Saturday, December 09, 2006

Manama Dialogue: Keynote Address

The Manama Dialogue opened last night in Bahrain, with a keynote address from HRH Prince Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Chief of General Intelligence, Saudi Arabia. The full text of his remarks can be found here.

The Prince made several points worthy of comment. First:

The fact that Israel is having nuclear weapons is the most dangerous threat against the Gulf security for both the near and the middle future. Consequently, some countries in the region took part in the competition for having nuclear weapons, as this is currently witnessed. It may be unanimously agreed that the spread of mass destruction weapons in the region will make the security issues more complicated in the whole region. It will rather give the right for the countries in the region to adopt policies and to make alliances with the countries of nuclear technology. It will also stimulate moderate countries in the region which adopts policies for eliminating mass destruction weapons, to make nuclear programs (whether concealed or declared) aiming at creating military balance in the region in order to defend their interests, gains and beliefs.
We believe that most of the problems in the region, their consequences of political attitudes and the increase of the terrorists’ acts, are closely related to the Middle East’s first issue, the Palestinian issue which will have a constant impact in the whole region since it has serious effects upon the international security and stability. This is in case this issue remains unsolved.
In view of the aforesaid, the international powers, that are concerned in this issue, are asked to perform there role impartially so as to find suitable solutions that would create peaceful coexistence among the countries in the region including Israel. Such coexistence should be based upon justice and equality in accordance with the Arabian Peace Initiative adopted in Beirut Summit in 2002. This will guarantee a fair solution for the Arab – Israeli conflict.
Two things are wrapped up here: First, the issue of the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East/Persian Gulf; and second, the Israel-Palestine conflict. Of course, if these are the two most pressing issues of Persian Gulf security, and if NW proliferation is "the most dangerous threat against the Gulf security for both the near and the middle future" then why is Israel not attending this summit? It is absurd to not invite the country that is believed to be the primary security concern, particularly when the likely solutions to those concerns are going to be negotations, not confrontation. This points out the gap between the rhetoric coming out of these countries with the political realities.

Israel has long been an attractive and useful whipping point for the authoritarian regimes of the Middle East and Persian Gulf. This is not to deny that there are serious political concerns or that Israel is never at fault or to blame. But Israel is most definitely not, on either dimension identified by Prince Muqrin (I apologize if I am violating some protocol with such a reference...I've never had to refer to royalty before), the primary threat to the region.

Israel developed nuclear weapons sometime in the late 1960s and there has been little to no proliferation pressure on its neighbors since. In fact, it was Israel's acquisition of nuclear weapons that finally convinced Egyptian President Anwar Sadat that a military victory by Arab armies was impossible, which directly led to the Camp David Peace Accords.

Prince Muqrin insinuates that the current proliferation crisis in Iran is a response by Iran to Israel's nuclear capability. But this makes no sense. Israel has never, except in the context of the current crisis, threatened Iran. In fact, quite the contrary, with Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeatedly threatening to destroy Israel. Rather, Iran's desire for nuclear weapons is much more a response to US hegemony. The international community has, in the wake of two US-Iraq wars, learned that no state can become a regional power unless it can challenge the US, and no state can stand up to the US without a nuclear weapon.

Furthermore, while many countries repeatedly point to the Palestinian problem as the key to resolving larger regional issues, I'm very skeptical of such a claim. I am on the record stating that Israel needs to do more enable a negotiated settlement. However, while it may be true that the "Arab street" (which includes Iran, a non-Arab country...maybe it should the "Muslim Street?") cares deeply about the Palestinians, there is little evidence that the regimes are willing to pay anything more than lip service to the cause. Historically, Arab solidarity has been little more than a strategically-driven pipe dream, and there has been little effort to advance the process or ease the misery of the Palestinians. Concern for the Palestinian cause is a useful way for the region's leaders to deflect public attention and anger from their own shortcomings, and provides a important outlet for the frustrations of their peoples. But there has been very little political pressure or incentive coming from these regimes for any kind of serious settlement. For example, where is the pressure on Hamas to recognize Israel?
Such a step could be vitally important in transforming the political dynamic.

Again, if Israel is so vitally important and threatening to the region, then at the very least, Israel should be invited to such an event as this. Its absence indicates the supremacy of politics over policy.

The second noteworthy comment by Prince Muqrin is:

Other factors of threat against security in our region are the issue of non-employment, and the foreign labours. Non-employment in the Gulf countries is in constant increase. It is a factor of instability that affects the security of the region’s countries. As the number of the untrained foreign labours who enter legally to our countries is getting more and more, in addition to such labours who enter illegally, then there will be serious economic, political, security and social effects. Illegal labours make labour camps in the gulf countries with the purpose of getting illegal profits. So, if this problem is not solved by the cooperation of the countries of origin of those labours, this will aggravate the security and social problems and the damages are to be incurred by the countries of the region, especially, the Gulf countries.
Now here the Prince is, I believe, right on. Globalization is the key to the economic development and success of these countries. Most of the countries have little economic productivity outside of oil, with Jordan being a notable exception. A state's economy needs to be broad-based, resting on many different sectors. For too long, the oil-based regimes of the Middle East and Persian Gulf have counted on oil revenues to buoy their economies and countries as a whole, but that will no longer suffice. These countries must be, and are, as evidenced by the large numbers of Middle East and Gulf countries in the WTO, willing to open their economies to international trade in order to develop their own domestic production.

However, such openness will not be easy. Free trade always produces short-term dislocations, as capital moves to its most efficient uses. Furthermore, increased openness to trade also producues increased openness to outside cultural influences, which could exacerbate some of problems that currently exist between Islam and the Western countries. Finally, economic reform demands and produces political reform. How far will these non-democratic regimes be willing to go and how much power will they be willing to give up to improve economic and living conditions for their people?

This may, in fact, be the most important question for Gulf security. Economic and political opportunity are some of the strongest predictors of peace and stability in international politics. As more countries move to improve the domestic conditions within and the political structures that control, the more likely it will be that security concerns can be resolved through negotiation and cooperation, rather than competition.

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