After the end of cold war and the bipolar system the world experienced 25 years of mutation toward a new world order, that cannot be defined yet. The American hegemony, called unipolar world at the beginning, has not been balanced by any other great power in this time (the famous balance of power, the main assumption of realism has not been realized yet). The international system has been moving towards something new that has been difficult to define. Sometimes scholars (like Ian Bremmer1) defined it “zero-polar” world, others (like Richard Haas2) “no-polar world”, others (like Fareed Zakaria3) multipolar world. We don’t know what will be the future world order but what we know is that in the new era of globalization will have to be more inclusive and less ethnocentric if it wants to reach stability and security for all. The interdependence, transnationalism and globalization that we are living today don’t seem to go toward the “clash of civilizations”, as per Huntington definition(4), even if neither toward the “convergence of civilizations” (5) as per Mahbubani definition(6). The ‘unrevealing’ of the post-Cold War order is nevertheless happening under our eyes, and the US influence is much reduced in this process, as Haas masterly explains in his recent article on Foreign Affairs (7). And the Middle East is the place where this disorder is stronger and the US is weaker today.
Is it possible to contemplate order for the region that is considered the less adapt to it, being an area where mistrust always developed among religious cleavages, unresolved interstate and intrastate conflicts and Western interventions? It could seem a dream but also in Europe we didn’t think that we would have enjoyed the longest time of peace of our history at the beginning of last century. The Middle East have not had the total wars that Europe experienced (and we hope that it will never have them) but in the long run common threats (like today ISIS) could maybe represent the cement for such now unthinkable regional order to happen? The Arab Spring has been compared to the start of a Middle Eastern “Thirty years’ war”(8), remembering the war that gave space to the start of the nation states in Europe with the Peace of Westphalia, or to the 1848 European revolutions with the so called “Spring of the Nations” (9) (from which the name Arab Spring) for more democracy and justice. Neither one of the comparison is very encouraging for the future of the Middle East, as the Thirty years’ war was the bloodiest war of Europe until then and the 1848 revolutions were repressed by reactionary forces, and new orders needed long time to take place. With the end of Cold War also the new architecture of the Middle East seems similar to that of Europe in the 19th century, with mid-sized powers trying to expand their spheres of influence (from Iran to Saudi Arabia, from Turkey to Egypt). In the Middle East today the shifting alliances and the covert or overt struggle for sphere of influences are interrelated with the forces of new definition of borders and ethnic, religious or cultural identities. Therefore the process of transition to a new Middle East order, after the end of the post-Ottoman one, will not be short and without conflicts and chaos. And will be more important (and doable) to manage it than to solve it. No more regime change interventions but soft power and external leading role. The US has to start a new path.
1Ian Bremmer. Every Nation for Itself: What Happens When No One Leads the World. Portfolio Trade, 2013
2Richard Haas. The age of nonpolarity. Foreign Affairs, May/June 2008.
3Fareed Zakaria. The Post American world. W. W. Norton & Company, 2009
4Samuel Huntington. The clash among civilizations?, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, N. 3, Summer 1993.
5An interesting UN initiative called “UN Alliance of Civilizations” seems to aim to a similar direction.
6Kishore Mahbubani. The great convergence: Asia, the West and the logic of one world. PublicAffairs, 2013.
7Richard Haas. The Unraveling, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2014.
8Richard Haas. The New Thirty Years’ War, Project Syndicate July 21, 2014.
9Jonathan Steinberg. 1848 and 2011. Bringing down the old order is easy; Building a new one is tough. Foreign Affairs, September 28, 2011.