13. Regime Security and Shifting Arab Alliances
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13 Regime Security and Shifting Arab Alliances The international relations of the Middle East have often baffled casual observers and led to assumptions that, of all the world’s regions, this one must be an exception to the norms of global politics. And within Middle East politics, inter-Arab relations have seemed perhaps most baffling of all. While the above statements apply to much punditry and commentary about Middle East politics, they do not apply to serious scholarship about the region. To the contrary, the Middle East is no more baffling or arcane than any other region. Sadly, it may simply be lingering orientalism that would suggest otherwise. This book has presented a specific model for understanding the dynamics of inter-Arab relations and shifting Arab alliances , positioned against the broader context of what is too often a Westerncentric literature on alliances and international relations. Indeed, the very notion of alliance must be considered more broadly in order to be made relevant to the politics not only of the Middle East, but also throughout much of the post-colonial world. If one focuses only on alliances in a narrowly conceived way, that is, as formal defense pacts only, then one will find few “alliances” in the history of modern Middle East politics. Yet looser alignments and alliances between Arab states, committed to political and economic support (but not necessarily including formal military commitments), are routine and indeed key features of regional political life. But here, too, we must consider who the “state” actually is, and who is actually allying with whom. In inter-Arab politics, I have argued, alliances and alignments are best seen as transnational support coalitions between ruling regimes, rather than as combinations of states allying together as unitary rational actors. The latter conceptualization, so common in the Neorealist discourse on alliances and international relations, neglects the dynamics of domestic politics and internal insecurity that, as this book has shown, are often essential to understanding Arab alliance politics. I have offered an alternative approach here, the regime security approach, which examines ruling regimes and their insecurities at the nexus of domestic and international politics. This approach examines regime decision making and Regime Security and Shifting Arab Alliances / 205 perceptions of threats from multiple sources—internal and external, military and economic, normative and material. In this way the regime security approach does not abandon the traditional focus on states, security, and external military threats; but neither is the approach limited to these variables alone. Rather, it expands beyond each of these variables in order to be more in tune with the empirical realities of Arab and Middle East politics, and of the politics in many other areas of the world. This book, therefore, has presented an alternative theoretical framework to the dominant paradigm in the alliance literature, in an effort to provide an alternative explanation for shifting inter-Arab alignments, one that is both more theoretically nuanced and empirically accurate. While Kenneth Waltz’s work1 is among the cornerstones of neorealist theory, Stephen Walt’s work2 has become a key representative of that tradition in the alliance literature . As discussed at the outset of this book, Walt argues that alliance formation is driven by state attempts to balance against changing constellations of external threats. In effect, Walt offers a uni-causal theory that is parsimonious in its specific attention to external military threats. For Walt, alliances form in response to these external stimuli, as states attempt to maneuver amidst powerful systemic constraints. Neorealist parsimony, however, has in this case sacrificed considerable empirical detail, by being too theoretically narrow, and hence missing key variables determining international alignment behavior. I have argued that, particularly in the Arab states system, a too-strict application of Walt’s assumptions is at best misleading, since it leaves out key domestic and economic variables. These variables are indeed important , and have received (largely separate) treatments in the literature. Laurie Brand, for example, has provided a detailed economic analysis and hence a political economic model of regional alliance-making based on budget security. States make and break alliances, in this model, mainly on the basis of concerns for the security of the state’s revenue and economic resources.3 While this book does emphasize political economy as a key component of regime security, political economy remains just that: a part of a broader and a more complex set of issues. Economic factors have, for example, proven to be very important in most of the cases examined...


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