The Middle East as a falsifier of the Westphalian state

Middle East

By: Ammara Ilyas

The focus of the world’s diplomacy is on two areas. Russian President Putin’s annexation of Crimea, and his perceived ‘new’ expansionism of foreign policy – on behalf of a state that is still massively nuclear-armed. The other area is the Middle East, with the turmoil caused by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); and with the dawning realisation that some of the state actors in the region may be playing, or at least tolerating its senior personnel and institutions playing a double game. In his latest book, Henry Kissinger airs his suspicions of Saudi Arabia being an ostensible member of the Westphalian system, but for confessional reasons supporting the propagation of what is proposing itself as an Islamic state system.

This too will be discussed towards the end of this book. It is a real challenge to the foundations of International Relations theory, as well as a major complication in foreign policy formulation and diplomacy. It is a challenge to theory since Westphalia sought to secularise the international system, and there are few well-developed tools for conceptualising a re-sacralised world, especially one re-sacralised not even in its previous Christian sense, but an Islamic one. The last time the world had a Christian/Western and Islamic clash was hundreds of years ago. It is a challenge to policy and practice since confessional values do not fit well into any of the models someone like Allison put forward. If Kennedy and his advisers calculated there would be a moment of rational lucidity in which the Soviets, projecting the costs, would back down – there is no guarantee that worldly costs would trump the anticipated values of Godly blessing.

Read More: The Middle East Theatre

It may be that what we see today is fleeting, or that the challenge against Westphalia turns out to be the attempt at falsification that, finally, renders the Westphalian system ‘true’ and durable. Or it could be a genuine antagonism that is determined to supplant the Westphalian system, or at least marginalise it in favour of a new world order. It could even be that there is a discrepancy of aim between Saudi and ISIS strategists – with the former certainly testing the durability of today’s system but ultimately content should their efforts prove only to be an act of unsuccessful falsification, and Saudi Arabia continues to benefit from its place in the international system; for them, it might be a kind of win-win situation; and the latter hell-bent on overthrow, knowing military force is not good at destroying an idea, and knowing that today’s diplomatic practice is not shaped for religious conflict.

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