Dr. Benedetta Berti: All Politics is local: Non-State Armed Groups as Governance Providers

In the aftermath of the cold war, non-state armed groups (NSAGs) have become increasingly important actors in the international arena. This is especially true since the nature of warfare has gradually shifted from being interstate to being intra-state. The rise of non-state armed groups has also been facilitated by the increasing fragmentation of states and by the breakdown of the traditional notions of sovereignty. 

The emergence of sophisticated armed groups characterized by complex and multi-layered identities fundamentally challenge the way we currently conceptualize and think about these non-state actors. Moreover, their role as alternative providers of governance creates a complex and challenging dynamic that simultaneously challenges, contests and redefines concepts like statehood and sovereignty.

In the Middle East, organizations like Hamas or Hezbollah operate simultaneously as sophisticated armed organizations, complex political entities, as well as highly developed social movement organizations involved in administering and delivering social services at the grassroots level.  The complexities of defining these hybrid actors do not end here: these groups have in fact over the years also expanded their boundaries, by acting as direct providers of governance, de facto blurring the line between state and non-state actor. The presentation will analyse these groups’ emergence as ‘rebel rules,’ their approach to governance, and assesses their record in terms of both prescriptive and effective sovereignty. 

Dr. Bill Park: Regional Turmoil, the Rise of Islamic State, and Turkey’s Multiple Kurdish Dilemmas 

Just as Turkey seemed to have adjusted itself to, and even embraced, the quasi-statehood status of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of northern Iraq, and appeared ready to seriously address its own domestic Kurdish problem, the Syrian uprising and the emergence of and behaviour of Islamic State (IS) has exposed and further complicated the contradictions of its various approaches towards the region’s Kurds.

The Syrian Kurdish Partiya Yekitiya Demokrat (PYD), a close affiliate of Turkey’s Partiya Karkeren Kurdistani (PKK), has exploited the turmoil in Syria to establish self-governing zones in the north of the country. Ankara fears the implication of this development for the evolution of its domestic Kurdish issue. Furthermore, the IS assault on Kobane and Ankara’s failure to help or even to assist US-led efforts to strengthen the Kurdish resistance has angered Turkey’s Kurds and set back Turkey’s ‘normalisation process’ with  them.

Furthermore, Turkey’s failure to assist the KRG when it was threatened by IS undermined the Ankara-Erbil relationship. The KRG leadership was also unsettled by the weak resistance offered by its own peshmerga forces, especially when contrasted with the anti-IS successes of the PKK/PYD. Indeed, the PKK/PYD now has a foothold in Iraqi Kurdistan itself. Notwithstanding the rivalry between the KRG and PKK leaderships, and within the KRG itself, pan-Kurdish sentiment has been aroused by these recent developments.

The US-led coalition against IS has relied extensively on Kurdish ‘boots on the ground’, and has also been disappointed by Ankara’s weak support for the anti-IS campaign. This has strengthened the west’s sympathy with the region’s Kurds, if only temporarily. Turkey’s isolation has been compounded by its seemingly sectarian approach to the region’s travails and in particular by its pro-Muslim Brotherhood stance, in Egypt, Libya, and Gaza, as well as in Syria and Iraq. Turkey’s diplomatic relationships both with its western allies and within the region are now very poor, and it has aroused and deepened the mistrust of its own Kurds, as well as those of Syria and Iraq. 

Ankara is now grappling with a ‘Kurdish issue’ that has a higher profile and is more transborder, complex, overlapping and interlinked than ever before. This paper traces the relationship between these various and fast-moving dimensions of Turkey’s Kurdish dilemmas, and speculates about the range of possible outcomes. It also seeks to locate Turkey’s Kurdish policies and problems within the context of wider regional and global dynamics, involving Ankara’s relationships with its neighbours, its sectarian and ‘neo-Ottoman approach to the region, and the threat from IS and other jihadist movements.

Dr. Manal A. Jamal: Hamas, Changing Security Complexes, and Primacy of the Domestic

In academic and policy circles alike, a homogenizing perspective concerning Islamist groups is gaining traction.  This reductionist homogenization departs considerably from the earlier scholarship of the past two decades on Islamists which paid significant attention to variation in terms of historical trajectories, methods and objectives of different groups.  In a disturbing, though perhaps understandable turn, the changing security complexes of the region are being viewed through this obfuscated, homogenizing lens.  Such exercises misconstrue the nature and breadth of the challenges that the region faces today, and further undermine efforts to address these challenges.  Moving away from this homogenizing, regional security lens, this paper stresses the necessity of not lumping together all Islamist groups, radical or not, at this critical juncture.

This paper focuses on Hamas to illustrate how it should more appropriately should be understood as shaping the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that efforts to lump it together with other Islamists, and as an important player in shaping the regional security complex is misleading at best.  The first section of the paper discusses Hamas’ background, its inception, historical trajectory and political evolution.  It also examines key features which distinguish it from other Islamist groups in the region.  The paper then turns to Hamas’s changing political strategies in terms of Palestinian domestic politics and regional alliances.   In terms of domestic politics, the paper focuses on Hamas’ approach to electoral participation, paying particular attention to the 2006 elections, the domestic and international response, and events that transpired in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian body politic thereafter.   The paper concludes with a discussion of its regional alliances, and how efforts to reduce it to an Iran or Qatar appendage further misconstrue the region’s security politics.

Dr. Matteo Legrenzi: The Saudi-Iranian Rivalry: filling contested vacuums in the Middle East

Saudi Arabia and Iran are currently engaged in a war by proxy in the Middle East. The main battlegrounds are Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and above all Syria. The presentation will illustrate the reasons why this rivalry is unlikely to erupt in a full fledged armed conflict. It will also try to prove why Iran is more effective than Saudi Arabia at external manipulative mobilization. It will draw on a few historical precedents in order to explain why this rivalry is likely to endure and the emergence of a collective security system either in the Gulf or in the wider Middle East is extremely unlikely. The role of the United States as an over the horizon balancer will also be discussed in the context of the current American national security strategy.

Dr. Martin Beck: The “Arab Spring:” A Challenge to Israel’s Role in the Middle East? 

The state of Israel is among the most prominent of those non-Arab actors in the Middle East whose foreign security policy was supposedly challenged by the “Arab Spring,” particularly by the Uprisings in Egypt in early 2011, which resulted in the dismissal of Mubarak and the election of an Islamist government, and the emergence of a civil-war situation on the territory of Syria.

The major task of the present analysis is to assess the challenge and to examine how Israel dealt with it. In terms of theory, the analysis is embedded in the concepts of security complex and regional power: Israel, whose interaction with other regional actors of the Middle East is by far most dense in the realm of security, is a potential regional power that only rarely attempted to become a regional hegemon; yet, it was always keen on preventing other Middle Eastern potential regional powers to position themselves as dominant regional actors.

After facing an initial period of increased insecurity, Israel could soon “relax” in relation to Egypt. Even when Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood appeared most powerful, Egypt did not act as a pretender for regional leadership. In other words, Israel was not threatened by any perceived or real threat in terms of a significant loss of relative power dispersion. After the military coup in July 2013, Egypt even resumed its role as Israel’s junior-partner in containing Palestinian actors, thereby giving Israel the opportunity to provoke Hamas to provoke a military conflict that resulted in another round of Gaza containment.

In the case of Syria, the challenge was insofar much less significant from the very beginning as Syria lacks the capabilities to become a regional power. Yet, contrary to the Egyptian case, with an increasing complex civil war criss-crossing post-World War I borders between Syria, Iraq and Lebanon and involving new and old pretenders of regional power—the Islamic State and Iran—the challenge rather increased over time. Still, there are no indicators that Israel’s position in the Levant could be seriously challenged.

Dr. Peter Seeberg: Iran in a Changing Middle East. Security Challenges, International Sanctions and the European-Iranian Relations

The paper takes its point of departure in a changing Middle East, where the in many ways problematic developments in several significant Arab states (Egypt, Iraq, Syria…) have resulted in a more fragile and destabilized political situation in parts of the region. The paper deals with Iran and its role in the Arab region, and how it is affected by the international sanctions. Focusing on Iran in the Middle East involves (at least) two security complexes, the Levant and the Gulf. In the Levant Iran is maintaining a significant position via its alliance with Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. But, due to the internal turmoil in Syria and the increasing relative autonomy of Hamas and Hezbollah, it might seem that the influence is deteriorating. Still, Iran plays an important role as an external actor in the eastern Mediterranean. The structure of the regional balance of power drives competition between Iran and its Arab neighbours, in particular the GCC-countries, and in connection with that the nuclear issue once again becomes emphasized. Iran is subject to severe international sanctions; both the US and the EU are contributing to a comprehensive sanctions regime aimed at influencing the Islamic Republic, first of all as a result of the controversial Iranian nuclear programme.

More specifically it is the idea of this paper to analyze security challenges related to European-Iranian relations with a special focus on to what degree the sanctions play a role in connection with the security environment in the Levant and the Gulf. The paper claims that there is a complex interrelatedness between the sanctions imposed on Iran and the development of the two security subsystems and also in a broader Middle Eastern perspective. The political realities for Iran might, as claimed by Thomas Juneau, to some degree live up to the label “strategic loneliness”, but when the aspects related to the sanctions are included in the analysis, the perspective changes and makes it clear, that the recent political conditions for the Islamic Republic are somewhat ambiguous and indicate, that the efficiency of the sanctions can be questioned.

Internally in Iran there is hardly any doubt that the right to nuclear power enjoys widespread support as does the criticism of the imposed sanctions. To some degree Iran seems to be able, by diversifying its international linkages, to counteract the effect of the international sanctions, which tends to strengthen Iran and make it easier for Iran to pursue its foreign policy interests. Added to that one of the largest sanctions sending entities, the EU, is experiencing a lack of unanimity among its member states concerning the sanctions. There are several examples of this (and they demonstrate once again the incoherence attached to the EU as foreign policy actor). On the other side the relatively isolated political situation for Iran, the effect of the sanctions (despite counteracting maneuvers) and the deteriorating strength of its alliances in the Arab region altogether point at a decline for Iranian influence in the two miniature anarchies – to speak with Buzan et al – analyzed in this paper.

Dr. William Hale: Turkey’s Politics and Middle East Policy

 This presentation starts by briefly outlining the ways in which domestic politics – in particular, the structure and ideas of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), as well as attempts to solve Turkey’s pressing Kurdish problem and realise economic goals, have influenced its policy towards the middle east. It outlines the main feautures of the AKP ideas on foreign policy, notably as they were formulated by Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu, formerly foreign policy adviser to the party leader and current President, Tayyip Erdoğan,  subsequently Foreign Minister and now Prime Minister. These included regional policies which firmly opposed the highly securitised nationalism, inherited from the cold war, and still advanced by the AKP’s opponents in the military, and the etatist elite. Instead of regarding its environment primarily as a security threat, Davutoğlu  urged, Turkey should reach out to establish ‘zero problems’ with regional neighbours. The AKP rejected the radical Islamist agenda, but by promoting ‘faith-based values’ in domestic politics, religious attachments became a a partial determinant of policy towards the middle east. The need to expand overseas markets and investment, notably in the middle east, was another important foreign policy determinant. This was combined with a radical change of course on the Kurdish problem, by initiating a ‘peace process’ with the Kurdish leadership of Turkey, with potentally important effects effects on relations with Iraq and Syria. 

 Twelve and a half years after the AKP came to power, this ambitious agenda appears seriously damaged.. The failures have not been universal. On the positive side, Turkey has managed to maintain a working relationship with Iran, in spite of deep ideological and tactical differences. It now has a virtual alliance with the Iraqi Kurds – a striking reversal of the previous confrontation. Elsewhere, however, the ‘zero problems’ approach appears to be in tatters, with a continuing bitter conflict with Israel as well as the Egyption and Syrian regimes. Turkish policy towards Syria has also produced serious tactical disagreements with the United States. In the search for a reconstructed strategy, much will depend on the outcome of the general elections scheduled for June 2015. Even if, as seems likely, the AKP maintains a reduced majority, conflicts between the Prime Minister and the President may weaken the government’s ability to act effectively. If, on the other hand, Ahmet Davutoğlu manages to establish a more independent and effective grip on power, then a more effective regional policy package – including, in part, a partial return to conservative realism – may be achievable.

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