Monday, May 2, 2016

The Collapsing State System and the Western Stake in the Middle East - Reza Parchizadeh

by Reza Parchizadeh

While the non-centralized Sunni forms of Islamism only individually, sporadically and inconsistently threaten the West, the Iran-centered Shiite bloc of power has been collectively, systematically and consistently targeting the West

The Westphalian System is a doctrine in international law that has been the generally accepted norm for the world order in the past couple of centuries. The basis of this doctrine is the Peace of Westphalia that put an end to the Thirty Years’ War in Europe in 1648.

The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) proved to be one of the most devastating wars in Europe’s history, one that left around eight million casualties. The war initially started over post-Reformation religious disputes between the Protestant and the Catholic states in the Holy Roman Empire. However, it later grew into an ongoing continental power struggle between the Habsburg Empire and the Bourbon Empire for the fate of Europe, where the Habsburgs and their Catholic allies closed ranks against an alliance of the Protestant anti-Habsburgians and the Catholic Bourbon Empire. That bloody war was concluded by the Peace of Westphalia.

Ratification of the Treaty by Gerard

In order to prevent the re-forming of such formidable “blocs of power” that had made the disaster of the Thirty Years’ War possible in the first place, the Westphalian System stipulated a set of specific codes according to which all European states became bound by the principle of “non-interference” in the domestic affairs of other European states; each state’s right to exercise sovereignty over her territory was recognized and emphasized; and each country, regardless of its size, was accorded equal rights with others in international affairs.

The apex of the Westphalian System came in 19th-Century Europe, where it was infused with and strengthened by the emerging trend of “nationalism” that would consider the “state” and the “nation” one and the same. As time went by, with the spread of European imperial influence in the world, the Westphalian System and European-style nationalism were also taken to the four corners of the globe, in effect making the Westphalian System the basis of modern international law and thus the prototype of the new world order.

But if the Westphalian System had been theoretically designed to ward off war and to make peace permanent, it proved far from successful in practice. By making “separation” of states the most salient principle of international relations, the Westphalian System rendered “confrontation,” although of another kind, inevitable. In that regard, perhaps Javier Solana, the former NATO Secretary-General, has delivered the most cogent argument against the Westphalian System so far. In 1998, during a Symposium on the Continuing Political Relevance of the Peace of Westphalia, Solana said that
[T]he Westphalian system had its limits. For one, the principle of sovereignty it relied on also produced the basis for rivalry, not community of states; exclusion, not integration. Further, the idea of a strong, sovereign state was later draped with nationalistic fervour that degenerated into a destructive political force… In the end, it was a system that could not guarantee peace. Nor did it prevent war, as the history of the last three centuries has so tragically demonstrated.
As it happened, the process of nation-building in the mostly-colonized modern Middle East, which took place along the lines of the Westphalian System, also absorbed most of its limitations. Except for Iran and somewhat Turkey that had historical continuity as political entities, almost all the states in the modern Middle East are the product of the Westphalian System. As such, with a glance at the prevailing political doctrines in the modern Middle East, it can easily be seen that almost all of them promote “independence” – which is a translation of and even coterminous with “separation” – as their most pivotal or one of their most fundamental ideological values.

However, it is the Islamic Republic in Iran that since the 1979 Revolution has proved to be the epitome of that Westphalian separationist/confrontationist attitude in the Middle East – and it is perhaps an irony, for the Iranian regime regards itself as an active agent of negating and subverting all Western values and systems. That epitomic separationism/confrontationism of the Islamic regime that almost verges on “militant isolationism” has been notoriously enshrined in one of the most cherished slogans of the revolution, “Neither East, nor West, [only] the Islamic Republic!”

But strangely, the Islamic Republic has at the same time departed from the state-based separationist Westphalian System by relentlessly developing its own supra-national “bloc of power” for the past 38 years. To clarify, the Islamic Republic has been forging a wide-ranging and far-reaching league of Shiite extremists in the Middle East with zealous followers in the form of Hezb’allah in Lebanon, the Alawites and Druze in Syria, Houthis in Yemen, Twelvers in Iraq and Bahrain, Afghan Shiites, and even Zaydis in Saudi Arabia.

While the Iran-centered spirit of separationism from the world has been retained, its scope has been expanded to incorporate other countries in the Middle East although the governments in those countries might not be necessarily regarded as allies or satellites of the Iranian regime. The key concepts here are “Islamism,” “Export of Revolution” and “terrorism,” the first continuously implemented via the second and the third. As such, the Islamic Republic has managed to create an ideological bloc of power that supersedes and threatens to subvert the Westphalian System, first in the Middle East and then all over the world.

And it is that bloc of power that today more than anything else threatens Western values and interests, not only in the Middle East but also around the world. It can be said that while the non-centralized Sunni forms of Islamism such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and ISIS only individually, sporadically and inconsistently threaten the West, the Iran-centered Shiite bloc of power has been collectively, systematically and consistently targeting the West and polarizing the region and the world to the detriment of the West.

Given that, believing that leaving the Iran-centered Islamist bloc to its own devices and granting it leverage in the region in hopes that it will behave itself and stick to its own business is only an illusion; as can be most apparently seen in the case of the ill-going Nuclear Deal with the regime of the mullahs. Indeed, leaving the Middle East’s fate to the mullahs will eventually lead to more unwanted cost and intervention on the part of the West as they will by no means cease to threaten the West: the Iranian brand of Islamism proves to be in a state of perpetual offensive against the West.

That is why if the Middle East is meant to be left to its own devices, whether as a result of a calculated, peaceful American withdrawal or in conclusion of any unavoidable confrontation, it is not only wise but also to the best interest of the West that whatever “order” is left behind shares the fundamental values of democracy, secularism, liberalism, human rights, and a predisposition to free market with the West. And the next occupant of the Oval Office will be well advised to heed that.

Reza Parchizadeh


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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