Foundations of the regional security equation

Mohamed Fayez Farahat
Tuesday 31 Oct 2023

Hard power remains a primary condition for stability and security in the Middle East region, underscoring the limitations of liberal international relations theories, writes Mohamed Fayez Farahat



he grand ideas and theories of international relations represent a pivotal source in shaping reality, whether at the level of the international system or within various regions.

However, certain regions have shown differing levels of receptivity towards applying the fundamental tenets of specific theories or serving as evidence for their validity. For instance, Western Europe has been more amenable to adopting the premises of liberal theories in their various forms (classical liberalism, institutional liberalism, mutual dependence, democratic peace, functionalism, and neo-functionalism, among others).

These theories have concentrated on multiple approaches to peace-building. In contrast, regional interactions and relations in other cases have served as evidence for the failure or impracticality of these theories and their postulations.

The essence of the liberal school of thought revolves around the pivotal role of non-governmental actors (civil-society organisations, multinational corporations, and human rights organisations, etc.), transnational organisations, and multinational companies alongside states in shaping international policies.

The role of these actors in peace-building stems from the growth of mutual economic interdependence, the expansion of cultural interactions, and the proliferation of democracy, which encourage the emergence of transnational actors and interests transcending national boundaries, thereby emancipating them from the constraints of national sovereignty and traditional conflicts.

Advocates of this school reject the hegemony of security and military issues in international or regional policies, affirming instead the possibility and necessity of giving space to economic, social, and cultural concerns. Allowing room for these actors and issues can pave the way for the creation of social and cultural patterns that transcend borders and aim at enhancing security and peace.

This can subsequently influence domestic decision-making processes in order to bolster these shared interests and urge nations to redefine their foreign interests.

However, while some regions have idealistically represented scenarios aligning with these theories or showcased adaptability in altering regional dynamics, others have persistently functioned as testimony that there are limitations to changing the regional state of affairs and relations based on them.

The Middle East, for instance, despite various proposals attempting to reform the region and neutralise its traditional conflicts within the framework of the “Greater Middle East” or other concepts, has consistently stood as an example proving the impracticality of altering the regional state of affairs based on these theories.

In contrast, the current situation in the region underscores that its security and stability can only be achieved through investment in establishing a “balance of power” or “deterrence equilibrium.” The region remains unprepared to transition to a fragile “liberal” state that would guarantee an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or ensure the Palestinians’ right to establish their state.

Instead, the firm conclusion remains that possessing “hard power” remains a primary condition to ensure stability and security in the region, not mutual economic dependence, deepening cross-border cultural interactions, or the growth of networks and interests beyond national boundaries, as the liberal school advocates. At least, this is the case concerning the relationship with Israel.

Israel’s aggressive policies towards the Palestinian people, relying primarily on security and military approaches in dealing with the Palestinian issue, notably through the ongoing brutal aggression against Gaza, expose its dangerous intentions towards the Palestinian cause and its attempt to entirely eradicate it at the expense of specific Arab countries, particularly Egypt and potentially also Jordan.

These aggressive Israeli policies underscore the limitations of any optimistic application of liberal school postulates in international relations and signal instead that in a region still grappling with historical and traditional conflicts, liberal ideals falter and neglect a people who have been dispossessed of their land and deprived of their right to establish an independent state.

While some regions, like the Asia-Pacific, have managed to freeze or neutralise certain existing conflicts in favour of adopting the liberal school’s ideologies, for instance freezing disputes in the South and East China Seas for several decades to promote economic integration and mutual dependence, these cases cannot be equated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The later conflict is rooted in an occupation that is seeking, gradually and forcefully, to settle the Palestinian issue through military force and at the expense of other nations and regional security.

In essence, under prevailing Israeli policies the Middle East region will remain distant from what the proponents of the liberal school of international relations envisage due to these policies, at least until a fair settlement of the Palestinian cause is reached.


The writer is director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 2 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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