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How democracies will win against autocracies after COVID-19 era

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Last post I wrote about the two possible ways of reaction to this virus crisis: cooperation versus competition and more democracy versus more autocracy. This time I will speak briefly about how democracies will win against dictatorships after COVID-19 era.

Immanuel Kant already famously argued that peace would emerge among states once they shared 3 elements: 1) representative democracy 2) adherence to international law and organizations 3) advanced commercial integration. It took long time since Kant for democracies to flourish and later to integrate and today liberal democracies are integrated in international institutions and economic areas. Today the number of democracies overcome the one of autocracies, even if there is a resurgence of autocracies since few years, similarly to one century ago. But things are going much faster now, not only for globalization and technological exponential revolution but for the togetherness of humankind that is rapidly becoming one people, with information sharing, a common language and culture, and threats that touch each and everyone of us like the biological one (or the climate change).

In the short term, just after this epochal crisis of the COVID-19, it will seem that liberal democracies will weaken, economically, politically and internationally, in particular in their regional integrations (first of all EU and NATO). But in the long term liberal democracies have the potentiality to rebirth again, first of all economically thanks to their ability for innovations and liberalizations; then politically with a democratic renaissance, thanks to the individual empowerment coming with info technology that will allow people to “control their controllers” (but we need a news social contract for this); and finally internationally as multilateralism will have a new boost, because democracies at the end of the day tend to cooperate, as Kant and a more recent book showed us. The EU has to become the new United States of Europe, with a political unity, much less bureaucracy and much more people participation, on the US model. And NATO should become an Atlantic-Mediterranean treaty association, as Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea will be more and more interconnected, because of African unity and change during this century.

The dictatorships instead will not be able to recuperate after this virus planetary crisis that will act involuntarily as a “scorched-earth” policy. Scorched-earth is a military strategy that aims to destroy anything that might be useful to the enemy when retreating from a position. This is actually what will happen: autocracies will not be able to recuperate as their development much depended until now on our Western economies (just to give a couple of examples: Russia growth depends on its gas selling to Europe and Chinese growth depends on its goods selling to the world). Not only that but dictatorships are not able to innovate (China famously copied technologies and know-how from the West) as they don’t have the diversity and openness necessary for innovation, and they will not be able to cooperate among themselves neither, as they tend to prefer bilateral than multilateral agreements, they don’t see values in cooperation, as they prefer to project their national interest regionally, and eventually globally.

Therefore in one generation, maximum 20 years, we will probably see a new world, based on new social contracts for the liberal democracies, and new international agreements, some type of world government, with cooperation against common threats, democratic and transparent values and common knowledge that will be necessary for our species survival. This will happen because of the two big changes that are happening in humankind right now: the coming together of human societies and the technological upgrade of human species. Humanity oneness is being created by the global threats that could cause the species extinction: not only climate change or epidemics but possible meteorites from the space or the eternal nuclear threat. This humanity unity coupled with the other big change AI, with biotech and infotech, will create either a global threat to our species that could become a new speciation (human upgrade) as Yuval Harari argues, or will give us the possibility not only to survive as a species but to become a multiplanetary specie, with the colonization first of all of the Moon and then of Mars, waiting to go outside the Solar System by the end of this century. The humanity interconnectedness will be used for more cooperation (by democracies) or for more conflicts (by dictatorships) as AI will be used for more individual empowerment (in democracies) or for more social control (in dictatorships).

But at the end, again democracies will win in the long term, for the reasons explained. As Prof. Bennet Munro wrote in 1927 from Foreign Affairs pages: “Democracy is a fair-weather craft. In monsoons and hurricanes it does well to scurry off. But in time the skies will clear. Then, with the rising barometer, the world will feel in better mood and order its affairs accordingly.” And as Dr MLK once said: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”.

Coronavirus: my Italian articles for Difesa Online

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https://www.difesaonline.it/evidenza/punti-di-vista/coronavirus-aiuti-allerosione-dei-valori-democratici-e-allunit%C3%A0-occidentali

https://www.difesaonline.it/mondo-militare/sicurezza-ed-emergenze-epidemiche-nuova-trasformazione-lalleanza-atlantica

https://www.difesaonline.it/mondo-militare/coronavirus-defender-europe-ridimensionata-un-nuovo-ruolo-la-nato

 

 

 

 

Pandemics: a threat for democracy and an opportunity for international order.

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Giorgio Agamben, Italian philosopher, spoke recently again about the “State of Exception”, term used for the first time after 9/11, to show the risks for Western democracy to go towards totalitarianism. Besides terrorism, the world connected with information technology that spy on us started to erode democracy and freedom. But today the pandemics, more than terrorists or the Big Brother, are creating permanent States of Exception. The Corona virus is just the first one. Twenty years after the terrorist threat narrative now states have a new one: pandemics. And will be a longer lasting one.

Donald Trump won the presidency with the motto “America first”, inaugurating the idea of new competition in the international system, as I wrote three years ago on this E-IR article. This started to erode the Western liberal order based on cooperation among Western countries and also with the rest, to see if it was possible to transit toward a new world order, after 30 years since end of Bipolarism and Cold War. In the meantime, China tried to launch its race in the competition for the new World hegemony, taking advantage of American retrenchment, with the Belt and Road initiative. But no American or Chinese presidencies can do for the international order what a small germ is doing right now.

Domestic level: threats to democracy

The State of Exception is when the states are applying unusual extension of power, with the potential to transform democracies into authoritarian states. Even if we are still far from that, Western liberal democracies are more and more eroded in the last decades, with a process that we could define of authoritarianization making them increasingly resembling autocratic national models.

This State of Exception is based on the process of “securitization”, that transform an issue into matters of “security”, to enable extraordinary means by the state, and to make the population more and more controlled. It is always accompanied by the propaganda machine, the idea that something has to be sold to the population, before to be realized, and by the persuasion of the masses by the state using psychological tools as a famous BBC documentary showed. The problem is that today, with the current technological power, the mass surveillance can have new tools to closely monitoring people’s lives, with smartphones, cameras, drones and even bio technological tools (like in the need for checking the coronavirus infection)

Securitization and State of Exception happens for many reasons: risks of mass hysteria in social media times, fake news that fuel nationalism and populism, but mostly because the threats and challenges to national security and social cohesion are becoming more and more global but also immediate. This means that there are no borders that can protect from them and there is no time to discuss in Parliaments for solutions to acute crisis, when the gradual escalation become an explosion. This can happen for big terrorist attacks as well as for pandemics, natural disasters or even a meteorite that fall in the atmosphere (that by the way is still a possibility in the near future for the planet Earth).

Threats like pandemics, nuclear risks or natural disasters happen suddenly and give nation states no time to think, or debate in Parliaments, and no space to defend, with the need of creating global norms, and in future even a world government. Artificial intelligence and climate change are more gradual, but they also will have tipping points and moments of explosion. With the Corona virus crisis this has been evident. And nobody was prepared, not institutions and less populations, as usually happens. Italy has been the political experiment this time, like the US had been after 9/11. Italians were the first to be forced to stay home, actually more than a quarantine, in a de facto curfew, suspending Constitutional rights as possibility to assembly or meet together. The government had continuous interventions, with executive power growing at the expenses of Parliamentary discussion and sharing of information (actually the lack of clear information about the lethality of the virus is functional to the acceptance of extreme measures by the population).

The same is happening now with the rest of European continent, again the place for political experiments for the future of the world: the regional unification is the first example, and now with the emergency of the virus there will be a stronger unification, with the closure of the borders and even if initially the nation states tried to recuperate their sovereignty (some states closing independently the borders in the Schengen Area) the European Union retook the power. Great Britain is the only one that to keep economic growth and democratic survival will not shut down a society completely, also because made just in time to go out of the EU in a real clairvoyant way. They announced that the strategy will be to increase immunity and to accept in the meantime more losses: tears blood and sweat again.

But the point is that this democratic erosion is not eternal, and will see a Renaissance from the population, that will demand a new “social contract”. A social contract where the people will pretend from the institutions to participate more in the social security, in a new Res-publica with stronger social capital and a new resilience of the population. Modern nation states actually will have to develop it through a new “Civil Defense”[1] of national security (besides the military one) against these new threats for which the old national security institutions cannot do much.

This will make the Western democracy to adapt, transform and be born again, in a new style, more adept to modern times, where executive power is stronger because has the trust of the citizens, that will be able to control it with new tools.

International level: opportunity for new world order

At international level, the current international competition, after almost three decades of cooperation since the end of Cold War, is like a new war, but a nonviolent one. To make a winner it uses mostly economic power, but also soft power (and sharp one from the dictatorships like Russia and China). Until now China seemed to win. Now things will start to change.

China will bring more and worst SARS in future as they did in the past, losing its even small soft power of attraction (even if will try to regain it helping the countries around the world, like is doing now with Italy). To change a culture is not like to change an economic system: if Deng Xiao Ping was quick to open China to international markets, Xi Jinping will struggle to convince one and half billion of Chinese to stop eating and trading wild animals. But China is only one of the many countries from where viruses and pandemics could come in the future (as Ebola showed us). So, the international system will see competition among states, to make clear who will resist and react better to these new threats.

At the beginning the “natural selection” among countries with different abilities to survive and strive in times of crises will come out. Nevertheless, with the time the countries will try to create a new international order. These countries, the “winner” in the international competition in time of crisis (mostly economic but also social crisis, as the pandemics make people more depressed and less resilient) will be able to agree on a new international system, based on reciprocal support for the times of crisis. This initial natural selection will be based mostly on economic struggle.

The world economy with this pandemic crisis will create a gigantic shock that will force states to cooperate. With the virus there will be an economic crisis probably much worst that 1929. If we don’t freeze the system in the next few months, we will actually need a new Marshall Plan as weak countries will collapse, failing even in the West. We don’t have much time, unless we act soon 2020 will be remembered as the worst year of modern times in world economy, with the worst global economy and financial crisis until now. But maybe the renaissance could come from the green economy. Actually, with the virus for the climate change there are very good news: we had a big reduction in carbon dioxide and this will continue as more states are shutting down. This is good news also for the economy: we could come out of this gigantic crisis with new ideas for a green and sustainable economy.

Therefore, for global threats we will need international cooperation, even a new world government before the end of this century if we want the species survival, as the treats will be quite big (in particular pandemics, artificial intelligence and climate change). Actually, the human species will be able to survive probably only if it finds a way to deal with these global threats in a unified way, and the sooner the better, at least by the end of this century. Competition will make space to cooperation relatively “soon”.

Unfortunately, human race always come together only through real suffering. This virus will also make humankind more united, but much bigger pain will come. We don’t have to give up to democracy and international cooperation though, as they are the two pillars that made us come till here. We must continue this path. Will not be easy but we owe to our future generations.

 

[1] Civil Defense or Civil Protection is the protection of the citizens of a state from external attacks or natural disasters, following the principles of emergency operations like prevention, mitigation, resilience or emergency evacuation and recovery. It has never been really applied, even if the nuclear era made it a possibility, but today and in the future of our world will be more and more important, as the threats will not be military but more and more health crisis, natural disasters and maybe even spatial ones in the near future.

Western Asia in 2020s: risk of major war or opportunity of Regional Integration?

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The biggest opportunity in this decade for Western Asia (WA), the crucial area for the stability of the world, is a great bargain between Shia crescent and the Sunni world, for a WA integration based on a Collective Security Community and a Free Trade Integration. The region has homogeneity in religion even if heterogeneity in ethnicity, but also Europe has the same characteristics. The area has also a history of wars, mostly proxy wars recently, and great power influence and invasions (again similarly to Europe). Finally, this part of the world is economically similar with natural resources, first of all oil, and economic stable growth. Therefore is not unthinkable that Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the rest of Arab States in the region (with the presence of Israel as a pivot state) might decide for a gradual regional integration, like Europe, but also Africa, Americas and Southeast Asia decided to do in the past.

There are two issues and two possible inputs for this path. The two issues are:

-In the last two decades the regional powers (first of all Iran, but also Turkey and Saudi Arabia) supported by global ones, competed for influence over the region, creating constant violence and instability, and there seems no to be a new strategic vision for a great bargain at the horizon.

-This great bargain can be possible only with an Iranian regime change (as no Ayatollah regime will accept Israel and a regional system without Israel, even if with a special status, will not be sustainable) and this could take more than one decade to happen.

The possible inputs toward this path are:

-An Israeli-Palestinian settlement (but the recent one proposed by US and Israel has not been accepted and the solution could be postponed for long time, until “facts on the ground” are reached)

-A EU/NATO[1] support after the Iraqi/Syrian proxy wars (but the recent Middle East Strategic Alliance, an “Arab NATO”, didn’t work out and EU and NATO will be busy crafting their new relationship this decade)

The biggest risk, on the opposite, is a great war during this decade between Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon on one side and Israel and the Arab world on the other (Turkey will try to stay out,  because of NATO alliance and Iranian border, but if will enter could probably stay with the Sunni side). This risk is high in this decade, given the increased elements that point towards an escalation, and the acceleration because of three more urgent threats at global level that should be treated soon (nuclear, climate and technological). These are the 4 crucial factors that support this risk:

-End of Iranian Nuclear Deal with the real concrete possibility that Iran gets nuclear power in the next couple of years. The Iran nuclear crisis of the early 2000s will be back, pushing military urgency.

-US Peace Plan for Israel-Palestine (rejected by Palestine, Iran but also Arab league) with consequent Israeli annexation of occupied territories inside West Bank after March elections.

-Recent escalation in violence between Iran and US, with the killing of Suleimani and the prospect of more hybrid[2] warfare against Al-Quds and other Iranian militias.

-West Asia never ending proxy wars (Syria, Iraq, Yemen, may be later also Lebanon) with interventions from Iran and Russia on one side and US and allies on the other, and Turkey moving between the two, with no sign to end soon this decade.

The two possibilities don’t exclude each other, actually a major war could precede the regional integration (as it has been in the past for Europe) and the current trends seem to show a path that points towards this risk. The role of US and Russia will be also determinant to push towards one of these paths, without excluding the Chinese alignments. As a recent Stratfor report argues, the 2020s will be a Multipolar decade, with shifting and fluid alliances. So, we’ll see what happens, as Trump always says.

[1] NATO should close its Mediterranean Dialogue after 26 years and create two new partnerships: North African Dialogue (with Maghreb region) and West Asia dialogue (with Levant region). NATO Istanbul Cooperation Initiative should be expanded to all countries of GCC.

[2] Hybrid warfare blends conventional warfare, irregular warfare (among state and non-state actors with proxies, militias etc.) and cyberwarfare with other methods, at economic level (with embargos) political level (with diplomatic tools, like proposing peace plans take it or leave it) and social level (with informational warfare, lawfare etc.)

 

 

Iran and the US grand strategy: weakening engagement following maximum pressure

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Obama’s priority for Middle East was supporting US Allies, first of all Israel and Saudi Arabia, while doing “constructing engagement”[1] with Iran, which terminated with the famous nuclear deal. Trump instead, while maintaining and reinforcing the strategic partnership with US Allies, since 2019 started to weaken its eternal rival, with the “maximum pressure policy”, leaving the JCPOA agreement that gave temporary advantage to Iran, reinstating the sanctions to rebalance the power.

A recent Foreign Affairs article argues that “Tump’s Iran imbroglio undermines US priorities everywhere else”, calling out the cost of an incoherent foreign policy, as Trump seemed to go from pulling out from Middle East to engagement, with “expanded American aims across the Middle East—focusing above all on Iran…with a policy of economic strangulation—known as “maximum pressure”—with no objective on which his administration could agree.” But is Trump foreign policy towards Iran and Middle East in general really incoherent, or is showing instead real coherence for a better grand strategy to win the Cold War with Iran finally after almost 40 years, with an implosion of the Ayatollah regime similarly to what happened with Soviet Union?

The Middle East (or better West Asia, given the fact that “Middle East” is a Eurocentric concept) has always been the pivotal region to “command the Heartland” as Halford Mackinder, one of the founding fathers of geopolitics and geostrategy, said.  The Obama’s pivot or “rebalancing” to Asia has never been very convincing, and after the post-Arab Spring chaos, the birth of ISIS, and the proxy wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, the US have been pulled back to the region, even if not anymore with an old style increased presence on the battle ground but with more modern complex hybrid warfare. The fact is that West Asia is the pivotal area for geographical reasons, with three regions converging on the contested space the “Fertile Crescent” (the Syria-Iraq region, called today also the “Shia Crescent”) but even for historical ones: not only the cradle of civilizations and of the Abrahamitic religions, but the area where Turkish, Iranians and Arabs clashed (with the Kurds in the middle, always repressed or excluded) and where Shia and Sunni also fought. Iran, like Turkey, in its history has been always defiant and proud of its civilizations and empires, trying often to dominate the “wild” Arabs. So, to speak about Iran is to speak not only of the current “revolutionary regime” of Ayatollah and the Islamic Republic, but of an ancient nation, with sophisticated people and history, besides economic power and geopolitical crucial position. This should be taken into consideration when we talk about grand strategy for Iran and West Asia.

The US should have a comprehensive long-term strategy and not a fragmented or changing one if wants to win also this Cold War, that’s true. But this doesn’t mean that Trump actions reveal an incoherent strategy. On the opposite. At the end of the day the coherent strategy of Containment lasted 4 decades, before to be successful, and required different regional wars and global actions. To contain Iran too US tried with regional wars (Afghanistan-Iraq) and a Western embargo, but then the birth of proxy wars and the diplomatic cooperative approach of Obama presidency changed the situation, giving Iran more power. Trump administration started with the strategy of “maximum pressure” that is actually giving its own results. The US should therefore keep and increase this pressure, like is doing now, transforming it in a “weakening engagement”, close in some way to the “containment” strategy, but balanced with a more offensive policy, similar to the “roll back” that US didn’t really use towards Soviet influence across Europe and Asia (but that was another rival). This will really help US to do a better deal with Iran, not with the Ayatollah but with a new regime, when the moment of regime change will arrive (from inside the country as always must be in order to be sustainable). When people will be fed up of the regime propaganda and repression, the citizens themselves will topple the dictatorship masked by “Supreme Guide”, in Iran as anywhere else.

The clearest demonstration that this weakening engagement is the best strategy is the fact that when the US arrived to a deal with Iran after 36 years of division, Iran was not weakened but reinforced. Instead, the art of the deal, Trump docet, require that deals must be done from a superior position, otherwise they will be good for the other part not for us. The weakening engagement has shown to be working very well already, as after the assassination of Suleiman Iran practically only reaction was an own goal: killing Iranians on the Ukrainian flight. Showing not only the unwillingness to really revenge with a full attack against US military bases, to avoid an escalation that Iranian regime could not win, but also the inability to use the most advance weapons, like the missiles that shoot down the airplane. Therefore, the weakening of the regime is already very evident, besides the protest that are going on in the country.

So how this coherent strategy should be maintained in this decade? The weakening engagement strategy should be maintained first of all with economic tools, as economic crisis is always the first reason of protests against a regime. The economic embargo is already giving its fruits (Iran economy is expected to shrink almost 9% in 2019/2020 according to World Bank). The second threat to the regime will be the democratic and modernization desire of the youth. And here will be important to support the demonstrations as usual but also to engage with the soft power of Iranian people, their culture and history, showing to the world that Iran is much more than a Theocratic regime. The third threat to the regime will be the imperial overstretching, with regional influence not able to be held anymore with economic shrinking. Imperial overstretch and economic stagnation are a tremendous cocktail against the survival of a regime, as Roman empire learned almost two millennia ago and Soviet Union more recently. And the Syrian, Iraqi and Yemeni wars, together with Hezbollah support in Lebanon, already made Iran starting to suffer from the regional engagement, making the Quds Forces on the first line of efforts. The final important thing for this strategy to work is to continue with the escalation, to make Iranian regime weaker and weaker.

So, what will be the main drivers of escalation for Iranian foreign security policy in this decade with the US? The first will the efficacy of the US maximum pressure campaign/weakening engagement strategy itself. If there is high level efficacy Iran will have to follow up with more escalation. Then there are the political factors in Iran, which are based on religious ideology, military strategy and elites’ power. If Iranian hawks will remain in power, then the escalation will continue (Iran will have also crucial parliamentary elections in February that will affect all this) creating more division in the internal power struggle with elites. Finally, is important to see the Iranian regional gains: if Iran perceives that is gaining in the region that will make escalate more. But the end of the day a proxy militia is an “active resistance” militia for Iran, so ideology is the real final driver for Iran.

In the meantime that the weakening engagement works, it is fundamental to maintain the alliance with US traditional allies in the region, obviously the Sunni powers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, which represent Washington’s comparative advantage towards Iran who has no allies, apart a strategic relationships with Russia (but not and ideological alliance based on values and historical bonds). The most important US relationship to make the strategy work is the one with Israel. The relationship with Iran is strictly connected to the existence of Israel and to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as Iran consider Israel the main enemy, illegitimate occupier of Palestinian land that will have to disappear. The irony is that with this stance the Ayatollah declares their own end, as there cannot be coexistence between Iranian Ayatollah regime and Israel, and obviously Israel will never disappear from the maps. Today Trump will reveal its Middle East plan, even if we know already that Palestinian Authority will not accept it as a Palestinian PM already said that Trump plan will “finish off Palestinian cause”. Kushner last year presented the economic part of the plan, with 50bn$ investment to drastically improve the Palestinian economy, but the political plan doesn’t satisfy Palestinians, nor the Iranians, as it doesn’t support the two-state solution.

Iran prefers to avoid a major war, that’s why it maintains unconventional forces and proxies, instead of engaging in a total war with stronger powers, as Iran never won a war, and a war with US and Israel would obviously be the end of Iranian regime. But in the long run with the weakening engagement proxy wars will not be enough to maintain Iranian sphere of influence in the Shia Crescent. And even if Iran will not do the first strike, with increased assassinations (the first one will be probably the new chief of Quds Forces as US envoy recently said), clandestine operations, cyber warfare, unmanned vehicles attacks, etc. a major military engagement could be forced during the decade. The issue is to see if this will be accepted by a hungered and angry population. That will be the moment of truth of the Iranian regime. If not, the internal “rift” that will be created by the weakening engagement will do.

[1] Similar to the Reagan “constructive engagement” for South Africa

For a West Asia future integration: regional powers strategy and European support

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The human suffering caused by proxy wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya will be probably remembered as the biggest failure of the international community to defend civilians in civil wars, worst than the Balkans or Rwanda at the end of 20th century. But sooner or later also these wars will have to end, like it happened in the past long wars of Europe, with peace negotiations among major regional powers, local factions and international community. And it is in time of despair that we need stronger and longer visions: the Middle East (or better West Asia, as West Asia is a European construction) will not be the same anymore, the post-Ottoman order have arrived to an end after one century, and a new regional order has to rise.

The regional powers will have to think strategically on how to build a new regional order based not on an unstable balance of power but on a gradual future integration. The powers with vocation of global actors, in particular Turkey and Iran, will have to understand that only together will be able to play a role in the future complex world. As it has been for Europe last century, also West Asia, if it wants to abandon the past of violence and underdevelopment, will need some type of grand bargain among the regional powers. An economic, political but also security integration, like it has been for the CEE and NATO, as development and security go hand in hand.

Therefore the question that rise for the future of West Asia in comparison to the European past is: could Iran be what Germany has been for Europe, a strong engine, Turkey what France has been, a democratic light, and Saudi Arabia what Italy has been, an understanding bridge? And could the EU help to facilitate this process like the US did in Europe with the Marshall Plan and NATO? Comparison are always a risk, as every region and history is different, but lesson learned, principles and best practices can be adapted to new times and different spaces. Especially if we look at long term trends in this decade of 2020s.

Iran was back in the international community since the nuclear deal was signed, but it is now in a much different situation. Nevertheless, it will always have the potential to become the economic cornerstone of a future “West Asian Economic Community”, at least when the Ayatollah regime will disappear, or will be radically transformed to accept the existence of Israel and the presence of US military bases in West Asia. Turkey neither is today in a cooperative attitude, with its desire to cast its influence in the Levant and the Mediterranean. But Turkey, besides being the connector between Europe and the West Asia, has the potential to be the “light on the hill” for the region, with its history of multiculturalism in the Ottoman times and democratic growth in the Republican ones. Turkey represented the most trusted country in the West Asia for long time: the country to who the Muslim world would look up to.  Governments and regimes pass but countries’ history and identity remain, so Turkey will have to rediscover the good elements of both the Ottoman times, with its history of cohabitation, and the good ones of its Republican history, with its roots in secular democracy. It will have to make a great bargain not only with the Shia power but also with the Arab world, from where the revolution against the Ottoman empire came. Finally, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries sooner or later will have to see that their role is the bridge between the Maghreb and the Southwest Asia: the region to which they belong historically, geographically and ontologically is the space between the Levant, the North Africa and the Indian Ocean. And they are the custody of the Muslim holy cities, so they can be humble enough to understand the different perspectives of the other Muslim brothers and sisters. It is there that they have to find a new Renaissance with a new approach between religion and politics, instead of keep trying to fight an impossible battle with the Shia crescent, either in the Levant or in the Arabic Peninsula. Egypt, like the other North African countries, being Muslim Arabs and so similar for religion and ethnicity to the Arab part of West Asia, could support Saudi Arabia but from an external point, as all North Africa is part of Africa and should re-learn the pan-Africanism that will be important for the future greater integration of African Union.

Another similarity with European history is that Iran and Saudi Arabia sectarian division is not so different from the Catholic-Protestant division in Europe, which started with a 30 years religious war and ended centuries after with two world wars, before France and Germany finally agreed to integrate in an economic union. A similar religious war is actually happening with proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia, supported by their global partners, but to avoid a major armed conflict, regional powers in West Asia will have to be enough visionary to understand that they can have more benefit if they collaborate than if they compete, in particular in globalized times. If Iran, S. Arabia and Turkey will understand that cooperating with each other for economic development and mutual security will be more beneficial than competing for sphere of influences, as Germany, Italy and France finally understood, this will create the leadership that the West Asia desperately need since at least one century. And most importantly, the Muslim world will have the leadership needed to live in peace with Jews and Christians, recreating that harmony of faiths that recognize Abraham as their first prophet.

All this is a long process, but long paths have to start somewhere and like the Treaty of Rome followed the Ventotene Manifesto on Europe, also the West Asia needs some new “Manifesto”. The intellectual and political figures of West Asia need to come out with a visionary role that may take the lead to trace the road. The Islamic intelligentsia should start to reflect and talk about the future regional order, and international organizations like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation should play a role in this too. Concepts like the Islamic banking and finance, based on similar political or economic values, could be an important starting point to make the regional powers see that they share more than what they differ.

The integration of West Asia cannot happen though without also the inclusion of Israel. Israel is the compass of the region, it is the only state with a stable democracy in West Asia, even if with its flaws in the discrimination towards Arab citizens and the Palestinian state (actually like US has been for centuries: a new great democracy in the world, but not towards the Indians and the black slaves). Therefore there will not be integration of the West Asia without inclusiveness of Israel and with that process Israel will finally get the legitimacy to be recognized as a partner by the leaders of the West Asian Muslim world but will have to democratize for all its citizens, including Arabs, not having second class ones.

This task will not be possible without some external supporters, to facilitate the diplomatic efforts and the security environment needed for an economic and political integration (like the US has been for Europe with NATO). This can be done if external powers enter in the scene as mediators and guarantors, not as invader like in the past, and the first of this actor should be the EU. The EU could do for the future “West Asian Union” what the US did for the birth of the EU, including security and economic support. This could represent an occasion also for the EU to recover from the economic, social and cultural crisis that is living right now. But the EU should first of all change its foreign policy towards the region and start using a “constructive engagement”. “Constructive engagement” was a term used by the Reagan administration during the 1990s, as an alternative to the economic sanctions to South Africa during Apartheid. A constructive engagement could be possible also in the West Asia, using incentives as a means of encouraging diplomatic tools and regional integration. The demonstration that this strategy can work is the fact that the US and the EU were able to arrive to a deal with Iran after a long “cold war”, and at the same time didn’t lose the alliance with their main allies in the region. This therefore is the time in which the Western powers can amend from the past actions in the West Asia and to paraphrase the famous book of David Fromkin, help to build a real “peace to end all wars.”

Diplomacy requires time and patience, and ability to find a balance among the parts. It is not an easy game but is needed to extend the “shadow of the future”, to think about the long term in order to open prospective for convergence. It seems a far stretch right now to think about a West Asian integration but the European Coal and Steel Community also seemed impossible during the worst times and it started only in the 1957 in order, as Schuman said, “to make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible”. The same could happen in the ME in the long run, putting in common the energy resources, and the regional powers will have to take the lead during this century. And better sooner than later, first for the people of the West Asia, that are always the victims, and second for all humankind, that will need to solve quickly these ancient tribal problems, before to think to its own survival with global solutions for global threats of climate change, nuclear war and technology disruption, as the famous scholar Harari argues.

It is in time of suffering that we need clear strategies and long visions. It is in time of war that we need political will and new ideas. It is in times of chaos that we need the realism of the mind and the optimism of the heart.

 

2020s: showdown of IRAN-US Cold War?

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The die is cast. There will be a before and after 1/3/2020 for Iran, US, and the Middle East, like before and after 9/11/2001 or before and after 12/18/2010, when the Arab Spring started in Tunisia (and didn’t end yet). The killing of Soileimani started the showdown ofthe cold war between Iran and the US/West, but also between the Shia crescent and the Arab world, and in general between a vision of a radical Political Islam, with religious law primacy on the public system, which born with Iranian Revolution, and a more moderate Political Islam, which sees Islam as a source of inspiration for public policies like in some Arab countries. As ancient Latin said: 2020s will probably be the decade of Redde Rationem. The end of the other Cold War happened nonviolently, after 40 years, but for this one is not sure that will end without violence.

In this decade Iraq, after being the playground for world powers, the place of birth of a criminal state like ISIS, and the land for militias fighting in a new proxy war, could be transformed in the place for the hot war between the Ayatollah Regime and Arab/Sunni world. Since its first human civilizations in Mesopotamia to today, Iraq continue to be the center of the change for Mankind. Iran instead, the country that is the only theocracy in the world right now (apart from the Vatican) and the country that created a new idea of democracy, the “guided democracy” (because people by themselves would not be capable of producing the best outcomes through a “western-style democracy” based on “one man one vote”) became at odds with modernity more and more decade by decade. In different areas of human rights, religion role in public sphere, women role in society, and anti-liberal religious regulations, Iran started two generations ago its ‘global vocation’ to bring the ‘Islamic verb’ to the region and later to the world, and there was no way that this was not going to clash with the rest of the world, in particular the West, the cradle of individual freedom. China and Russia also came to modernity riding the horse of the West, from global markets to modern technologies, grew economically and politically in their sphere of influence through the West, but don’t want to take responsibility today defend modernity as it’s much easier to be Free Riders than to take leadership. So, what will be the future?

Much will depend on what regional powers will do, in particular Israel, Saudi Arabia with its Arab brothers, and Turkey, and what Europe will do, if end finally the “bad deal” or wait to give Iran another chance. 2020 could be start of the escalation with Iran, as a recent Stratfor report argues, or the year of the start of a great bargain to build finally also in West Asia, a security system as in other homogenous regions, like the EU, ASEAN or AU. Only the future will say.