The Impact of Political Instability on Regional Maritime Cooperation in Middle Eastern Countries
1. Introduction
Since 1979, political instability in the Middle East has had relatively little effect on the development of international environmental law. In fact, legal research and law development have been constant throughout the last 30 years. This is due to the fact that law of the sea, international environmental law, and international regulation have become necessary requirements for any state involved in resource exploitation. The law has developed through the study of institutions and property rights in the sea, as well as research into the duties and obligations of both states and international organizations. Though there have been disputes between states on enforcement and compliance with the law, the basic standards have been accepted and followed in most resource development projects.
In the same year, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) sponsored research into regional economic and social cooperation. The ultimate objective was to achieve an integrated and self-sufficient regional economy. This would be done by raising the standard of living of the people and by preventing the further depletion and exploitation of the region’s resources. The research identified that the main problems of the region were political and that the key to success lay in the improved relations between the Middle Eastern countries. This was to be done from the top-downwards of the political system, and it was considered a joint project between heads of state. This research had high ambitions but was quickly shattered due to the fact that during the study there was an outbreak of the Arab-Israeli war and also the Iran-Iraq war. Simulation models created by the ESCWA to display the effect of different resource allocation patterns were quickly disregarded due to the fact that they were fictional visions of what could have been done with different international relations.
Political instabilities of the Middle Eastern countries have greatly affected regional cooperation. Cooperation is defined as mutually beneficial joint working towards a common objective. The original intention of these countries was for joint venture research and development in such areas as desalination, agriculture, and fisheries, all of which are in demand for the region. During the 70s, the Lauterpacht Centre of International Law conducted research and developed a strategy for regional cooperation. The centre focused on the law of the sea and specifically the Persian Gulf. The importance of this research was highlighted due to the fact that the region contains 50% of the world’s crude oil resources and 40% of the world’s natural gas resources. Law of the sea research was aimed at providing Middle Eastern countries with knowledge of their legal rights and responsibilities and how they may be affected due to developments in the technology of resource exploitation.
1.1 Background
A lot of this age-old effort for centring collaborations around outside gathering dangers facilitated with Iran during the 1970s and mid-1980s. During the battle, the Gulf Arab States fostered a focal point on exceptionally collaborative self-aware military security and making progress toward the assurance of a US security assurance. This was ultimately interestingly shown in two lands for which states had become parties to conflicts with Iran in an endeavor to determine disputes mediated by military strength.
The Joint Defence Council for the Arab States of the Gulf had a more drawn-out timeframe of reasonable ease than its archetype. A meeting was held five times between 1972 and 1980, engaged with a few situations, a secretarial level conversation groups, and combining the endeavors of an Arab. This had the Council to express the objective of achieving an Arab focal points group, with the arrangement of common security. The authoritative and actuated resources of the Gulf States at present had a blurred the resources and move towards the widespread help of making a protected and impartial Gulf.
The historical backdrop to the present segment reaches out back to the mid-twentieth century. The idea of collaboration, which turned into the menial tropism in numerous focuses for approach creators and researchers the same, generally showed in two care groupings. The first of these sense of administrations for the Arab Gulf, which was started in 1955 by the United Kingdom, United States, and New Zealand, remembered an ordinary month to month conference between the maritime police bosses of the Arab littoral nations. It closed with the withdrawal of the last maritime police counsel in 1968. These meetings offered an opportunity for maritime wardens to make a main stride supportively of security matters, wanted by an extraordinary improvement of the understanding among England and the United States concerning joint moves to be made, inside the occasion of a solicitation from any Middle Eastern government, to train their maritime strengths in protect.
1.2 Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to examine the impact of political instability on regional maritime cooperation. Specifically, there are four tenets to the purpose of the study which are as follows: a) to identify the connections between political instability and regional maritime cooperation, b) to examine the implications of political instability on the pursuit of security and sovereignty in maritime zones, c) to explore efforts to decrease maritime tension, despite present political instability, and d) to analyze what it would take to improve regional maritime security, and what role political stability would play in the endeavor. This study will aim to accomplish these four goals through the use of exploratory research methods. It contributes to the literature by being among the pioneer research efforts to link the IR theories to the study of regional maritime cooperation and regional maritime security through empirical analysis of multiple maritime case studies. This type of research is important as it will broaden the understanding of political instability in relation to its effect on regional maritime security and cooperation. Moreover, it can help draw a lessons learned approach for current politically unstable regions looking to improve their maritime security situation. The study will hold significance for policymakers and scholars in the fields of IR, security studies, regionalism, and of course, maritime security.
1.3 Research Questions
What is the impact of political instability on regional maritime cooperation? What explains the variation in the levels of maritime cooperation and discord between different dyads in Middle Eastern international relations? Why are some states seemingly able to “compartmentalise” their conflicts on land from their cooperative activities at sea, while others simply avoid cooperation altogether due to land-based tensions? These are the primary questions addressed in the study. The larger purpose of this study is to develop theories of “securitization” and “desecuritization” as they apply to regional maritime issues and to engage in in-depth empirical testing of these theoretical frameworks. This will be achieved through a focused comparison of four case studies: Iran-UAE, Saudi Arabia-Iran, Israel-Egypt, and Israel-Lebanon. The case studies are chosen to capture most different combinations of conflict and cooperation on land and at sea between pairs of states. This design thus enables exploration of the varied effects of securitization and desecuritization processes on different types of maritime interaction.
2. Political Instability in Middle Eastern Countries
Middle Eastern countries after the Arab Spring are now in the process of a political transition, making it a critically important time within the political history of the Middle East. Political instability in these countries has been a long-standing issue stemming from the nature of state building post-independence from colonial powers in the 20th century. Drawing from the Arab Spring itself, an event which was triggered by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, but was a collective effect of political and social tension built up over years in a number of Middle Eastern countries. The nature of the unrest in the Arab Spring and the subsequent attempts to topple long-standing authoritarian leaders in countries such as Egypt, Libya, and Yemen has been a reflection of what was an unfulfilled nation-building process from the mid-20th century. Evidently, it was a failure to create unified national identities and states which were comprised of strong political institutions that were inclusive of collective indigenous populations. The result has been states that have shown limited capacity and governance and have been rent with internal and external conflicts, wars, and efforts by opposition groups to take control of the state apparatus from the ruling elite.
Definition and Causes: Political instability can be defined as the propensity of a government to collapse either because of conflicts within the government or with the citizens, or when it is not sufficiently meeting the widespread expectations of the political and social order, especially in terms of democratic norms, the process of the transfer of power, and the furtherance of public policies. There are few factors which cause political instability, i.e. regime type, low levels of state capacity, extractive economic institutions, and economic shocks, and these range across different countries due to different circumstances.
2.1 Definition and Causes
Defining and explaining political instability is more difficult than might be imagined. Instability has been used to describe a situation or a set of circumstances, the major feature of which is the abrupt and rapid deterioration of a political, economic, or social situation from normal or expected behavior or performance. In political science, one of the pitfalls in analyzing this issue has been the lack of a commonly shared definition of what instability actually is. This has been a fundamental cause in the relative lack of theory on the topic. One of the more widely utilized definitions of instability is “the propensity of a government collapse either because it is unable to make decisions or because it is blocked by an opposing group from doing so” (Smith 1985:12). This suggests that instability prevents and disrupts the normal function of both institutions and their decision-making processes. This definition is widely applicable both at an internal national level and at a regional level between states.
It is often used to describe the political situation of a nation or state and is usually associated with the behavior and the changes in an existing government or the practice of political authority that falls well below the expected norm in terms of performance or the implementation of sociopolitical change. It is not used to describe all rapid and unexpected changes in political systems but only those which are seen as deviant from the change which was expected to occur. This can be further broken down into changes which occur within the legitimate framework of public office (within the office holder’s term) and those which amount to a revolution and or coup d’état. However, instability is not confined to behavior within state structures and also includes unnecessary changes in foreign policy decision resulting from interstate interactions. This final point is particularly important in relation to the Middle East and the impact that instability has had on regional attempts to solve conflict and engage in diplomatic solutions.
2.2 Case Studies
Reported power changes in Yemen took place in 2011 when then President Saleh was effectively removed from power after a 33-year rule as a result of Arab Spring popular protests and intervention by regional neighbors led by the Gulf Cooperation Council who perceived the events in Yemen to carry potentially destabilizing regional impacts. Saleh was replaced by his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi following a brief vice-presidency by former Saleh Prime Minister Mr. Khaled Bahah. However, due to the fact that events which resulted in regime change transpired as a response to widespread civil disorder and due to the manner of Saleh’s ousting from power meant that Yemen had from this time entered a new era of significant political instability which continues to the modern day. This has had wide-ranging effects on Yemen’s domestic and foreign affairs and often due to the country’s geostrategic position led to events having a provable impact on regional maritime security and state relations.
The period of 2011-2013 has been marred by a broad spectrum of Arab Spring uprisings and resultant instability in the Middle East. For the purposes of this brief exploratory analysis, the cases of Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, and Yemen are at the forefront. These countries have been purposely chosen because they all experienced uprisings during the Arab Spring that were significant enough to cause changes in political leadership which to date has resulted in further protracted instability. These events have transformed the regional political landscape and have had significant implications on the prospects for broader regional maritime cooperation.
2.2.1 Country A
2.2.2 Country B
2.2.3 Country C
3. Regional Maritime Cooperation in the Middle East
The maritime space embodies an area filled with resources and trade opportunities which could contribute to the development and prosperity of states within the Middle Eastern region. Nevertheless, the potential gains and benefits accrued from the maritime domain have not been fully realized. Maritime trade and resources in the Middle Eastern region are often associated with conflict and instability. The Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and the Gulf Wars are examples of how conflict and perceived threats have deterred states from reaping the benefits within the maritime realm. The targeting of oil tankers during the Iran-Iraq war and during the Iran-Saudi Arabia ‘Tanker War’ in the 1980s significantly impacted the global oil trade and damaged the marine environment in the region. These events signify how rivalry and conflict within the Middle Eastern region have resulted in negative impacts on the most dynamic sectors in the regional and global economy. Oil and gas resources are the obvious targets of competition and conflict. During the Iran-Iraq war both states targeted the other’s oil installations and in recent times the alleged Iranian occupation of Iraqi oil fields and the tensions between Iran and states in the Persian Gulf concerning the delimitation of marine borders and ownership of islands has led to confrontation and an arms race which has hindered regional cooperation and development of resources.
In October 2003, The New York Times reported that it was difficult to ignore the increasing armadas in the Persian Gulf that have turned the narrow strip of water into a maritime military thoroughfare, reflecting the increased tension in the region considering that most of the armadas were deployed in response to perceived threat from Iraq. The presence of military forces and armament within the maritime space may serve to increase security in terms of safeguarding resources and national interests; however, it also increases the risk of naval engagements and incidents which may lead to instability and increased tension. The result being more negative impacts on the regional economy and environment. In order to move forward and away from the vicious cycle of conflict and instability, it is important for states in the Middle Eastern region to consider the opportunity costs of not cooperating and engaging in rivalry at the expense of regional economy and welfare. It is apparent that the effects and consequences of conflict in the maritime space have been detrimental, and states must seek to strengthen security and move toward conflict resolution with a view to facilitating economic recovery and development of resources in a safer environment. This can be a tall order for many states, and confidence-building measures may be a starting point for the more wary and distrustful neighbors.
3.1 Importance and Benefits
The Middle East is a region which has experienced a lot of conflict, has a number of ongoing disputes and is generally seen as unstable. Traditionally security concerns in the Middle East have led to competition spirals which produce arms races and result in conflict, this can be seen across the region from the GCC states to Iran and Israel to Turkey and the North African states. Security dilemmas in these individual sub-regions have led the states concerned to focus on their own security to prevent becoming the victim, and thus regional security cooperation has often been ignored. The nature of the threats faced by the individual states and the fact that many of the security issues are inter-state has meant that regional security concerns are often mirrored in the national security agendas. However, it is widely believed that the security of the Middle East is so interdependent that there are no longer purely national security issues, and that all security issues have a regional ramification. This situation does suggest that there is much potential for regional security cooperation and the focusing of security agendas can be seen as a first step in this transition.
Although the nature and level of cooperation in the Middle East vary among its sub-regions, the answer to each area’s particular security concerns and its cooperation with the more developed West to some extent converge around the sea. This sub-section looks at these cooperative trends at the sub-regional level in an effort to understand whether cooperative security has been embraced in the maritime areas of the Middle East and identifies the enabling conditions and factors for successful cooperation.
3.2 Existing Cooperation Mechanisms
The most recent and contemporary example of this occurred in 2005 with RIMPAC (the Rim of the Pacific Exercise), which involved the participation of all GCC states with the exception of Qatar and was primarily concerned with the security of sea lanes. Other exercises include those between the US, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain predominantly focused on preventing any Iranian blockade of the Strait of Hormuz. This US naval presence has also extended to a series of port calls and a base agreement in Bahrain. While such arrangements and exercises are limited and are often pursued with differing objectives in mind, they are nevertheless evidence of a certain degree of cooperation and activity. Furthermore, the partial involvement of Iran in some of these exercises suggests that there may exist potential for future cooperation with Iran through security exercises and agreements designed to maintain stability and secure the interests of individual states.
The existing mechanisms of cooperation among Middle Eastern states described above form a very valuable temporary network. These links between individual states are due to common alliances with third-party states, particularly the USA. Through Saudi Arabia’s links with the United States and Pakistan, connections in the region to the west and south of the Arabian Peninsula have been formed. Similarly, through the purchasing of British military equipment and the newly established ‘Khareef’ agreement, the UK has sought to improve its military links with certain GCC states, particularly Oman. Such third-party involvement has led to multilateral military exercises, particularly those relating to counter-terrorism and maintaining the security of sea lanes throughout the region.
3.2.1 Organization A
3.2.2 Organization B
3.2.3 Organization C
4. Impact of Political Instability on Regional Maritime Cooperation
Democratic peace theory does not evidence our expectations. The US clearly has a vested interest in liberal internationalist states such as the Mediterranean EU members and Turkey. US activities in the region, however, have offered a stimulus to two occurrences of political instability. Both the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the post-Arab Spring intervention in Libya have provoked insecurities in the form of refugee movements and transnational political violence. Considerable presence still in the form of US military bases—despite recent discussions of base closures in Germany and South Korea—has had, relative to other regions, substantial force projection intentions. An example of this would be a US military exercise conducted off the coast of Sardinia in 2007, in which awkward Italian diplomacies lead to a late cancellation of the exercise and its reassignment in mainland Italy. In regards to the specific incident involving the Arab Spring and the 2011 ousting of the Gaddafi regime, the US decision to involve only select NATO members and the subsequent rapid disengagement has only multiplied the uncertainties of the region and brought Gaddafi’s worst-case scenarios of foreign intervention and a house partitioning into closer realities. US-Libyan political instability has potentially serious implications for the cooperation between the countries’ to the east and the trans-Mediterranean EU member states in answering longstanding maritime security needs.
Most IR scholarship accepts Robert Keohane’s premise that “democracies almost always find it in their mutual interest to cooperate with one another, and almost always find it in their mutual interest to avoid the use of force against other democracies.” The saying goes, interrupted by the realists’ interjection that democracies merely find it more cost-effective over time to gain through market concessions what can be won by war. Nonetheless, one mainstream assumption is that the nature of liberal internationalist democracies should, in theory, foster less hostile and more cooperative relationships with one another. Should this be an applicable generalization, the world’s leading liberal internationalist power would act more in cooperation with other liberal states and less in their pursuit; more with a commitment to multilateralism and less with unilateral decision-making and action.
In the context of the first two levels of analysis, political instability in the region examined should produce a significant impact on regional maritime cooperation. Each specific event of political instability will be assessed in terms of its disruption of ongoing regional maritime cooperation efforts, provocation of security challenges and threats, and the consequential economic costs.
4.1 Disruption of Cooperation Efforts
The effect of international conflict at the national and regional level between states is usually to greatly decrease the willingness to cooperate with perceived adversaries and in some cases increase the emphasis on deterrence and alliance building in the maritime sector between littoral states. During and after the Iran-Iraq war, many of the Gulf states sought to increase their security and alliance with extra-regional powers, leading to a greatly increased US and Soviet naval presence in the region. Measures to enhance military security often led to increased regional tension, for example the United Arab Emirates and Iran dispute over the sovereignty of the Tunb Islands and Abu Musa. This period also saw increased attempts by belligerents to strike enemy economic targets through direct and indirect means. The mining of the Persian Gulf by Iraq and Iran in the 1980s posed a serious threat not only to the littoral states but also the international maritime community, resulting in damage to regional neutrality and a UN initiative to increase maritime security in time of armed conflict. The detrimental effects of these events on regional cooperation often outlast the conflicts which caused them, as states are unwilling to divulge information on their actions or cooperate with potential adversaries for fear of political scrutiny or public outcry.
Cooperation in the Middle East maritime sector is often undermined by political instability and high tension. “A number of regional intergovernmental organisations have aspired to develop maritime cooperation” (Ho, 2000), however their initiatives are often thwarted by the eruption of regional conflict or tension. These initiatives are wide ranging, encompassing marine scientific research, threat reduction and the resolution of disputes to confidence building measures, but most revolve around increasing regional awareness, creating dialogue and establishing networks. During the 1980s and 1990s, the Iran-Iraq War and the Gulf War had a marked effect on the regional maritime arena, greatly altering the priorities and strategic calculations of regional states and significantly disrupting attempts at maritime cooperation.
4.2 Security Challenges and Threats
What preoccupies analysts is that perceptions of the nature of the security threats are so diverse that they contribute to greater regional instability, particularly since 11 September 2001. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the United States, this divergence of threat perception has become known as the “BBC problem,” namely “bad things happening to someone else elsewhere” (it is alleged that the journalist who coined this phrase was referring to Italy from an Italian vineyard). Diverse threat perception is evident in the responses by Middle Eastern countries to maritime security challenges. The United Arab Emirates considers the main threat to its maritime security to be Iran, whilst Saudi Arabia believes it to be Iraq. Iran’s experience of the Iraq-Iran war has led it to perceive that the chief danger emanates from foreign powers, particularly the US and UK, despite the fact that they are not present in great numbers in the Gulf. US policymakers meanwhile have primarily focused upon the dangers posed by non-state actors, particularly in light of the 2000 USS Cole bombing and the 11 September attacks.
The diverse threat perceptions have led to unilateral rather than cooperative responses to the problems. Iran has enacted legislation allowing its naval forces to repel foreign vessels. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have taken steps to improve the security of their offshore oil and gas installations. These include the establishment of special naval units, equipping supertankers with anti-missile devices and physical barriers to block access to the installations being implemented, and increased arms purchases. The arms acquisitions are in part a response to fears concerning the vulnerability of the offshore installations. United States and British forces have conducted periodic security exercises at the request of some GCC states who perceive a threat from external attack or subversion. The perceived threats by GCC states and Iran have led to increased naval spending, with an Iranian admiral noting that the expansion in the navy’s capabilities “to defend our interests in the Persian Gulf and establish Iran’s military power in open seas is among the navy’s top objectives.” The sums involved in naval acquisitions are not impressive compared to other regions but demonstrate a willingness to engage in naval arms races. This is an attempt to an insurance policy against perceived threats to energy resources and national development.
4.3 Economic Consequences
With the economic consequences expected to be severe, it is necessary to evaluate the issues connected to decline in economic stability following the occurrence of political instability. Greater macroeconomic instability and real economic decline are expected to exert negative effects on trade and therefore improvement in economic welfare. The opportunity cost of foregone growth in an environment of increasing instability could be quite high compared to the static costs associated with violence. As most Middle Eastern countries are adequately endowed with capital and labor resources, it is likely that the opportunity cost will be high. An event of great significance is the speculation of political violence or war. This will undoubtedly increase political risk costs on international business and investment, with some industries deciding to cease further operations and others opting to pull out and relocate their investments to safer areas. The major industries of oil and petrochemicals will be more insulated from higher political risk costs in investment as they are of strategic importance to the host country in maintaining its regime, ensuring that the primary energy resources will continue to flow and provide a platform for economic growth even in an environment of increasing chaos. However, other industries where political risk costs are prohibitive in cost effectiveness relative to existing operational platforms, it is likely to form an early exit in investment and operations with marginal revenue effects on the cost effectiveness of higher risk and the costs of investment in new areas of relocation. This will lead to a decline in the terms of trade, and comparative disincentive to trade beyond the changing of domestic products. Higher inequality by sector. This shift in resources has the potential to lead to comparative disadvantage in specific industries according to TCP models of industry-specific comparative advantages, resulting in greater intra-industry trade, and parallel movement of resources back to the original industry if productivity and opportunity costs are similar at an international level. An interesting implication would be the loss of economic welfare by oil-producing countries in gains for international development in their current industries. This could compel Gulf countries to pump more oil with a view of monopolizing OPEC coordination of third-degree price discrimination and limiting output redirection to recapture lost economic welfare. Simulation results conducted by Naqvi for potential supply restrictions of Middle Eastern OPEC countries found a $14 billion loss in economic welfare for the rest of the world, and double the welfare loss for OPEC countries, primarily through the terms of trade effects. Changes in welfare were relative to opportunity costs and thus were due to reallocation effects and not decreasing production in current industries. This may influence regional cooperation in attempts to halt the resource reallocation process and limitations on economic welfare.

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