By Javad Heirannia*
With regard to the idea of forming a Pan-Arab army as the military arm of the Arab League security organization, it must be noted that it would be enticing to take simple religious and ethnic configurations in the Middle East as a basis for the existence of mutual security dependence. If Arabs vs. “others” (Jews and Iranians) as well as the Ottoman legacy, which is based on adversity between Turks and Arabs, are taken as two main existing foci in the region, it would lead to an ethnic approach to current insecurity in the region. Religion can be also added to this process. From a religious viewpoint, Israel is different from its Arab neighbors, most of whose people are either Muslims or Christians, while Iran represents Shias in the Sunni – Shia divide of the Muslim world.
Rivalries among these identities and the emphasis put by countries on every one of them have given birth to an interesting mix of cooperation, opposition and conflict. Therefore, realization of security communities on the basis of what Karl Wolfgang Deutsch, the communication theorist, has explained, is hard and difficult in this region. While nationalism is considered as a characteristic and a reason for the existence of security communities in the West, in other parts of the world, this factor can serve to prohibit creation of such communities. Different understanding of the member states of a Pan-Arab army of security and security threats, and their different readings of nationalism will cause the member states of such an army not to be able to march toward a security community either of an integrated type, or a pluralistic one.
For example, two main members of this army, that is, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have their own different interpretations of terrorism. While Saudi Arabia is working with the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen and Syria, Egypt considers it a terrorist group. There are also severe differences between Saudi Arabia and Qatar about this group.
While some member countries of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC] like Oman and Kuwait have cordial relations with Iran, relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and such countries as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are tense. Therefore, intersubjective understanding of security between Iran and Oman is different from understanding of the same issue between Iran and Saudi Arabia and, at the same time, Oman is not necessarily sharing Saudi Arabia’s viewpoints and interpretation of what Riyadh calls Iran security threat.
Another obstacle to forming a common Arab army is absence of powerful armies in member countries of such a common military force. At present, Egypt, whose powerful army was once exemplar, is facing major problems. Syria is practically on a totally different course, while the Iraqi army has been weakened. The littoral Arab states of the Persian Gulf can only provide funds. This is why even the Damascus statement about forming a common army, which would have the littoral Arab states of the Persian Gulf as financiers, with Egypt and Syria as main sources of the military force could not succeed in this regard and practically failed.
Forming a security regime needs to have a single and common definition of threat. In fact, as long as there is no common picture of threat and how to oppose it, we cannot talk about a common security regime. Therefore, a common understanding of threatening factors by countries that form the common Arab army is necessary in order to assess the possibility of forming such an army to counter “common” threats.
Although the Arab-Israeli conflict had managed to create a security community in the face of Israel, at present, the Arab League and such countries as Egypt and Saudi Arabia cannot be considered as effective countries in the Arab security community, whose goal could be countering Israel. Therefore, Israeli analysts have not only avoided showing a negative reaction to establishment of the common Arab army, but have also welcomed this idea. This comes in contrast to the fact that for many years, the Eastern front, which consisted of the Arab countries, was considered as number one security threat to Israel. Once, David Ben-Gurion, the first leader of Israel, had announced that he could not sleep at night over the fear of a possible attack from the single front made up of Arab countries.
It must be noted that, common military activities of Arab countries are mostly aimed at protecting the interests of those Arab regimes, which sway more power and influence. The attack by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries on Yemen and a previous incursion aimed at suppressing the revolution in Bahrain clearly show that common military operations stages by Arab states are not aimed at protecting the security of Arab countries in the face of foreign threats or to support Arab nations. At present, increasing influence and power of Iran in the region has greatly concerned Arab states. Following the conclusion of Iran’s nuclear agreement with the P5+1 group of world powers, Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar have been trying to obtain security guarantees from the United States. As a result, leaders of these countries even met with the US president at Camp David in order to sign with the United States a common defense pact like what gave birth to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but this goal was not finally achieved.
A difference in viewpoints between Saudi Arabia and Egypt about the mission of a common Arab force can be considered as the main obstacle to making a final decision on the creation of such force. Differences about creating a common Arab force during the Arab League meeting in Cairo have raised many questions about relations between Egypt and the littoral states of the Persian Gulf, especially when Saudi Arabia’s objection was mentioned as the reason that had deferred a final decision on this matter. After a special meeting of its defense and foreign ministers on the establishment of a common Arab force was postponed, the Arab League issued a statement in which it announced that the Saudi Arabia’s delegation had given it a note declaring Riyadh’s willingness to defer a meeting of the Arab League’s defense council, which consists of defense and foreign ministers of member countries.
Creating security regimes and security convergence require a high level of coherence and understanding among members of such regimes over the concept of security and security threats, on the one hand, and how to fight off those security threats, on the other hand. Different approaches taken to the issue of security and security threats by countries making the common Arab army and also their different approaches to regional issues and even domestic issues of one another have cast serious doubts on the possibility of forming such an army. The main countries taking part in this army, that is, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have basic and important differences over such issues as the Muslim Brotherhood, the future role of Bashar Assad in Syria’s power structure, and also on the situation in Libya, Yemen and other places, which make security convergence among them difficult. Therefore, establishment of a common Arab army under conditions when a model of security interdependence cannot be offered for the member states of the Arab League seems to be very difficult and even impossible.
Expert on Middle East Issues
Source: The Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies
Translated By: Iran Review.Org