37th INTERNATIONAL PEACE ACADEMY VIENNA SEMINAR
The Middle East: Fragility, Crisis, and New Challenges for Peace Operations
The theme of the International Peace Academy seminar this year revolves around the Middle East and issues of peace-building. It seeks to explore some of the most salient issues in what is arguably the world’s most complex and important region, and their significance for the international community.
A variety of trends, developments and crises continue to focus global attention on the Middle East. No other region poses such challenging questions, issues, complexities to the world, while no other region can claim similar geo-strategic importance. The Middle East, with its vast oil and gas reserves, its geopolitical location at the intersection of Europe and Asia, with its long history of conflict and foreign interference, with its interplay of ethnic, sectarian, ideological and economic conflicts, occupies one of the top ranks on the global agenda, not just in 2007, but probably for many years to come.
Acute political trends and events are enmeshed within broader and more long-term concerns related to the issue of building sustainable and lasting peace in the region: questions of keeping the peace, disarmament, security sector reform, reconstruction, democratisation and development. In addition, the issues of sectarianism, political Islam, and terrorism are questions that have been placed at the top of the agenda by many both inside and outside the region.
These issues are set against more immediate events taking place as the Arab-Israeli conflict continues to simmer. On the Palestinian front, an uneasy power-sharing deal between Hamas and Fatah indicates an uncertain future, which impacts efforts to revive the long-dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In the aftermath of the war between Israel and Hizbullah on Lebanese soil in July/August 2006, in the context of a series of political assassinations and assassination attempts and of Lebanese efforts to re-assert the country’s sovereignty and independence and re-define its historical relationship with Syria, the Israeli-Syrian-Lebanese triangle remains equally unsettled.
The post-war environment in Iraq also remains unstable and whilst there has been much discussion on how to improve the situation, the state of affairs on the ground is likely to continue to pose many challenges in the months ahead. 2007 has seen the President Bush’s “surge” of US troops in Iraq, but many questions over avenues towards stabilization and pacification of the country remain. These issues fuel further debate on the role of the US, the international community, and the UN in Iraq. With Iraq’s instability radiating into the surrounding region and the significant implications of the crisis for neighbouring countries as well as broader regional politics, the Iraqi challenge is one that no longer affects the coalition alone, but is of relevance to all in Europe and the Middle East.
Meanwhile, the growing focus on Iran, the varied positions of the international community and Security Council members on plotting a future course of action, the dichotomy in thought between those who propose negotiations and those who think an escalation of the conflict is inevitable, and the possible emergence of a nuclear Iran, all combine to make this an important issue. It is particularly pertinent in light of Iran’s growing assertiveness in its neighbourhood and the perception of many in the region that the new fault-line in the Middle East runs between Persian nationalists on the one hand, and the Arab world on the other.
The Middle East retains global significance across a wide range of issues and will continue to affect international peace, stability, security and prosperity more than any other region in 2007 and beyond. As such, the Middle East is no longer of bilateral or regional concern, but has wide-ranging global significance, which is only enhanced further by the integration and overlaps between the various issues and conflicts.
It is only timely, therefore, that this year’s seminar focuses on the peace agenda in the region and seeks to make sense of the manifold challenges, conflicts, and issues that concern not just Middle Easterners but also the remainder of the world.