Panel 5d. Perspectives on International Policy in the Middle East

Chair: Silvia Colombo, International Affairs Institute (IAI)

From New York to Benghazi and Back? Norm Diffusion and Norm Localisation of R2P on Libya and Syria
Silvia Colombo, International Affairs Institute (IAI)

In the 21st century, the debate on humanitarian intervention as a form of liberation has been shaped by the emergence of the “Responsibility to Protect (R2P)” norm as opposed to non-intervention. In both theoretical and practical terms, R2P has originated from the Global North and has gradually sneaked into the debate of an East-West divide in international politics. This norm posits the international community’s responsibility to collectively intervene under a UN Security Council (UNSC) mandate to protect civilians against a defined set of crimes. As such, R2P has not been the object of a global consensus, although it has been invoked on a number of occasions at the UNSC level. In the context of the Arab uprisings, the tacit acceptance of NATO’s intervention in Libya is often considered as an exception rather than the rule, as amply demonstrated by the subsequent Russian and Chinese opposition to UNSC resolutions opening the way to forms of coercive international action in Syria. Against this backdrop, this paper aims at contributing to the emerging debate on R2P by assessing both the top-down – the international level – and the bottom-up – the local level – dimensions of the interpretation of and support to R2P on Libya and Syria. This analysis underscores the extent to which R2P is undergoing a combined process of norm diffusion and norm localisation, whereby the appropriation taking place at the local level influences the interpretation and implementation of the norm at the international level.

Arming the counter-revolution: Britain’s response to the Arab Uprisings
David Wearing, School of Oriental and African Studies

This paper focuses on Britain’s military relationship with the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (“GCC”), particularly in the realm of arms sales, since the commencement of the Arab uprisings in the winter of 2010-2011. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has stepped up its pursuit of the sale of major weapons systems to the Gulf states, principally fighter jets, while the general flow of arms and ammunition has continued. Evidence of human rights abuses and violent state responses to democratic movements, particularly in the case of Bahrain, has been played down by Whitehall, and has had no more than a superficial effect on the UK’s arms control policy. Britain’s commitment to support and defend the Gulf regimes from internal and external challenges has been actively renewed, to the extent that there is now talk of a “Return to East of Suez”, reversing the previous withdrawal effected in 1971. This includes the construction of a UK naval base in Bahrain, enabling the Royal Navy to project power into the Gulf for many years to come. Overall, the paper shows that a key element of Britain’s response to the Arab uprisings, and the widespread call for democracy that they represented, was to give a major vote of strategic confidence to a group of states that constitute the principle bastion of conservatism and counter-revolution in the MENA region.

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British policy and the Middle East: contradictions and constraints
David Styan, Birkbeck College, University of London

British policy and the Middle East: contradictions and constraints. The 2010-15 tenure of Britain’s coalition government coincided with momentous shifts in Middle Eastern politics. This paper’s first objective is to sketch a narrative of UK policy toward the Middle East during the Arab Spring and its aftermath. This focuses in particular on contrasting policies towards Libya and Syria. The analysis is contextualised within three policy spheres, each of which is shaped by both domestic and foreign policy interests: the indelible domestic shadows of the Iraq war, London’s growing structural ties to conservative Gulf Arab states, and the constraints imposed by the deep defence and Foreign Office budget cuts undertaken by the government. The paper’s second objective is to briefly examine to what degree the foregoing account of the contradictions, changes and continuities within UK policy might allow us to establish a framework of comparative foreign policy analysis. Several OECD states have economic and political interests in the Middle East directly comparable to those of London. Each has faced similar policy choices and dilemmas in the region since 2010. Drawing in particular on contrasts between British and French policy stances, we ask to what extent might academics objectively compare and evaluate foreign policy decision making towards the region?

American Democracy Promotion in the Middle East: Liberation or Domination?
Dionysis Markakis, Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS), Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar

This paper examines contemporary American democracy promotion in the Middle East. It argues that, in contrast to popular belief, democracy promotion has constituted an important American strategy in the region. Since the Clinton administration in particular, the US has sought to incrementally, but steadily promote the diffusion of its liberal democratic ideology throughout the Middle East. This has constituted an attempt to gradually encourage the formation of elite-based democracies, to replace existing authoritarian arrangements. While authoritarian governments were long seen as the guarantors of stability in the region, the policy of democracy promotion emerged as a result of the US’s need to shape political transitions as they inevitably occur across this last major bastion of authoritarian rule. The fact remains that authoritarian governments, reliant on coercion, are more likely to face popular challenges to their rule and therefore instability, than governments that utilise more consensual means, such as elite-based democracies. This was evidenced during the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011, with authoritarian governments in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt overthrown as a result of popular discontent. This generally results in more subtle, nuanced forms of social control, with the underlying aim consistently remaining the maintenance of stability and American interests. This paper traces the contours of this ongoing transition in US policy to the Middle East, over the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. Deconstructing the philosophy and praxis of the policy, it considers the extent to which American efforts to promote democracy in the region constitute a form of liberation, or merely an attempt to extend its domination.

Is Islamism what states make of it? Explaining the diversity of Islamist foreign policy in the Middle East
Filippo Dionigi, LSE

This paper assesses the impact of Islamism on the foreign policy of Middle Eastern states from a comparative perspective. By analyzing six case studies (Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey) the study advances the hypothesis that the impact of Islamism on foreign policy can be explained by its interaction with the form of statehood in which it emerged. In states with a prominent “revolutionary” character, Islamism informs a confrontational foreign policy. However in states in which Islamists have accessed governmental offices via institutionalized mechanisms their foreign policy has resulted in a less confrontational attitude towards international society. On this basis the paper concludes that, as other international norms, Islamism is “what states make of it”.

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