2003, the EU had first launched its Wider Europe Neighborhood strategy and then adopted the document “A Secure Europe in a Better World” (also known as “The European Security Strategy”, the document stated: “the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict is a strategic priority for Europe”44).

The 2004 EC report in itself seemed to be an essentially political declaration, a pure “European product” carrying the potential of rivaling the BMENA Partnership and actually representing an adapted version of a former package of programs addressing the Mediterranean non-EEC states. The respective package, initiated soon after the oil crisis of 1973 was motivated by three security concerns of the EEC strategists: the oil supply from the Middle East; the avoidance of an import of instability from the non-member states in the Mediterranean basin; the mitigation of immigration waves from the region. Subsequently, benefiting from a better relation with the Arab states at the Mediterranean than the US, the EEC/EU was able to successfully launch a series of programs that actually provided a model for its later Neighborhood policy: the Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean (CSCM), the “Overall Mediterranean Policy”, the Euro-Arab Dialogue, bilateral dialogues with the GCC and the Arab Maghreb Union, and, the most important, the ongoing “Barcelona Process”.

The latter, also known as “The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership”, was initiated in November 1995 at the reunion in Barcelona of the member states’ foreign ministers and pursues basically the same three objectives as the EC report on the strategic partnership: politically and militarily, the creation of an area of peace and stability by promoting the political and security dialogue among the member states; economically and financially, the creation of a common prosperity area and the gradual establishment of a free trade area – the Mediterranean-European Free Trade Area (MEFTA); a social, cultural and humanity partnership meant to encourage the understanding between cultures and the exchange between the civil societies.45

In a summary evaluation of what I term “the Barcelona perspective”, its foremost success was that it brought together Israel and Arab states within the same framework of cooperation. Second, it was a “value-free” approach, unlike the (perception of the) US approach. Nevertheless, it included as members, alongside with ECC/EU states, only the Arab states at the Mediterranean (the four north African plus Libya as observer plus Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian authority), thus artificially and ineffectively fragmenting the Middle East regional security complex. From this angle of view, although concerning itself with non-military security issues, it still suffered from a top-down manner of representation. Remarkably, it is this very deficiency that the 2004 EC project intended to avoid when, as one of the few innovations compared to the EMP, it proposed the extension of the programs “east of Jordan”, thus approaching the Middle East and North Africa in their full architecture. Moreover, not only because of proposing a partnership between equal parts, but also because reuniting security concerns of both regional and external (EU member) states, what I call the “extended Barcelona perspective” may be viewed as a security perspective built “on the horizontal”.

Nevertheless, the extended “Barcelona perspective” risks to pay tribute to the complicate decision-making structure and lack of a common representation among member states of a union that has still much to do in order to become a genuine “global actor” in terms of security. As for the G8 proposal, it suffers from at least two shortcomings: the summit that produced it was boycotted by the overwhelming majority of Arab state leaders who still regard it with a certain degree of reluctance; it risks to never be actually implemented given the multitude of positions and interests within G8 – the trans-Atlantic rift between the US and the EU and the mute rivalry between them in taking the merits for the best resolution, the US-Russia divergence of opinions, Japan’s particular position and interests, etc.

Is there any solution?
In light of the above discussed, a first general verdict would acknowledge some undisputable merits of the two bottom-up constructed perspectives – the Pan-Arab and the Islamic in comparison with classic or nowadays “neo-classic” perspectives such as the “Greater Middle East”. To sum up, both the pan-Arab and the Islamic perspectives prove themselves superior to external, top-down constructed approaches first and foremost due to their emphasis on non-military issues, like the societal and economic sectors of security. Further, in spite of significant differences regarding the referent security subject, they converged often in a symbiotic Arab-Islamic approach. It is actually in exactly this social manner that most (intra-Islamic) scholars define the externally so often misjudged term “al-Jihad” – as a “Holy War” against “structural violence” and of a rather social-economic essence than a military-terrorist slogan. Nevertheless, the main shortcoming of the perspective is its almost exclusive outwards orientation in identifying the security threats only in the external, non-Muslim world, thus neglecting multiple vulnerabilities like women’s treatment in the society or sometimes arbitrarily particularized interpretations of democracy, human dignity, and human rights, given a traditional collectivist representation of the world, symmetrically opposed to the Western-specific individualism.


Cold War Pan-Arab Islamic GME Extended Barcelona perspective BMENA


Delimitation Classical ME (Mashreq and Arab Peninsula) Classical ME + Maghreb Global: all Muslim (al-Alam al Islami) Classical ME+ Maghreb+Afgh.+ Pakistan Mediterranean states + “East of Jordan” Classical ME + Maghreb
Time of conceiving and applying Cold War Decolonization wave and after End of 70s and after 1997/2001 and after 2004 - 2004 -
Author of representation US/USSR and allies Pan-Arab nationalists Islamic leaders US EU G8
Construction top down bottom up top down top down horizontal multi-level
Referent subject Arab allied regimes Arab ummah/ national societies Islamic ummah US and regional allied regimes EU + regional societies Regional regimes and civil societies
Dominant security sectors Military + political Societal + political Societal + economic Military + economic All Societal, economic, political
Referent object Military stability + political security Socio-economic status, political security Cultural-religious identity, economic status Military, political and economic security of US+allied regimes Stability and prosperity within MEFTA area Economic and political stability and development
Referent threat US/USSR + the other one’s allies Non-Arab states “Non-Islamic influences” Terrorism+ hostile regimes Immigrants, instability import, terrorism Modernization deficit
Al-Mu’amarah al-Taghrib
Solution considered Eliminating USSR/US’s regional influence Pan-Arab cooperation + solving Arab-Israeli conflict Mitigating/ eliminating Non-Islamic influences Fighting terrorism + removing hostile regimes Cultural dialogue + political and economic integration + solving Arab-Israeli conflict Partnership for social, economic and political reform + solving Arab-Israeli conflict

Alternative security perspectives on the Middle East. A comparison
But in the end, the general dispute between different top-down and bottom-up perspectives on security in the Middle East, schematized conclusively in the table above on the basis of different comparison criteria, may have no winner at all. Instead, a future successful and mutually beneficial approach of the regional security problems may be provided by a combined “third generation” type of security perspectives constructed either on the horizontal, as the “extended Barcelona”, or multilevel, as the BMENA perspectives.

Both show an indisputable progress compared with the GME perspective from at least three angles of view. First, unlike the GME perspective, they are constructed in multi-level, respectively horizontal ways, thus better addressing the security problems as perceived in the region. Second, unlike the rather discursive nature of thee newer American perspective, they have taken concrete steps in addressing non-military issues of security such as development and democracy as the deeper sources of conflict. Third, both are accompanied by a higher credibility, thus featuring higher chances of a successful implementation.

Finally, in comparison to the two local bottom-up security perspectives, the BMENA and the “extended Barcelona” perspectives appear to more objectively and comprehensively grasp the regional security problems in terms of both vulnerabilities and threats; as such, they focus on non-military issues of security, but without neglecting the importance of the Arab-Israeli conflict or the problems of WMD or terrorism. Moreover, the BMENA perspective, and, due to its newer geographical extension east of Jordan, EU’s perspective also, eschew an arbitrary, artificial segmentation of the regional security complex built bottom up. Thus, they elude the highly normative pan-Arab versus Islamic dissension over the delimitation of the referent subject of security, which further increases their feasibility. Anyway, what still remains to be done in regard to the two approaches is only to genuinely start implementing them. 

1 In a larger space, we find an extension of the analysis over the current Russian and Chinese perspectives on regional security most interesting.
2 Pinat Bilgin, “Whose ‘Middle East’? Geopolitical Inventions and Practices of Security” (International Relations 18(1), 2004), pp. 26, 39.
3 Jehoshua Porath, The Emergence of Palestinian-Arab Movement, 1918-1929, London: Frank Cass, 1996.
4 Robert Davison, “Where is the Middle East” (Foreign Affairs 38, 1960).
5 Barry. Buzan, Ole Wsver, and Jaap de Wilde, Security: A New Framework for Analysis (London and Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1998), p. 23
6 According to Buzan et al, four degrees of importance may be distinguished for each security sector: dominant, sub-dominant, minor, and inexistent.
7 B. Buzan, People, States and Fear: The National Security Problem in International Relations (Harvester Wheatheaf, Hewel Hempstead, 1991), p. 190.
8 Turkey is a special case, as, in the interplay of its foreign policy and of its neighbors’ security perceptions, it may be regarded either as an “insulator”/”buffer state” or as simultaneously geared in five (sub-) complexes – the Middle East, the Caucasus (and in extension, Central Asia), the (Wider) Black Sea, the Mediterranean and the Balkans. For a detailed discussion on this matter, see Ionut Apahideanu, “Sectorializarea si regionalizarea strategiilor de securitate. Studiu de caz: Turcia” ‘Sectorialization’ and ‘Regionalization’ of Security Strategies. A Case Study: Turkey, paper presented at the 5th National Conference of Students in Political Sciences, Dec. 2002, Cluj-Napoca.
9 Garry King and Christopher Murray, Rethinking Human Security (Harvard University, 2000), p.8, available at
10 Especially the case of US, since the oil reserves of the former USSR allowed the latter to not concern on this issue
11 Moshe Efrat and Jacob Berkovitch, Superpowers and Client States in the Middle East (New York: Routledge; Chapman and Hill), p. 1.
12 Apud H. Kissinger, Diplomatia (Bucuresti: ALL, 1998), p. 479.
13 R. A. Gibb Hamilton, “The Reaction in The Middle East Against Western Culture”, (in Stanford J. Shaw and William R. Polk, ed. Studies in the Civilization of Islam, Boston: Beacon Press, 1962), p. 66.
14 Which eventually took the confederate shape of the United Arab Republic (1959-1961) Egypt-Syria-Yemen
15 In Michael N. Barnett, “Identity and Alliances in the Middle East” (in Peter J. Katzenstein, ed. The Culture of National Security Norms and Identity in World Politics, NY: Columbia University Press, 1996), p. 418
16 Abdel Monem Aly Said, “The Superpowers and Regional Security in the Middle East”(in M. Ayoob, ed. Regional Security in the Third World: Case Studies from Southeast Asia and the Middle East, London: Croom Helm, 1986), p. 198.
17 A. M. A. Said, “The Shaterred Consensus – Arab Perceptions of Security” (International Spectator 38(4), 1996), pp. 26-7.
18 It should be noted that the Westphalia-rooted norm of state sovereignty and independence has no real counterpart in the political culture of an Arab world (and in extenso in the whole al-Alam al-Islami, meaning the Muslim world) that didn’t experience landmark events like the historical Enlightment or the Industrial Revolution.
19 In P. Bilgin, 2004, pp. 30-1.
20 See for instance the assessment of the former King Hussein of Jordan, who expressed his conviction that “Arab nationalism can only survive through complete equality”, quoted in Stephen Walt, The Origins of Alliances (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987), p. 213
21 Some analysts went even so far as to conclude that “the Arab-Israeli was of 1967 marked a key turning point for the Arab world and for political Islam. The depth to which the Arab defeat penetrated the Arab psyche is a critical factor to this day” (Angel M. Rabasa et al., The Muslim World after 9/11, RAND, 2004, p. 93; available at
22 M. N. Barnett, 1996, p. 480.
23 Currently comprising the following 22 states: Egypt (excluded in 1979 after signing the Camp David peace agreement with Israel, but admitted back in 1989), Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Yemen - as founding states, plus Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, and UAE.
24 As we might also mention AAAID (Arab Authority for Development and Investment in Agriculture), AGFUND (Arab Program of the Gulf for the Development Organization of the UN), The Arab Office for Education, the Organization of Arab Cities, AFESD (Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development), or GOIC (The Gulf Organization for Economic Consulting), each of them addressing a different non-military sector of security.
25 See the organizations’ statute at
26 Jean Delumeau, Religiile lumii (Bucuresti: Humanitas, 1996), p. 240.
27 Whereas to argue in favor of the up-to-dateness of phase three would be futile, at this point I confine myself to mention that phase two is recognizable in the elections held between 2002-2004 in Turkey (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi led by current Prime Minister Erdogan won in November 2002 no less than 2/3 of the parliamentary seats, which permitted them to even amend the Constitution in order to allow formerly convicted Erdogan to run for the Prime Minister position), Morocco (with the equivalent Justice and Development party increasing the number of its parliamentarians from 14 to 42), Algeria (Islah scored second in municipal elections), Pakistan (with Islamists participating in the governmental coalition), and Bahrain (with Islamists obtaining half of the parliament’s seats). Moreover, second-type Islamization at the global level may also be suggested by statistics on the annual number of pilgrims to Mecca, with increase rate that exceeds by far the Muslim demographic growth. For details on this, see Fouad Al-Farsi, Modernity and Tradition: The Saudi Equation (3rd ed., Knight Communications, 2001), p. 33, corroborated with more recent figures provided at,,2-10-1462_1473845,00.html.
28 K. J. Holsti, International Politics (New Jersey: Prentice Hall; Englewood Cliffs, 1995), p. 74.
29 About 4/5 of them in Iran (where they compound around 90% of the state’s population), and the rest located either as majorities in Azerbaijan (66-70%), Iraq (60-65%), and Bahrain (70%), or as minorities in other states.
30 Richard D. Lewis, The Cultural Imperative: Global Trends in the 21st Century (Yarmouth; Mine: Intercultural Press, 2003), p. 282.
31 For a comprehensive discussion of this conspiracy scenario, see Bassam Tibi, “Kreuzzug oder Dialog: Der Western und die arabo-islamische Welt nach dem Golfkrieg” [Crusade or Dialogue: The West and the Arab-Islamic World after the Gulf War] (pp. 107-18 in Volker Matthies, ed. Kreuzzug oder Dialog: Die Zukunft der Nord-Süd-Beziehungen [Crusade or Dialogue: The Future of the North-South Relations], Bonn: J. H. W. Dietz Nachf., 1992)
32 In this spirit, a former Indonesian president was complaining: “The Saudis don’t understand the difference between Islam and their own culture” (quoted in Rabasa et al., 2004, p. 31). Equally true, observers noticed a certain predominance of Arab-related issues on the Islamic political agenda. On its 1981 summit for instance, the Islamic Conference Organization agreed on declaring the Jihad for freeing Jerusalem and Palestine, but refused to do the same in regard to (non-Arab) Afghanistan, who had just been invaded by Soviet troops.
33 The lack of the religion’s importance in the pan-Arab perspective may be underlined even by only mentioning some salient political personalities of pan-Arab orientation, but of Christian faith: Tarik Aziz – former Iraqi vice-president; Jamil Barudi – former high-profile councilor of King Faisal ibn Saud; Fares el-Koury - former Syrian Prime Minister; Georges Habache and Naief Hawatme - PLO leaders in the 1970s; or the late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad (and his son, current president Bashar, alike), belonging to the Alewi confession regarded by Sunnis as sectarian.
34 The Islamic nature of these organizations is recognizable in their very name: HAMAS is the Arab abbreviation for “The Islamic Resistance Movement of Palestine”, while Hizb’Allah means “The Party of God”.
35 As noticed by Katerina Dalacoura, “Violence, September 11 and the Interpretations of Islam” (International Relations 16(2): 269-73), p. 270.
36 R. D. Asmus and K. M. Pollack, The New Transatlantic Project, Policy Review, Oct./Nov. 2002. The specialists of the RAND corporation, identify three main threats to the US interests in the region, strikingly similar to those considered in the classic Cold War perspective: 1.) Direct physical threats against US citizens and installations; 2.) Destabilization of friendly states; 3.) Growth of anti-US, anti-Western and anti-democratic ideologies (Rabasa et al., 2004, pp. 2-3).
37 See in this regard two works published in 1997 - Robert D. Blackwill and Michael Stürmer, eds. Allies Divided: Transatlantic Policies for the Greater Middle East (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press) and Zalmay Khalilzad, “Challenges in the Greater Middle East” (pp. 191-217 in David C. Gompert and Stephen F. Larrabee, eds. America and Europe: A Partnership for A New Era, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
38 Idem, p. 34
39 As Christopher Hill noticed, the same mistake of a sweeping generalization was done by president Bush when pointing out to the so-called “axis of evil”, in light of the most elementary rule of the balance of power politics, the one that states to not push all enemies in the same camp.
40 The full transcript is available at
41 Available at
42 For the full transcript of the declaration, see
43 The G8 declaration was followed on June 26 by the EU-US “Declaration Supporting Peace, Progress, and Reform in the Broader Middle East and in the Mediterranean”.
44 For the full text of the Solana-conceived draft presented at the Thessaloniki EC summit in June 2003, see For the final document adopted at the Rome EC summit in December 2003, see
45 See

- Cercetator, Institutul Roman de Studii Internationale.




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