جمعه, 02 تیر 1396 |

?Is joint Arab militarism really the answer

BEIRUTWhen Egyptian President Abdelfattah Sisi announced in late Marchafter an Arab summit at Sharm el-Sheikh that leaders there had agreed onthe principle of creating a “joint Arab military force” to respond tosecurity threats in the region, the idea was greeted by considerableskepticism across much of the Arab world. Now, some two months later, and after chiefs-of-staff of Arab armed forces met in Egypt to discussthe matter further without announcing any of the results of theirdeliberations, the idea still elicits great doubts.

Theidea of a joint Arab military force indeed makes much sense, and couldbe a positive step to deal with a wide range of security threats acrossthe region. Yet doubt reverberates all around it because there is littleconfidence that the high-level decision-making mechanisms of thecurrent Arab leaderships would allow this sound concept to be translatedinto reality in a manner that elicits widespread popular support andactually serves the security and well-being of Arab citizens.
For one thing, the manner in which such important issues are addressed is typical of the top-heavy, I-command-my-people-to-love-and-obey-mestyle of leadership and decision-making that defines the Arab worldtoday, and has done so for decades. A serious issue such as this jointmilitary force that could see Arab troops from different countrieswaging war inside other Arab countries, against a variety of potentialfoes, should be debated and decided upon in a wide consultative processthat allows ordinary citizens as well as our most learned scholars andanalysts to weigh in on the pluses and minuses of the idea. Arab leaderscan decide behind closed doors if they wish on a unified technicalstandard for evaluating imported tuna fish packaging, or agreeing onreciprocal protocols for postal service deliveries; but when it comes toa joint force that will fight and kill across the region, it would seemcritical for the idea to be widely discussed and debated, so that afinal decision benefits from a genuine consensus.
Twomain operational problems seem obvious in such an idea. First, being avoluntary endeavor, this new Arab military force runs the risk of simplyperpetuating the ideological, sectarian and other divisions thatalready plague the Arab world. So if those who join are the samecountries that now operate together under Saudi Arabian leadership inthe war in Yemen, it is likely that their decisions to deploy to keepthe peace or even to go to war would reflect these same countriesideological fears of Iran’s influence across parts of the Arab world. This is likely to heighten regional tensions rather than lower them.
Second, it will be difficult for the Arab states involved to collectivelysufficiently coordinate their military logistics, supplies, mechanics, equipment, training, communications and other technical aspects of theirwork to be able to engage in useful military action. That could meanthat the main point of such a unified force is not necessarily to engagein active conflict, but rather more to function as a peace-keepingforce whose presence on the ground in a conflict situation could reducetensions and prevent an outbreak of active warfare.
Existingsituations such as the expansion of the Islamic State in Iraq andGreater Syria (ISIS) clearly call out for a joint Arab militaryresponse, because ISIS threatens many Arab countries simultaneously. Theturmoil in Libya and Yemen, as in Lebanon in the 1970s, also cries outfor a coherent response from Arab countries, but not mainly in themilitary sphere. Political and economic issues that threaten variousArab countries need as much attention as military and security ones, andin these realms the Arab leaders have zero credibility.
Sothere is little to be hopeful about right now in the current talk of ajoint Arab military force, because it brings together three of the mostdestructive legacies of the modern Arab world: military men in power, making decisions by themselves, and relying on military force to getthings done, or just keep things quiet.  Traditional Arab governmentsreliance on security responses to growing threats and tensions that arecreated by social, political, demographic, environmental and economicforces is likely to generate more stress and conflict, rather than less.
Iunderstand the panic that strikes in the hearts of Arab leaders whofear the expanding influence of Iran in the region or the turmoil thatcould spread from Libya, Syria and Iraq. Perhaps this is the moment toponder whether excessive reliance on militarism as a response topolitical and ideological disagreements and socio-economic disparitiesis in fact the appropriate solution, or actually one of the causes ofthe problems we face.


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RamiG. Khouri is published twice weekly in the /Daily Star/. He wasfounding director and now senior policy fellow of the Issam FaresInstitute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the AmericanUniversity of Beirut. Follow him on Twitter @ramikhouri