By Sayed Ghoneim
The 20th century began with powers scattered between East and West. By the end of World War II and the victory of Western allies and the Soviet Union over the Axis forces, the world became bipolar, divided between the United States and the Soviet Union. Between the two forces, the so-called Cold War began.
In the absence of a declared war between the United States and the Soviet Union, the two engaged in building military power and political conflict. Though they had been on the same side against the Axis forces, they disagreed on how to reconstruct the post-war world. Over the years that followed, the Cold War spread outside Europe to every corner on Earth.
The United States sought to isolate and remove socialist governments, while mobilising its allies in Western Europe and the Middle East. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union supported socialist movements around the world, especially in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Southeast Asia.
Eventually, the Cold War ended, the Berlin Wall was brought down, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the world order changed once more, this time to a unipolar world with the US dominant.
In August 1990, George Bush gave a speech in preparation to send US troops to the Gulf. In that speech Bush surprised the world with the term “New World Order”. The term was used to summarise the direction of the US administration, simplifying international relations and overcoming historical conflicts by viewing the world as one homogeneous unit.
No longer would there be conflict between international interests and those of the US; there would be stability and justice for all peoples, with human rights guaranteed.
In the 25 years between 1990 and 2015, the world has undergone some big changes: the collapse of the Soviet Union; the Gulf Wars (the liberation of Kuwait and the invasion of Iraq); the war in the Balkans; the Arab Spring revolutions; and the military interventions in Libya, Syria, and Yemen.
The end result has been more terrorism in many places; not only in those areas mentioned above, but in many parts of the world.
“Our age is insistently, at times always desperately, in pursuit of a common concept of world order,” says former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in his recent book, issued in 2014, entitled “World Order”.
He makes the statement as if he were reminding everyone that the ongoing events are simply a consequence of Bush’s “New World Order” project – and that they must continue.
Decades have passed, and the world has seen wars and conflicts that have demonstrated a dire lack of any kind of order.
The world can be described on three levels. First, there is the world with all of its countries. The world can be then divided into 13 regions; each of them includes a number of other sub-regions. If we go deeper, we can see that the world consists of 193 UN-member states, in addition to a few non-members.
However, when looking at the world from the first perspective, there is only one country that can impose its will – the global superpower, the US – and five other powerful nations: Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. The first four nations view China a competitive force, despite growing relations and cooperation with them, while they view Russia as a hostile power.
At the regional level, there is the Middle East, including the Arabian Gulf. It is also connected, in terms of security, with the Horn of Africa, making the region – along with North Africa – the most important region in the world. The rest of the world consists of 11 more regions, namely, North and Central America, South America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the Balkans, West Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, South Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia, including the Pacific and Australia.
The six most powerful countries are complicatedly linked to the Middle East. The US, as a representative of the world, leads the relations between the world and the Middle East in an open – but pressured – interaction. The US shares the helm with Britain, France, and Germany, bearing in mind the European Union, in addition to a complicated coordination with both China and Russia.
The relations between the “world order” and the Middle East region is based on a clear and strong competition among five Middle Eastern regional powers: Iran, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. This last one is geographically considered the link between the Middle East and North Africa regions. The region is also filled with mutual hatred between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, as well as the old conflict between Israel and Egypt.
This relationship between the Middle East and the other world powers is ruled by criteria that are mainly dictated by US interests, especially in relation to the Gulf countries and Egypt.
There are also hidden interactions between the US and Iran, and the results of the EU-US negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme.
In addition, there is the close US-Israeli relationship, and various regional actions relating to growing terrorist activities and military operations in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen.
Finally, there is the Russian political influence and its new military intervention in the region.
The US strategic objectives include maintaining the unipolar New World Order, while weakening and undermining the three Asian powers of Russia, China, and North Korea through controlling strategic buffer-zones in cooperation with allied governments.
The strategic objective for Russia can be summarised as seeking to expand its military and economic powers, in order to return to its former status as a global power to balance the US.
Russia does so through reducing the influence of the US globally, especially in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Central Asia, South East Asia and the Pacific. It also aims to maximise its political, economic and security influence in those three regions through strategic mutual relations with the countries of those regions. Moreover, Russia continues to control the gas market in Europe.
There is an intense competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with growing involvement from Turkey and Israel. This competition runs in parallel with a lack of political consensus between Russia, the Gulf states and European countries.
In spite of this, those states seek to maximise the power of the Egyptian state so that it might be a regional strong power capable of restoring equilibrium to the region, especially after the fall of Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya, which were Russia’s most important strategic allies.
All of this is accompanied by a spread of terrorism in the region, following the Arab Spring revolutions and the outbreak of sectarian, ethnic and national conflicts, leading the region towards instability that may never end.
Hence, we may summarise the strategic objectives of a few regional powers as follows:
Turkey aims to become a superpower next to the five great-power states, meanwhile insisting that it is implementing the international political, economic, security, and social laws and standards needed to qualify for membership of the European Union. It also aims to consolidate its regional influence in Eastern Europe, politically and economically, and in the Middle East, politically, economically, militarily and socially, while maximising its usefulness to the Gulf.
Iran’s strategic objective is to resume its attempts to complete its nuclear power project, with a view to becoming the strongest regional power. With India and Pakistan on one side and Israel on the other, it hopes to be able to impose its influence and secure its interests.
The strategic objective of Israel is to become the only nuclear state in the Middle East, by undermining the region’s economic, nuclear and military capabilities, while maintaining the support of the US in all its activities.
These conflicts of the strategic objectives between global powers and those of the Middle East pose a serious threat to Arab countries, forcing them to reconsider the common definition of national security: “The survival of the state and the protection of its capabilities inside and outside the country.”
These threats may also force them to reconsider the definition of Arab regional security: “The overall procedures and measures of political, military, economic, social, cyber cooperation and interaction taken by the Arab countries to face threats and challenges, through a strategy of integrated regional coordination to maintain their survival capabilities.”
Sayed Ghoneim is a retired Egyptian general, currently working as a Middle East and North Africa security and defence advisor. During his military career, Ghoneim held several positions and duties, including director of operations at a strategic department level. Internationally, he served as Chief of Staff of the Arms Monitoring Division in UN Mission in Nepal and Senior National Representative of Egypt to the United States Central Command