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Monday, January 05, 2015

Spread of Radicalism and Decline of “Nation-Sate”

(First draft: Please send your comments to:

Spread of Radicalism and Decline of “Nation-Sate
Ali Asghar Kazemi*
January 5, 2015
Keywords: Radicalism, Extremism; Terrorism, Nation-State, Middle-East. 
Abstract: The main arguments in this short paper are threefold:
1)      The spread of radicalism is causing the gradual decline of the “nation-State” and this in turn paves the way for the rise of terrorism which in the long-run will end up to total extinction of the notion of modern state;
2)      Democratic powerful states cannot counter this dangerous development with sole military means, unless they choose the same tactics and tools used by terrorists groups, which is in contradiction with accepted civilized norms and ideals;
3)     Authoritarian states seem to be better equipped to contain this momentum; but they too may be caught in a whirlpool trap created by terrorist that may imperil their own existence.


Ever since the birth of the “Nation-State[1] in the Congress of Westphalia in 1648 until the collapse of the Soviet Empire[2] in 1991, while the world had experienced major wars and conflicts, the overall structure and the concept of “state” were more or less accepted by world Nations. There is a difference between these concepts. [3] A nation-state differs from a "state" or a "nation" for a couple of important reasons:
A nation refers only to a socio-cultural entity, a union of people sharing who can identify culturally and linguistically. This concept does not necessarily consider formal political unions.
A state on the other hand refers to a legal/political entity that is comprised of the following: a) a permanent population; b) a defined territory; c) a government; and d) the capacity to enter into relations with other states.
The quasi peaceful disintegration of the Soviet Union ushered the doors for similar demands  in multi-ethnic regions where various ethnicities were forced to form a conglomeration of an assorted people dissimilar in cultures, sects, languages, religions etc. This would usually happen after each great armed conflict and the conclusions of wars.
Such is the case of Arab nations of the Middle East and North Africa and ethnic minorities of the Balkan Peninsula that are the products of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire[4]. In other part of the world the colonial powers had to recognize rights to self-determination for territories under their dominion.
During the Cold War[5], leftist movements of varying origins were more or less the only destabilizing forces that threatened the existence of “nation states.”But the West and capitalist front were alert of the danger of communist threats and did all in their capacity to contain their expansion. Perhaps the collapse of the Soviet Union was the result of such awareness. At this very moment the Russian Federation is formed of a number of nations some of which are in pursuit of their autonomy or independence. [6]
The end of Cold War encouraged ethnic groups here and there to claim autonomy or independence in areas where minorities had coexisted in peaceful relations for centuries. Spread of radicalism has started where the central government opposed to such demands and in some cases used force to contain the turmoil. The case of Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran is a lucid example of such demands.[7]
 Stability of the “nation-state” depends on a numbers of attributes such as: rule of law, democracy, justice, equitable distribution of resources, sustainable development etc. without which the state becomes susceptible to fall into disarray. In such condition the nation becomes a fertile land for propagation of all kinds of evils and diseases. Radicalism and terrorism like virus and microbes quickly disseminate all over a region even a continent.

Changing Perception of Threat
Until September 11, 2001 [8]the West and particularly the United States of America had no clear notion of the threats posed by radical Islamists not only to few  states they belong to but to the whole modern civilization on earth. The collapse of the twin towers in New York City was a horrible shock to the entire world after which the perception of national security and threat were radically changed in the minds of strategists and defense planners.
American military interventions in Afghanistan and later in Iraq and Libya resulted to the collapse of these more or less established though dictatorial nation-states. That was the beginning of a series of radical changes, and turmoil in the Middle East region and North Africa that resulted to the collapse of incumbent regimes
After the fall of Taliban in Afghanistan we have seen the spread of Al-Qaeda in the region. The defeated Iraq was a fertile swamp to attract elements of Al-Qaeda which quickly recruited the unhappy Baathist pro-Saddam to organize a rather viable force against American coalition and inflicted serious damage to them. Soon after, the crisis erupted in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria and Yemen where terrorist groups ventured to seize the opportunity to deploy to those lands.
Syria escaped this transformation because of foreign interference that to this time has prevented the collapse of the regime. However, this country fell in a decisive civil war that until now has claimed several hundreds of dead and injured and millions of refugees[9].
The continuation of the Syrian crisis, especially because of the backing of Russia and Iran on the one hand, and American support of the opposition groups on the other, rendered this country helpless against terrorists who occupy certain Syrian regions and annexed them to some Iraqi provinces to declare an independent state.( The Islamic Sate of Iraq and Syria ISIS[10])

Extremism Gaining Momentum
Among militant radical movements, the most violent who have been targeting the West and American interests in the past three decades, are Islamist fundamentalists. These groups, who have been rather dormant in the past century, revived after the Islamic revolution in Iran around 1979. Militant Islam has now operational bases in Algeria, Egypt, Somalia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Pakistan, to name just a few countries. [11]
Islamic extremism refers to two related and partially overlapping but also distinct aspects of extremist interpretations and pursuits of Islamic ideology: [12]
-an extremely conservative view of Islam, which doesn't necessarily entail violence even though it may have an emphasis on Jihad.
-the use of extreme tactics such as bombing and assassinations for achieving perceived Islamic goals.
Recent terrorist attack in Pakistan that left more than hundred innocent pupil dead and many more injured is a vivid indication that radicalism is dangerously gaining momentum in a state with nuclear capability. Indeed the world should be alarmed of this critical development. It is almost unthinkable what would happen if terrorists put their evil hands on Pakistan nuclear arsenal.[13]
Islamist extremist groups  have been  spreading in almost all corners of the world . In the African continent thousands of members of Nigeria’s home-grown Boko Haram[14] radical Islamist group set out kidnapping women and children and selling them as slaves on the market. Farther north, Boko Haram employing recruits from neighboring Chad are instigating Islamic uprising in the region.
Islamic terrorism consists of terror attacks by Islamic fundamentalists to further a perceived Islamic religious or political cause. It has occurred globally, in practically every continent, including in Africa, Australia, the Middle East, Europe, South and South-east Asia, South America, The Caucasus, The Pacific and North America. Terrorist organizations have been known to engage in tactics including suicide attacks, bombings, spree killings, hijackings, kidnappings, and beheadings.[15]
The roots of militant Islam run deep and may take many years to eradicate. Accordingly, the West must prepare itself for future confrontations. More importantly, Americans should realize that the war they are actually engaged in the Middle East against the ISIS is not really leading to anywhere. They must understand that this is not a war on terrorism, since, terrorism is only a tactic, a way of achieving sublime objectives of a faith. This struggle is against a radical, utopian ideology and those who carry out violence in its name.[16]
Beside illegal terrorist groups and insurgents, there are a number of extremist entities that under the guise of regular “state” commit or promote act of terror. An example of this kind may be the defunct Libyan Ghaddafi who for a period of time tried to destabilize certain regions in the Middle East and North Africa.[17]
Democratic states, no matter how powerful, are inherently incapable to effectively fight radicalism since to do so they have to choose the same instruments of terror which is against their claimed ideals. They may use authoritarian states to achieve this objective but this option too has its own weakness. They may risk compromising the overall security and survival of vulnerable states that are susceptible to disintegrate totally.

The Fate of the “Nation-State”
The more weaken became the pillars of the traditional “nation-states” the more instability resulted and the larger became the spread of Islamic radicalism in the world. Amid these turmoil we witnessed the birth of the most radical and savage groups like the self-claimed “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS)[18] that later changed to “Islamic Caliphate” that seeks its origin in past centuries Islam.[19]
Now the world is facing an unprecedented threat from radical groups who for sake of simplicity we call them “terrorists.” These people, who commit daily crimes and unprecedented atrocities, come from around the world of a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds among which Western Christians and non-believers are most active. Some of them appear to be criminal by nature for whom fighting and killing is a sort of mental pleasure.
It is most plausible that terrorist elements coming from Europe and elsewhere in the world to fight in Syria and Iraq will sooner or later go back to their homeland and with the experience they gained could pose a serious danger to the stability and security of states of their origin.[20]
The spread of terrorism is an alarming threat to the peace and order of the international system.    The world in general and vulnerable regions such as the Middle East should urgently guard against the consequences of this dangerous development before it is too late. The fate of the “Nation-State” depends on the proper management of this impending crisis and its wider implications./

*Ali Asghar Kazemi is professor of Law and International Relations, Faculty of Law and Political Science, Science & Research Branch- Islamic Azad University Tehran-Iran. 

[1] The terms nation, state, country and nation-state are used to refer to political, economic, social and cultural actors in the international system. The modern nation-state refers to a single or multiple nationalities joined together in a formal political union. The nation-state determines an official language(s), a system of law, manages a currency system, uses a bureaucracy to order elements of society, and fosters loyalties to abstract entities like "Canada," "the United States," and so on. Cf,  :

[2] The informal term "Soviet Empire" is used by critics of the Soviet Union and Russian nationalists to refer to that country's perceived imperialist foreign policy during the Cold War. The nations said to be part of the "Soviet Empire" were officially independent countries with separate governments that set their own policies to some extent, but those policies had to remain within certain limits decided by the Soviet Union and enforced by threat of intervention by Warsaw Pact (Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968, Poland 1980). Countries in this situation are often called satellite states.Some scholars hold that the Soviet Union was a hybrid entity containing elements common to both multinational empires and nation states., Maoists argued that the Soviet Union had itself become an imperialist power while maintaining a socialist fa├žade. Cf.
[3] Ibid

[4] Ottoman Empire, empire created by Turkish tribes in Anatolia. One of the most powerful states in the world during the 15th and 16th centuries, it spanned more than 600 years and came to an end only in 1922, when it was replaced by the Turkish Republic and various successor states in southeastern Europe and the Middle East. At its height the empire included most of southeastern Europe to the gates of Vienna, including modern Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia, Romania, Greece, and Ukraine; Iraq, Syria, Israel, and Egypt; North Africa as far west as Algeria; and most of the Arabian Peninsula. The term Ottoman is a dynastic appellation derived from Osman the nomadic Turkmen chief who founded both the dynasty and the empire. See:
[5] The Cold War (1947–1991) was a state of political and military tension after World War II between powers in the Western Bloc (the United States, its NATO allies and others) and powers in the Eastern Bloc (the Soviet Union and its allies in the Warsaw Pact).Cf.
[6]  Russia comprises 21 republics (states) which enjoy a high degree of autonomy on most issues and which correspond to some of Russia's numerous ethnic minorities. The Russian Federation is home to as many as 160 different ethnic groups and indigenous peoples, although the majority (81 percent) are ethnic Russians. Russia has from 10 to 20 million Muslims, constituting the largest religious minority. See:

[7] The Kurds  are an Iranian ethnic group in the Middle East, mostly inhabiting a region known as Kurdistan, which spans adjacent parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. The Kurds are an Iranian people and speak the Kurdish languages, which form a subgroup of the Northwestern Iranian branch of Iranian languages.

[8] On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

[9] The Syrian Civil War also known as the Syrian Uprising is an ongoing armed conflict taking place in Syria. The unrest began in the early spring of 2011 within the context of Arab Spring protests, with nationwide protests against President Bashar al-Assad's government, whose forces responded with violent crackdowns. The conflict gradually morphed from popular protests to an armed rebellion after months of military sieges. As of April 2014 the death toll had risen above 190,000 . More than 6.5 million Syrians have been displaced, more than 3 million Syrians have fled the country to countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq and become refugees, and millions more have been left in poor living conditions with shortages of food and drinking water. See:

[10] See below

[11] See: Jonathan Schanzer, “ At War With Whom?
A short history of radical Islam
In Middle East Forum Spring 2002.

[12] See:
[13] Terrorism in Pakistan has become a major and highly destructive phenomenon in recent years. The annual death toll from terrorist attacks has risen from 164 in 2003 to 3318 in 2009, with a total of 35,000 Pakistanis killed between September 11, 2001 and May 2011. According to the government of Pakistan, the direct and indirect economic costs of terrorism from 2000–2010 total $68 billion. See:  - Hassan Abbas. Pakistan's Drift Into Extremism: Allah, The Army, And America's War On Terror, M.E. Sharpe, 2004   - Tariq Ali. Can Pakistan Survive? The Death of a State, Penguin Books Ltd, 1983

[14] Boko Haram ("Western education is forbidden"), officially called Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'Awati Wal-Jihad (People Committed to the Prophet's Teachings for Propagation and Jihad), is a militant Islamist movement based in northeast Nigeria. The group was designated by the United States as a terrorist organization in November 2013. Membership has been estimated to number between a few hundred and a few thousand. Boko Haram killed more than 5,000 civilians between July 2009 and June 2014, including at least 2,000 in the first half of 2014, in attacks occurring mainly in northeast, north central and central states of Nigeria. Corruption in the security services and human rights abuses committed by them have hampered efforts to counter the unrest. Since 2009 Boko Haram have abducted more than 500 women and children, including the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in April 2014. Nearly 650,000 people had fled the conflict zone by August 2014, an increase of 200,000 since May.

[15] See:
[16]  Cf. Ibid
[17] Libya was behind many terrorist actions among which the destroying of  Pan Am Flight 103 scheduled transatlantic flight from London's Heathrow Airport to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport is most notable. On Wednesday 21 December 1988, the aircraft -a Boeing 747–121 was destroyed by a Libyan agent  bomb, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members. Eleven people in Lockerbie, southern Scotland, were killed as large sections of the plane fell in and around the town, bringing total fatalities to 270.
[18] While extremist groups are generally amorphous organizations, ISIS can trace its history directly back to the Sunni terrorist organization al Qaeda, specifically the Iraq faction, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). AQI, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was responsible for scores of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings in Iraq following the U.S. invasion there. After al-Zarqawi was killed in 2006 by an American airstrike, leadership of the group eventually fell to an experienced Iraqi fighter, Abu Du’a, better known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

[19] Caliphate, the political-religious state comprising the Muslim community and the lands and peoples under its dominion in the centuries following the death (632 ce) of the Prophet Muhammad. Ruled by a caliph  “successor”, who held temporal and sometimes a degree of spiritual authority, the empire of the Caliphate grew rapidly through conquest during its first two centuries to include most of Southwest Asia, North Africa, and Spain. Dynastic struggles later brought about the Caliphate’s decline, and it ceased to exist with the Mongol destruction of Baghdad in 1258. The concept of the caliphate took on new significance in the 18th century as an instrument of statecraft in the declining Ottoman Empire. The caliphate was abolished in 1924, following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of the Turkish Republic. See:
[20] . Belgium has been put on edge over potential Islamist terrorist attacks for the second time in four months amid reports that a man and woman who had returned from the war in Syria via Turkey were plotting an assault on the European Union's main offices in Brussels. With governments across Europe increasingly preoccupied by the risks arising from the return of nationals who have joined gone to Syria and Iraq to join Islamic State (Isis), concern is particularly high in Belgium. Four-hundred Belgians are said to have travelled to Syria to join the extremists, usually via Turkey and its long, porous border into the war zone. While that figure is much lower than the estimates for Britain, France or Germany, proportionately and in per capita terms Belgium is believed to have the highest number in Europe of would-be jihadists travelling to Syria. See :

* Ali Asghar Kazemi is professor of Law and International Relations in Tehran-Iran. Students, researchers, academic institutions, media or any party interested in using all or parts ‎of this article are welcomed to do so with the condition of giving full attribution to the author, Scholar -Journal and the ‎Middle East Academic Forum. ©All Copy Rights Reserved.‎

Friday, November 08, 2013

Prospects for Peace and Security in the Persian Gulf


Prospects for Peace and Security in the Persian Gulf

Ali Asghar Kazemi*


Keywords: Persian Gulf, Security arrangement, threat perception, arms race, regional balance of power, Iran’s regional strategy, United States global strategy, regional integration, security community, limited bipolarity, regional multi-polar system…


The main questions addressed in this paper are the followings:

· What are the sources of threats perceived to endanger the security and stability of the Persian Gulf in the new strategic environment, particularly in the post-Saddam period?

· What is the optimum policy alternative in order to preserve peace and stability in this strategic region?

It will be argued that the best option is a policy based on the following premises:

· There is no consensus on the threats endangering the stability of the Persian Gulf among regional and non-regional actors;

· The security business of the Persian Gulf should be left solely to initiative of coastal States;

· Any forced security and defense arrangement under the patronage and tutorship of an outside power would tend to be counterproductive and may further stir-up insecurity in the region;

· The best alternative would be the creation of a “security community,” based on political, economic, commercial, environmental, and cultural cooperative interaction of the coastal States, in such a way that all would benefit from it and none of them would feel threatened by the others.


Unlike the period of the cold war and the bipolar era, today, after the second American military intervention in Iraq, there is no consensus among the Persian Gulf States that the security of this important strategic region is threatened by any major regional or extra-regional hostile power. Furthermore, the global threat of terrorism seems not be deterred by conventional security arrangements. Therefore, the need for a regional defense pact and security deal, especially under the patronage and tutorship of any outside power, especially the United States, is not widely felt or appreciated by the interested States of this strategic region.

With the victory of Barrack Obama as a democrat President in the United States, there seems to be a perplexing commitment by the U.S. administration to continue on the achievement of American strategy in the greater Middle East, including the Persian Gulf. Furthermore, with the continued U.S. entanglement in Iraq and Afghanistan, stalemate in the Palestinian peace negotiations, and the rising threat of radicalism in the region, prospects for peace in the Middle East and security arrangement the Persian Gulf seem to be more complex and less promising than before.

At the outset, in order to devise an adequate security arrangement, it should be determined: first what is the threat and who needs a security and defense arrangement in the Persian Gulf for what purpose? And second, what is the best alternative to maintain peace, stability and order in this region?

It will be argued here that: it seems only the United States of America perceives its self-proclaimed vital interests and its worldwide superpower position are challenged and threatened in this strategic region. Furthermore, it is suggested that the main threat to the security and stability come from within the nations of the region and therefore the best alternative for the present day Persian Gulf is to build a “security community” based on economic, commercial, cultural, and environmental cooperation among coastal States that could ease the path to friendly relations and gradual process of “democratization.” Otherwise, any forced security arrangement, oriented toward defense matters like: military build-up, “balance of power,” leading to arms race, particularly when it is initiated from outside the region, will be susceptible to become an unwanted source of instability.

Changing Security Perception after September 11

Security is a multifaceted relative concept that can have different meanings for different people and in different contexts. It is perceptual and therefore, depending on whose view we observe it, can lead to diverse implication. When we speak of national, regional, or global security, we usually have in mind some sort of threat or risk that could endanger the established order and status quo.

During the cold war, international and regional security had a more or less concrete meaning. The United States of America and the defunct Soviet Union, as two opposing superpowers, representing two divergent ideologies, were at the forefront of a worldwide conflict and competition, with enormous capability of annihilating each other from the surface of the earth. They were in permanent state of alert about any move from the other side, which could threaten the balance, security and interests of the rival camp. Thus, came about various paradigms and theories conceptualizing such strategies and doctrines as: balance of power, deterrence, balance of terror, Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), institutional paranoia… and a number of other stratagems devised to contain one of the opponenat from expanding its influence in the sphere of the other.

The results of such permanent conflicts and competitions were a number of security arrangements by the West, which included a virtual security belt by the United States around the Soviet territory, starting from NATO in Europe, linking to CENTO in the Middle East, and SEATO further to the East, ending up to ANZUS. On the other hand, the Warsaw Pact, including almost all ex-Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe, was considered as a major rival to the NATO.

With the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union, as the main ideological and military rival of the United States, many of the security arrangements and defense pacts had become useless. Since, one side of the power balance and supposedly the main source of threat to the free world had totally disappeared. Expectations of a world free of tensions and crises after the cold war, led to the belief that following the dismantling of the Warsaw Pact, its rival in the West (i.e. the NATO) would have to experience the same happy ending. But unfortunately, this anticipation proved to be wrong in the new world strategic configuration and with the emergence of quite new sources of threats, namely “terrorism,” as non-state actor in international relations.

September 11 experience has undoubtedly changed the conventional security perceptions, not only in the United States of America, which was the direct victim of an unprecedented terrorist attack, but also throughout the world, including the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. Today it is crystal clear that conventional wisdom and rational strategic thinking about enemy, threats, security, force structure, balance of power, deterrence, and a host of other terms and theories have been drastically affected by new events.

In the new world power configuration, though the United States became the sole superpower, with a host of functions and responsibilities to be fulfilled throughout the world, only after the September 11 this opportunity was legitimately put into action. The events were indeed a tremendous occurrence for the US to plan its world security policy and strategy in that direction. Meanwhile however, there emerged a major division of opinion among Americans in the field of international relations and politics between those who felt that US national strategy in the post-cold war era should be limited to its continental interests. The argument was that a single nation- no matter how powerful- should not relate its national interests to the requirements of collective (global) or selective (regional) security.

The proponents of this latter view justify their position by saying that the US should not extend its security perimeter to regions far beyond its territory, merely on abstract and ambiguous principles, such as coping with terrorism, maintaining global security, forceful democratization, etc. To them, a regional security arrangement that does not genuinely serve the interests of states of a region, such as the Persian Gulf, is not likely to survive or to be effective in the long run. This is the case of many regional military alliances, like the CENTO, which ceased to exist after the revolution in Iran.

Problem of Security in the Persian Gulf Region

Historically, the Russians aspirations and interests in the general area of the straits and the Persian Gulf were the primordial source of preoccupation for the West. After World War II, the United States took an increasingly keen interest in the area. Since 1950’s the Americans concentrated on organizing the defense of the region against communist oriented destabilizing forces. As mentioned above, American efforts in the past (from 1945 on) to organize the defense of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf were rationalized by reference to aggressive strategy of the ex-Soviet during the cold war. However, the justification is no longer valid now, unless, it is proved by hard evidence that any of the local or regional States are becoming a source of threat.

The end of bi-polar era and the cold war was a break time for strategic planners and policy makers who were so much anxious with the perennial problem of security interests in the Persian Gulf. Yet, they had no time to revise their plan, when the new phenomenon of religious radicalism emerged as a very serious challenge to the peace and order of the region. This time, the antagonizing forces directly targeted US interests and military presence in the region.

Interestingly, these radical forces mainly come from the heart of American allies in the region, namely Saudi Arabia, as one of long time US friends. Many observers believe that American military presence in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region was an incontestable factor, which led to the rise of anti-American sentiments in this Moslem country. As we well know by now, almost all the planners and those who actually executed the 9/11 attacks were Saudi nationals. Therefore, US security interests, as viewed and pursued by American policy makers, are primarily threatened by unconventional low-level violence directed by radical Moslem zealous scattered around the region. They have not necessarily any national identity or any headquarters or even any identifiable leader. They are omnipresent and ready to die for the cause they believe just and legitimate. Indeed, it is quite difficult to face such a bizarre enemy and to cope him with conventional means.

To this situation we should add the new emerging conditions in Iraq, which is susceptible to threaten the overall regional security in the Middle East. As we are observing these days, Iraq is becoming a fertile ground for such a seemingly irrational behavior of those who were once subjugated by Saddam Hussein and then cherished his downfall by American forces, but now fiercely fight their saviors. Perhaps Moslem people, disregard of their religious schisms, are unique in this respect; and indeed this makes it difficult for an outsider to fully understand and realize such characteristics. Those who perform such savage and outrageous acts as beheading the innocent hostages in Iraq cannot be judged by conventional standards of human rights or any religious principles. One must go deep into their heart and inner-self in order to comprehend their hatred and revulsion with regard to American and foreign forces in their land.

Elsewhere in the region the situation is not better. The lives of all foreign contractors in littoral Arab States of the Persian Gulf are exposed to permanent daily threats. Nobody can feel safe in these countries and nobody is immune from the danger of being kidnapped or terrorized by radical groups. Though the number of these zealous radicals might be very small, but the impacts of their deeds are widespread and very frightening for those foreigners who live and work in these territories. Sooner or later this will have negative impacts on the economy and internal stability of these countries, paving the way either for further despotism or total collapse of the incumbent regimes.

Besides the threat of terrorism, as non-state actor, performing by unconventional means and tactics, there seems to be no other state directly threatening the security of the region. In the past two decades all fingers were pointed to Iran and Iraq, as two revolutionary antagonistic regimes, with the capacity of threatening the stability of the Middle East. Now that Iraq’s regime was overthrown by US military intervention, the only remaining state on the chess game, potentially capable of challenging the US presence in the Persian Gulf, seems to be Iran. But the question is whether and in what circumstances Iran might be a source of threat to the stability of a region upon which itself is very much dependent? In fact, as we well know, Iran’s economy and its very survival are very much dependent on the oil revenues for which the Persian Gulf is a real artery. Therefore, a common sense approach to the question may not easily support the argument.

Iran and the Security of the Persian Gulf

Since the British withdrawal from the Persian Gulf in late 1960’s, a number of speculations have been made by defense analysts about Iran’s role in filling the power vacuum created in this strategic region. Shah’s strategy supported by the West was to build a viable maritime power in order to supplant the vacuity hence produced. Iranian naval build-up, along with other forces from various sources, especially the United States, throughout the mid 1970’s was a good indication of Iran’s assertion to replace the British void. But, with the advent of the revolution, the dream did not come through and the new regime canceled all defense contracts, merely out of revolutionary fervor. But, soon after the war with Iraq in 1980, the need for a strong navy was felt.

Nonetheless, the Iranian Navy was able to dominate the Persian Gulf and to deny the enemy from any access to the sea, even during the first stages of the war, thanks to the advanced ships and well-trained Navy personnel. It was during this period that the coastal States of the Persian Gulf formed a coalition (the GCC) with the help and support of extra-regional powers, in order to contain the belligerent States (Iran and Iraq) from threatening their security. The global strategy then was that none of the antagonistic powers should be victor in the all-out war. Since, the would-be-winner might endanger the stability and order of the region upon the conclusion of the hostilities. Nevertheless, Iraq invaded Kuwait soon after the termination of active hostilities and establishment of cease-fire with Iran in 1988.

The first US military intervention in Iraq in 1990 forced this country out of Kuwait, but left the so-called butcher of Baghdad and the Baath regime to remain in power, fearing that the revolutionary Iran might take advantage from the occasion to expand its supremacy over region. Now, upon the second US military intervention in Iraq, and the downfall of Saddam and the collapse of Baath regime, we are again at the first square. The downfall of Saddam Hussein and the Baath regime was indeed a miraculous blessing for Iranian religious leaders and average Iranians combatants who fought so zealously to liberate the sacred Shiite holy shrines in Iraq. In fact, the United States has fulfilled the long dream of overthrowing the atrocious regime of Saddam, for which about half a million of Iranians had sacrificed their life during the 8-year war.

With the fall of Iraq’s regime, Iran has become naturally the sole regional power, with more or less strong military capacity and war experience, supposedly capable of threatening the stability of the region. Iran’s quest to acquire nuclear technology has added a new dimension to the belief, which in the view of the United States, is susceptible to become a nuclear actor. Iranians leaders, while denying their hostile intention in acquiring nuclear technology, just the same, do not conceal their objective of securing the Persian Gulf from outside interventions. Since, they claim, they have legitimate interests not only in the Persian Gulf, but also all around the land territories, where the US forces are stationed, namely in Afghanistan and Iraq. In other words, Iran perceives real threat from the US military presence in the region, and will eventually use any means and leverage to contain such hostile posture near its territory.

Iran has always followed the dictum, both during the Shah’s regime and after the revolution, that the Persian Gulf should be secure for all or for nobody. This means that any security arrangement that guards vis a vis Iran’s genuine interests in the region, may find its way to total disillusionment.

Iran, like other States, with extended coasts, territorial waters and offshore resources, with a population well beyond those of all Arab States of the Persian Gulf, claims to be pursuing its legitimate interests in the region. Despite the fact that Iran may have divergent views with its neighbors, nonetheless, it has many common interests with them as far as the American presence in the region is concerned. To be explicit, almost all Arab States of the Persian Gulf, while cherished the downfall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Talibans in Afghanistan, now perceive a real threat from the American policy of democratization of the greater Middle East. This feeling, which is sometimes concealed under the surface and is not expressed openly, makes it very difficult for the United States to embark on any collective security arrangement in the region, particularly if Iran is excluded from the equation.

On the other hand, Iran has a lot of common interests with the coastal States of the Persian Gulf that, if properly pursued, can lead to cooperative behavior of mutual interests. Otherwise, a competitive and aggressive conduct could create suspicion and further misunderstanding. Such situation may stir-up antagonism in the region and thus necessitating foreign powers presence and intervention.

Who Really Needs a Security Arrangement in the Persian Gulf?

The Persian Gulf, which has always been referred to as the perennial dream of Peter the Great Russian Tsar, became the pivot point of American strategy after the second World War, especially during the cold war. But, no special security arrangement has ever been envisaged for this important strategic waterway, which still is considered as the jugular artery of the Western and far-Eastern economy. The coastal States of the region also have never been able to create an all-inclusive regional security pact together with two rival powers, Iran and Iraq, neither during the pro-West Shah nor after the revolution in Iran.

With the fresh victory of Republicans in recent US elections, the chances for conservative elements to continue to assume American worldwide strategy are very high. This means that the United States will be committed to the stability and security of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. This is indeed a formidable task for which neither the U.S. on the one hand, nor the Persian Gulf States are ready to perform, particularly in the light of the fluid situation in Iraq and the wider Middle East.

As we stated above, when we speak of security arrangement in a particular region, we usually have in mind some kind of threat coming from a particular source for which individual or group of states are not prepared to face. And therefore, the need for a collective initiative to alleviate the preoccupation of the perceived threat is felt. That was the case during the cold war and bipolar system, in which the danger of communism was regarded as a major threat to the peace and security of the free world.

Iraq- Iran war in 1980 in a way expedited the Arab States of the Persian Gulf to conclude the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) pact, excluding the two hostiles countries, fearing that they might be dragged to an undesired alliance, which could threaten their very existence. But the GCC has never had the capacity of assuming any meaningful and efficient security function during tensions and crises in the region.

A number of impediments can be identified for this lack of efficiency, among which perhaps the most critical was too much reliance on outside powers, namely American forces stationed in the Persian Gulf. While, as we all know, in recent years, especially after the first US invasion of Iraq, during the Kuwait crisis in 1991, the American military buildup and presence in the region gradually became a major source of security concern in most traditional conservative States of the region. After the second American military intervention in Iraq, which ended up to the collapse of Saddam’s cruel regime, and the message of the so-called democratization plan of the greater Middle East, the apprehension of almost all States of the region became much more alarming, to the point that some now consider the United States as the primary threat to them.

Indeed, it is not a secret now that the main threats to the very existence and stability of most regimes in power in the region come from within. This is to say that if someday the democratization process somehow gets started, the first victims would be the regimes now in power. Since, they would have to adapt themselves to democratic values, as understood by the West, which undoubtedly give way to their opponents; a scenario that is considered as a disaster for the region.

Thus, realistically speaking, any security arrangement in the Persian Gulf, on the initiative of the United States, and on the assumption of fictive enemies and threat perception, would be doomed to failure. Unless the Americans explicitly declare that the objective of such a security apparatus is mainly directed to secure U.S. self-declared “vital interests,” as sometimes affirmed by policy statements in Washington, in which case the matter would be looked at quite differently inside the region. In other words, we have to define first whose security is intended to be protected against what threat in a presumed regional arrangement in the Persian Gulf?

Nevertheless, if the true intention is to prepare the ground for mutual and collective cooperation in the Persian Gulf region, with a view to promote stability and friendly relations among the coastal States; there are other schemes that can be devised without outside intervention. Such design, in which all regional and non-regional parties could benefit, will hopefully help to eradicate the roots of terrorism, emanating from hatred, revulsion and greed. “Security community” is one such scheme, which both in theory and practice, has proven to be useful in other regions of the world and can be applied in the Persian Gulf without much difficulty.

Toward a “Security Community” in the Persian Gulf

“Security community” is a regional system in which none of the neighboring states feels threatened by the others. The concept was originally identified by a number of political and international scientists belonging to the “communication school.” [1] This approach seeks to measure the process and the degree of regional security integration by promoting the flow of transactions in the fields of trade, tourists, and economic and cultural exchanges. This may gradually include cooperation and coordination in other domains of mutual benefits and interests such as immigration, terrorism, environmental pollution, narcotic substances, piracy, search and rescue at sea, etc.

The main characteristic of a security community in this approach is that countries involved in this system need not to conclude a formal military security arrangement in order to secure their national interests. Since presumably, there are so many mutual interests involved in such a community that individual actors are reluctant to do any thing that may change the status quo. In other words, this is a situation in which nobody would be better off by using forces in order to settle its disputes with others. NAFTA and European Community (EU) might be cited as successful examples of such communities.

Of course, the Persian Gulf shall go a long way in order to reach that stage of security integration. But this does not mean that states involved in this geo-strategic region could not embark in such direction. Given the fact that it is awfully hard to initiate a military security arrangement without preparing the ground from various point of views, especially if a non-regional power takes the lead, the establishment of a security community, which is based on gradual and incremental process of integration, seems much more accessible and useful. Because in the course of increasing interactions, states will have a chance to test each other and attract mutual confidence, and gradually go from low-politics (i.e. trade, immigration, environment, etc) to high-politics (i.e. security, terrorism, military alliance, etc).

Unlike the ordinary security arrangements in which permanent preoccupation prevails with respect to immense problems, the security community will not have to bother with such consideration as the followings:

· The tentative parties to the agreement,

· The financial and material resources to be allocated to such arrangement,

· The level of forces required for neutralizing a potential threat,

· The balance it should preserve with respect to the would-be enemy,

· The place the forces should be stationed and trained for eventual deployment,

· The command and control to be assumed for efficient use of the forces,

· The structure, combination and posture of such forces,

· The role of outside powers in the formation, organization and management of such forces,

· Others.

A tentative security community can include all coastal states of the Persian Gulf as the core members, and may at a later stage enlarge its membership by inviting other interested states in the contiguous regions. It can be envisaged that the gradual success of a security community will pave the way for effective cooperation to eliminate roots of intolerance, hatred and terror in the region. Since, as many believe, religious fanaticism and radicalism seek their source in unequal distribution of wealth, undemocratic oppressive regimes, lack of civil societies, corruption, and the like, which hold back the social, economic and political development of traditional societies.

Any artificial arrangement initiated from outside the region with any real or assumed security pretext may have a number of negative impacts such as the following, which in the final account will be counter-productive to the region and the world order as a whole:

· Unnecessary waste of resources in order to form a military security coalition which would be an unjust burden to states of the region,

· Risk of rising the level of hostilities between regional states and outside powers for their meddling with the internal affairs of the region,

· Risk of setting aside a particular state from the security arrangement, and thus opening the door for new misunderstanding and animosity,

· Risk of some individual state to engage in some kind of arms-races, leading to total economic and political bankruptcy,

· Risk of inviting new forms of terrorism in the region, using unconventional means to cope with foreign presence in the Persian Gulf,

· Increase the level of internal threats against the security of undemocratic traditional states, hence causing further destabilization in the region,

· Other unknown impacts for which the Persian Gulf region cannot afford the risks.


Though it is rather risky to reach a conclusion from recent developments in the region, there seems to be no consensus among regional states on the source, magnitude and direction of threats that could give reason for American presence and endeavor for a defense and security arrangement in the Persian Gulf. While observers from outside the region might argue convincingly for a military coalition and security arrangement with the US assistance and partnership, especially in the wake of American entanglement in Iraq and Afghanistan, a realistic view from inside the region would warn against such venture. Therefore, the main conclusions that can be derived from this short paper are as follow:

· There is no consensus on the threats endangering the stability of the Persian Gulf among regional and non-regional actors,

· The security business of the Persian Gulf should be left solely to initiative of coastal States,

· Any forced security and defense arrangement under the patronage and tutorship of an outside power would tend to be counterproductive and may further stir-up insecurity in the region,

· The United States military presence and partnerships with some parties in the Persian Gulf against specific state, such as Iran, would undermine peace and security of the region,

· The best alternative would be the creation of a “ security community,” based on political, economic, commercial, environmental, and cultural cooperative interaction of the coastal States, in such a way that all would benefit from it and none of them would feel threaten by the


* Dr. Kazemi is Professor of international law and Politics at the Faculty of Law and Political Science, Islamic Azad University (Science and Research Branch). For more detail please consult

[1] Karl W. Deutsch and his associates