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  • Dynamics of Arab Foreign Policy-Making in the Twenty-First Century: Domestic Constraints and External Challenges
  • J.E. Peterson (bio)
Dynamics of Arab Foreign Policy-Making in the Twenty-First Century: Domestic Constraints and External Challenges, by Hassan Hamdan al-Alkim. London: Saqi, 2011. 392 pages. Separate insert with map and tables. $65.

This is the third book on Arab foreign policy-making to be published by Hassan al-Alkim, formerly of United Arab Emirates University and, more recently, vice chancellor of the American University of Ras al-Khaimah. The first was on the UAE and the second on the Gulf Cooperation Council. With each volume, the author’s geographical scope grows broader. Nevertheless, he has pursued a similar approach in each, based on methodology developed by David Easton, Roy Macridis, James Rosenau, and others. In the author’s words, he examines the “outcome of the interactions that take place between the internal and the external events colored by the decision makers’ perception of current events” (p. 19). Or put another way, “foreign policy is a process of finding the balance between the foreign commitments of a state and its domestic determinants or constraints to fulfill such commitments” (p. 294).

Al-Alkim begins with a look at five key factors of the input process. He focuses first on political aggregation and political articulations. His conclusion is that a lack of political legitimacy constrains Arab states’ foreign policy-making and creates instability in inter-Arab relations. Social inequality and a low level of economic development involve further constraints on policy-making and prevent collective Arab action and regional integration.

He sees the changing world order as having both negative and positive impacts on the Arab world, even as the region played a significant role in affecting that order. He also notes that the demise of the Soviet Union made the Arabs more vulnerable to US pressures. Furthermore, the Arab regional order is weak and ineffective because of the existence of an unstable region, highlighted by inter-Arab differences, challenges from Israel, Iran, and Turkey, and security dependence on the United States. Finally, the protracted Arab-Israeli conflict has produced an international variable complicating Arab foreign policy-making through the introduction of such aspects as the impact of the Cold War on this conflict and the role of the broader global community and the United Nations.

Following analysis of the above “inputs,” Al-Alkim proceeds to present a set of case studies that illustrate the problems in Arab foreign policymaking. He discusses the history of Arab-Israeli peace proposals and negotiations, and their stumbling blocks, concluding that the changes set in motion by the Arab Awakening of 2011 (i.e., the emergence of some more democratic Arab states) will likely result in a more focused approach to the Palestinian problem and real support for the Arab peace initiative based on the land for peace formula. Still, he warns that peace would be “nothing more than bilateral settlements; they will not achieve normalization or reach what is known as cultural peace” (p. 258).

In his view, one of the principal and essentially unsolvable problems in a peace settlement is the competition for scarce water resources in which Israel has the upper hand, although it is also a problem between Turkey and the neighboring Arab states. Closely related to water issues is the problem of food security. The Arab world faces a worsening food gap between supply and consumption exacerbated by rapid population growth. Al-Alkim notes that the Arab world is in a subordinate position vis-à-vis food exporting countries and advocates a collective strategy to improve necessary infrastructure, provide effective support to Arab farmers, and increase scientific and technical support in order [End Page 756] to make the region self-sufficient and less vulnerable to external pressures.

The final chapter looks at the foreign-policy process in Saudi Arabia, a case study that the author has adopted because of the kingdom’s increasingly prominent role in regional and international politics. Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy, according to the author’s schema, is determined on the one hand by a combination of geographical, historical, ideological, political, demographic, social, economic, and military...


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