If we follow events of a few recent weeks in the Middle East, it will definitely provide us with compelling reasons to believe that clouds of World War III, God forbid, are looming high in the sky.
One of the major factors igniting the flames of World War I (WWI) and World War II (WWII) was the absence of any high-powered international organisation that could maintain international peace and security. The League of Nations (LoN), the first-ever intergovernmental organisation founded in 1920 in the aftermath of devastating WWI, was mandated with ensuring global peace. It too, however, fell short of expectations, thus passing the torch on to its successor, the United Nations (UN), in 1945. The UN since then despite its shortcomings has efficiently remained a ray of hope for the otherwise turbulent, wild world.
The recent US airstrikes on a serving Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who was on a diplomatic mission to Iraq, reveal the incompetence of the UN in bringing US to account for the latter’s flagrant violations of international diplomatic norms. And didn’t the Iraqi government call it a “brazen violation of Iraq’s sovereignty”. The diminishing power of the UN to take decisive action against the US for its violations augurs extremely ill for the future.
Then US President Donald Trump in his attempt to draw support from his neoconservative base resorted to brinksmanship which can further imperil the peace of the region. It is also reported that President Trump did not take the consensus of the US Congress when he gave directives for the assassination of Qassem Soleimani. As per the US Constitution, the US President is also ‘Commander in Chief’ of the Army and Navy of the United States. If President Trump’s powers are unchecked and he, with impunity, continues to take serious decisions, it will definitely portend a doomsday scenario.
President Trump’s close aide and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is considered one of the major architects of the hostile US foreign policy towards Iran. Secretary Pompeo also pushed President Trump to withdraw US from the landmark Iranian nuclear deal in 2018. It is alleged that Secretary Pompeo is eyeing an open Senate seat in Kansas in 2020 and also, as some experts believe, the Presidential campaign in 2024. Both of these goals can only be achieved if he receives unflinching support from his Republican establishment which wants US to pursue an aggressive policy towards Iran. Secretary Pompeo’s hard-line policies towards Iran will come in handy when he plans to climb up the ladder of US politics. It is, however, highly significant that peace of the entire world is placed in serious jeopardy solely because of personal avarice of a single man.
Similarly, European allies of the US expressed anger and exasperation over the American unilateral decision of conducting airstrikes. Gulf allies of the US, too, were not taken into confidence before embarking on the precarious road of Middle East turmoil in the follow up to the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani. This has widened the chasm of mistrust between US and its European and Gulf allies, notably the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). US also lost the trust of Iraq when the Iraqi Parliament passed a bill calling for an abrupt withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. These developments are plainly indicative of rapidly deteriorating peaceful environment in the Gulf.
Furthermore, it is also significant to notice that the smooth sailing of global oil trade through the Straits of Hormuz, a strategically crucial strait between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, is a prerequisite for maintaining the global economic order. Excessive militarisation of the region, with the US urging its allies to join maritime security missions in droves, can exacerbate the insecurity of the already fragile Middle East, thus posing severe threats to global economic order in case of any disruption in the Persian Gulf takes place.
South Korea, a close ally of the US, has recently deployed an anti-piracy unit in the Gulf. The anti-piracy unit, known as the Cheonghae unit, prior to its recent deployment in the Persian Gulf was stationed and limited to its operations in the Gulf of Aden. Likewise, eight European countries have of late backed and joined EMASOH mission that is based at a French naval facility in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The US too is independently spearheading its own maritime mission in the Gulf since November 2019.
The recent heavy militarization of the region is dreadful and may lead to a menacing flare-up. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the aftermath of the Ukrainian plane crash in Iran had implicitly criticized the US for fomenting chaos in the region by stating: “I think if there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families.” He was indirectly talking about the US airstrikes killing Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and the follow-up tensions that continue to grip the Middle East to this day.
In a nutshell, the above-mentioned political developments in the Middle East are tantamount to setting powder keg on fire. These have pushed the prospects of cooperation and mutual-coexistence on the threshold of oblivion, thus giving birth to a vicious cycle of malevolence and zero-sum competition.
The writer is a Research Officer at Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI)