The Second Tehran Dialogue Forum was held online on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. It was led by Dr. Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour the president of the Institute for Political and International Studies.
H.E. Dr. Saeed KHATIBZADEH, Head of Public Diplomacy, MFA, Islamic Republic of Iran
The main question to be discussed is if international politics will address the changes or not and, also, if the pandemic will change the world order. There are more lines of arguments: those who believe this pandemic will soon be taken under control and that everything will come back to normal; those who sustain that the social life and all aspects of human relations have changed forever, with a new era that has already started; and, finally, those who believe that the transition in international politics has already begun, long before the pandemic started, with the pandemic only acting as a catalyzer.
Change is obvious. Change in the world order, in the traditional ruling, and in international relations is certain. For now, time is sensitive, the context is complex and uncertainty is widespread. The most observable change is that the world is in transition to multipolarity and the vertical approach to international relations fails to explain what happens in global politics. This is why a horizontal approach is needed for the new order, with more and diverse centers of power.
The main problem the world is facing right now is the frozen mindset of all great powers, especially of the United States which uses all tools (use of force, sanctions, economic war) to prevent the transition from happening. The US even uses multilateralism to exhaust diplomacy. This is seen in how the US acted in the Middle East and mainly towards Iran, which is a genuine regional and normative global player. It has tried for many years to formulate principles, such as resistance to dominance, US interventionism, an international order based on equality of players, justice, and, also, an approach towards world politics, that power politics is not the only game at play.
Fundamental changes need to be adopted at both cognitive and practical levels. But this starts with acceptance: the US has to accept the transition, as well as the realities of the region and of Iran. Iran has always been ready for an inclusive arrangement in the region.
Dr. Jan ELIASSON, Chairman, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, (SIPRI)
SIPRI recently published the report on the arms trade. It is interesting to note that it is leveling off, but what is disturbing is that the Middle East has an increase by 25% of the arms trade, between 2016-2020. It is a huge export, mostly of great powers, but it is also a sign of the lack of trust. The pandemic should have brought a reminder of the importance of cooperation and of looking at the malleability of the society.
We have means to the with the crises of both national and transnational character. Aiming for increasing trust is the main goal we should have and we should identify the power of dialogue and of diplomacy, in a world of mistrust and a world that chooses military means to define and deal with security. Even though the new administration in Washington has shown some hesitation regarding the return to the JCPOA, it is obvious that we need mutual compliance with the plan, because it was a huge diplomatic achievement that must not be lost.
We need to see security in a broader sense and to realize that it is common: your neighbor’s security is your own security. It is important to have measures that enhance cooperation, in all areas (economic, trade, academic, security), particularly in dangerous regions.
Dr. Paolo MAGRI, Vice-President, Italian Institute for International Political Studies, (ISPI)
There are three numbers significant for west Asia: 7 million, being the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases in the region; 50 000, the number of people who died here; and -2%, the decline in GDP in the region last year. But in Europe the situation is different: there are four times more COVID-19 cases and the contraction of the economy was much stronger. A comparison with the American continent would show similar results. But still, the situation is not good for the Middle East. Vaccination programs are not moving fast in the region and disparities among countries are even stronger than what we are seeing in Europe. On top of that, we have heard many times doctors sustaining that this virus is dangerous for people with previous pathologies and west Asia is a region deeply affected by multiple pathologies, especially if we consider the wars, terrorism, rivalries, unemployment, and the number of refugees: the country from which most refugees leave (Syria) and the country that hosts the most refugees (Turkey). At the time when the world discovered the role of the state to address the crisis, the region suffered from governments that are either too weak or too strong and from internal and external divides. The pandemic is freezing some dynamics, assimilating some other threats. The question is: Will the pandemic in west Asia stop the trends that need to be stopped and assimilate the trends that need to be assimilated? Or vice-versa? What needs to be stopped is regional conflict and digitalization, inclusive recovery, political and economic effort should be assimilated. Some further questions are: Will the vaccination process lead to cooperation, as has happened in the EU? Will the pandemic allow us to look beyond national priorities? If we look at a global scale, we see a sort of nationalism, exactly at the moment in which cooperation and the global approach are the only ways out of the crisis. Will the situation in West Asia be different? What will be the impact on this region of western nationalism? We need further western influence on the region, in favor of China and Russia.
Dr. Marc OTTE, Senior Associate Fellow, Royal Institute for International Relations (EGMONT)
The pandemic is a threat to health, to life, and even to humanity. This could be the first step to a world order that would require another way to conduct international relations. For policymakers, it means that they have to rely on the advice of science. The world order is no longer what it used to be and there is a disorder, especially in the MENA region. It is important to realize that it is no longer possible to conduct international relations in the way they have been conducted and to take into consideration the challenges ahead. Some changes would include: expectations from the new administration in Washington to return to the older policies; the new players that would lead international relations and for the Middle East there are Russia and Turkey, the increasing presence of China in the region. We have to look for solutions for the problems of the present and of the future, for example, climate change, water problems, demography, refugees, etc. Moreover, new approaches are needed for the changes in our society: the role of women has become more important and their role cannot be any longer neglected. When it comes to this area, the responsibility of the people to cooperate and meet the challenges previously discussed is significant.
Dr. Niu XIN CHUN, Director of Middle East Studies of Chines Institute for contemporary international relation (CICIR)
There are challenges for the United States to keep the balance of powers and to rely on deterrence in western Asia. For them, in the foreign policy field, Middle East is not a priority now, which is demonstrated by the actions of the new administration at the White House. Both the Obama and the Trump administrations have resorted to military intervention in the Middle East. Now, the Biden administration goes on with the relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. A question would be: How will the United States be able to keep engagement with Iran?
Arvind GUPTA, Director, Vivekananda International Foundation, India There is a lot of pessimism around us because the world order established by the winners of the Second World War is now under threat. Also, globalization is in danger. The pandemic has produced some negative trends, it has deepened poverty in some regions of the world, unemployment has increased and the economic recovery is slow in most parts of the world. This means that the traditional approaches to politics and security need to be changed and that, besides geopolitics, we should think about issues like poverty and insecurity. This is the time for thinking creatively and we must bring on a new model of global cooperation. The approach that we should all adopt should recognize that there is only one world, which needs cooperation. There are some positive signs, for instance, the fact that there are capacities for accelerating the production of the vaccines and the fact that we have already vaccinated many people. But geopolitics remain significant, the relations between the great powers remain important. Furthermore, Iran and other states from the Middle East have improved their relationship with some countries.
Dr. Jan ELIASSON was asked: How can the acts and resolution that he talked about be useful for the Middle East, in order to bring peace and stability?
Dr. Jan ELIASSON answered that we have an opportunity now and that we need to think of the world after COVID-19. What kind of world will we create? We have changed things, especially with a new administration in the US. We need to focus on distrust, as it is very dangerous, causing an arms race. West Asia is such a region and it should try to solve its trust problems because there are mechanisms that are already there. We should see the chance to move away from these dangerous trends and use the available technologies in the interest of our people. To work with people at home for peace, security, prosperity is a significant contribution to international stability.
Dr. Paolo MAGRI was asked how does he see the transition that he talked about happening, in the context of the pandemic.
In the short run, Dr. Paolo MAGRI is a little bit pessimistic about the transition and, in the medium run, he is more optimistic. It is so because, when talking about the pandemic, we are also talking about technical issues. Those issues are the ones that should be easier to deal with, at least in an ideal world, and some examples include the production and distribution of vaccines. But in the short run, this technical issue has become a political one: we have vaccine diplomacy on authorization, on production, and on distribution, blocking exports. The optimism, in the long run, comes from the belief that, eventually, the situation will improve. What we are watching right now is what the world saw in the 18th century with the pandemic then. At that time states understood it was not enough to end the pandemic country by country and the system for international cooperation was started. It took many years, but the pandemic was the starting point that made states collaborate. This means that we need to work together, at the regional and global levels.
Dr. Marc OTTE was asked: How can countries get out of the world disorder and why should the United States be the one defining this process?
Dr. Marc OTTE did not intend to say that the US should be leading alone. It is up to the traditional partners too, to act in order to overcome this situation. It is like the example of the European Union where states succeeded in solving the conflicts both after World War II and after the Cold War. Of course, cooperation was needed before there was trust, but in that, the main role goes to the leadership of several European states. They have made it possible, by defending the values and the political system that led to the end of the confrontation between east and west during the Cold War. This resulted in cooperative security and it was materialized in the Organization for European Economic Co-operation and in some arms control treaties. You need to be friends in order to have trust and you need to accept the transition to new approaches. So, the context created by the pandemic should also be solved by international leadership and not by leadership from only one region of the world.
Dr. Niu XIN CHUN talked about the United States disengaging from the west Asian area. He was asked what does he think about future actions of the US in this region and towards China and whether he thinks or not that the United States will refrain from an aggressive attitude here, taking into consideration its foreign policy.
He replied that he is waiting to see what happens. He thinks that the United States will approach towards west Asia and China will be different. China has not yet deeply involved in security in west Asia. So, there will be no interest conflicts between China and the US here.
Another question was: How major powers need to calibrate between peace and security?
We need to look at security in a more comprehensive way. This pandemic has taught us that we should put more emphasis on health and not neglect food and water shortages and climate change. But the situation also brings the opportunity for cooperation. Moreover, security should be addressed and the approach to such issues has to be changed.
The question for H. E. KHATIBZADEH was: What challenges exist in this area and how could there be a collective effort to bring about regional peace and stability?
The main challenge is the structural deficiencies and violence, considering that the region is in a constant state of war (from Syria to Yemen). This resulted in poverty and underdevelopment of many areas. Also, there are different conceptual deficiencies. Not all problems can be analyzed through the larger issue of sectarianism. Furthermore, a cognitive problem exists and the cognitive matter of some governments in the area should be changed. The adoption of a non-exclusive, regional plan for the area is needed.
About the author:
Delia-Maria MOTAN is Intern research at MEPEI, and her research interest lies in international relations and political science in the Middle East. Currently, she is studying at the Faculty of the Political Science / University of Bucharest.