Towards a new security model in the Middle East

Towards a new security model in the Middle East
Comment: Regional powers must build on dialogue and common ground to avoid conflict, Mohammed Javad Zarif, foreign minister of Iran writes in an exclusive for The New Arab.
6 min read
20 Mar, 2018
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at the Tehran Security Conference, January 2018 [AFP]
The humiliating defeat of the Daesh (IS) group over the past year has put an end to the project pursued by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

It has decisively aborted on the ground the trend of extremism and violence which had dragged our region into one of the most devastating and damaging periods in its entire history.

Nevertheless, terror and extremism continue to fester, and pose a threat to the region and the world, given the wide reach of terror networks across the world.
Preventing the expansion of extremism remains our top priority.

While we have overcome, on the ground, the threat of the fake Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a large distance still separates us from what we desire in terms of stability and security.

What we and all the regional players face in this historical juncture consists therefore of three main challenges, those of reaching a sound understanding of the current reality, of developing a common conviction regarding the desired state of the region, and of finding ways to crystallise this state.
If we overcome these challenges as desired, then this shall secure the ingredients for prosperity, peace and security for our children.  
The notion of a "strong region" has its roots in the strategic vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran regarding its regional neighbourhood, and it requires accepting the principle of securing and respecting collective interests, promoting a win-win principle for all sides in the region, and renouncing all inclinations towards supremacy, hegemony and exclusion of the other players.
Such a dialogue can and must replace the war of words
Securing the interests of any state in the region therefore depends on securing the interests of all other states in the region. While competition between nations when it comes to social and economic development is perfectly acceptable, seeking hegemony and trying to exclude rivals in order to become a dominant force is not only unfeasible, but would also aggravate tensions.
This kind of competition would only lead to a vicious cycle of perpetual conflict. Accordingly, destructive policies must be abandoned, and a conviction must be reached, that we, as Muslims, can and must seek to achieve stability, security, peace and development in our region.
Since our region faces several types of problems, from terrorism to environmental crises and rising emigration, a corrosive arms race and fomenting tensions between neighbouring countries places additional burdens on the people of the region, at a time when the military spending as a measure of GDP of our Gulf neighbours, has soared to record levels even when compared to global averages.

Such policies will not only perpetuate tension and distrust, but will also squander the vital wealth of the region, transferring it to the coffers of the looters and arms dealers. In the end, this cycle will lead to more disastrous adventures and destructive tendencies, and the only alternative is to begin confidence-building policies on a regional level.
Destructive policies must be abandoned, and a conviction must be reached that we, as Muslims, can and must seek to achieve stability, security, peace and development in our region
In light of the prevailing reality of our interconnected world, and the circumstances of our region, particularly in the Gulf, the conventional mechanisms and alliances are now obsolete and ineffective. 

In parallel, demographic changes, and the development of economic and military capacities in the region have caused permanent security concerns among the smaller states, prompting them to rely on foreign powers while living in the delusion of being able to purchase or outsource security.

Read more: Pompeo's appointment bodes ill for the Middle East
The way out of this absurd and dangerous loop is to create a security net in which all the countries of the region contribute. This collective approach should require the countries of the region to commit to joint rules and principles, including equality among states, refraining from threats or the use of force, resolving differences through peaceful methods, respecting territorial integrity, non-interference in the affairs of other states and respecting states' right to self-determination.
We in West Asia have suffered from the lack of dialogue and understanding on all levels
Such an experiment has proven its worth in other regions that had seen years of war and bloodshed, even in those regions where states had far fewer common interests, both political and economic, than the states of our region do with one another. 

In other words, there is no real reason why it would be hopeless to attempt such an experiment in our region.
This security net does not seek to banish all differences in visions, or ignore historical problems. Rather, it is a way to prevent escalation of conflicts and end absurd temporary alliances.
In this regard, all the countries in the region would use such a security net as the cornerstone of mutual cooperation to agree sustainable measures to safeguard regional security.

Based on this vision, it would be impossible to define or guarantee the security of one state or a group of states in isolation from the security of other regional states.

It is, therefore, important to abandon obsolete and futile schemes, and replace them with mechanisms that can identify common ground in the context of shared interests, enhance the possibilities of cooperation between the countries that have shared interests, and promote dialogue in the event of differences in views or over those interests.

To achieve stability and the security conditions we all desire, we must act now to engage in dialogue and implement steps towards confidence-building.
This security net does not seek to banish all differences in visions, or ignore historical problems
Indeed, we in West Asia have suffered from the lack of dialogue and understanding on all levels. Our governments are thus required to engage in reassuring dialogue more than at any time in the past, in order to reach mutual understanding and become acquainted with one another. Such a dialogue would make it clear that we all have similar concerns, fears, aspirations and hopes.
And thanks to our shared geography, history, cultures, and faiths, we stand to benefit from dialogue and positive engagement for the betterment of our peoples.

Such a dialogue can and must replace the war of words and the pointless propaganda with which we have addressed each other through media channels.
Dialogue is the most important way of eliminating distrust, however there is often a need for measures alongside dialogue to repair the strained climate.

A dialogue must therefore be coupled with indispensable confidence-building measures, led by exchanging information in all fields. Avoiding misunderstanding and provocations is also among the main goals of such measures.
In addition, other reassuring measures could pave the way for breakthrough, such as promoting engagement between people, including by encouraging tourism, and cooperating in shared arenas, particularly trade, nuclear safety, pollution control, natural disaster relief efforts. This also includes agreeing mutual military visits, notification of military exercises, transparency in defence procurements and reduction of military spending, leading to signing non-aggression pacts. ​

Mohammad Javad Zarif is the foreign minister of Iran.

A career diplomat, with several postings as an envoy of Tehran in the United States and at the United Nations, Zarif is also a visiting professor at the University of Tehran, having received both a Bachelor's and Master's degree in international relations from San Francisco State University and a second MA and a PhD from the University of Denver.

Although Twitter is officially banned in Iran, you can follow him: @JZarif

Want a different point of view? Read Rami Khouri's When will Zarif's policies match his rosy rhetoric? and Robin Yassin-Kassab's If Zarif is serious about security, Iran's support for Assad must end

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.