The new Middle East is emerging in the wake of the US decision to size up its military and diplomatic position, increase the resolve of regional governments, and increase Russian and Chinese involvement in Middle East affairs. These geopolitical shifts erode the United States` longstanding dominance in the Middle East and create a new multipolar order. Russia’s war against Ukraine and the intensification of global competition between the great powers are accelerating. Europe, long accustomed to the slippery slope of the United States, now faces a competitive and challenging southern neighbor.
The war in Ukraine has intensified the rivalry for influence in the region between European countries and their critical strategic rivals, Russia and China. Russia’s invasion of global energy and food markets has come as a shock that could deepen humanitarian crises when the Middle East is grappling with widespread economic collapse and, in some cases, government failure. This could have implications for immigration and terrorism – two challenges that have long plagued European concerns in the region. The war also underscores the growing importance of the Middle East as an energy source as European countries seek to reduce their dependence on Russian oil and gas.
As Europe and the Middle East merge, their vulnerabilities will increase. The Middle East and North African countries find themselves in a strong position, with new resources and leverage they can use against European capitals to hedge between world powers. The reluctance of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to align with the West over Ukraine and Beijing’s accelerated efforts to pay for Middle East oil in yuan instead of the US dollar only adds to the complexity of the geopolitical landscape. In addition, Russia may use its presence in Libya and Syria to seek revenge on European countries for supporting Ukraine.
The geopolitical transformation of the Middle East has far-reaching consequences for Europe, but Europe is still widely regarded as insignificant players in the region. In other words, the longstanding reliance on the United States, the lack of unity, and the inability to participate in cutting and pressing the rivalry between the great powers of Europe have made it impossible to shape developments in the Middle East. As Europe want to present itself as more willing and capable actors in a competitive global order, they must find ways to influence the Middle East’s core political, economic, and security interests. The development of a multipolar regional order demonstrates the need for Europeans to become more influential regional actors and, indirectly, an opportunity for them to do so.
Europeans now have much on the table regarding economic, financial, and political interaction. But if Europeans want to shape the geopolitical dynamics of the Middle East, they must have a clearer vision of what is achievable. This requires Europe to show principled pragmatism in recognizing the region as it is rather than as it wants to pursue its core interests. In recent years, devastating proxy conflicts in countries such as Libya and Syria have shown that geopolitical changes in the Middle East can lead to instability. As Middle Eastern countries adapt to the new regional order and hesitantly move from war to diplomacy, Europe must emerge from this multipolarity to support regional diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions and help stabilize the region.
The discrepancy between Europe and the United States
Europe’s inability to effectively influence the United States to maintain the US. commitment to BRICS was the greatest manifestation of this breach in transatlantic cooperation. Another significant difference emerged between Trump’s unconditional support for the annexation of Palestine to Israel and the rejection of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many European officials breathed a sigh of relief as Trump stepped down, hoping things would return to normal. But it would be a profound mistake to consider US policy on the Middle East in those years as an anomaly. Washington’s decline in interest in the region and its marginalization of European interests there reflects a structural shift that has taken place since the Obama administration took office in 2009.
Most Western policymakers have focused on increasing Russia and China’s political, economic, and military presence. The two countries pursue their programs, characterized by different priorities and interests. It is a mistake to look at them as a united bloc in the region. But Russia and China seem to see an opportunity to consolidate their influence and challenge Western power. Moscow has skillfully engaged in fundamental conflicts to increase its broader influence in recent years. China, meanwhile, has been more cautious. But the country is also strengthening its regional role, which has been reflected in a dramatic increase in political and economic activity. China’s global power is so great that many see its growing influence strategically changing the region’s landscape more than Moscow has provoked.
In general, Europe needs to assess how a changing geopolitical landscape can benefit them. The EU must focus on the fact that the multipolar region can create more room for activity in its policy. Or at least allow member alliances to have more influence and compete more effectively with other actors. While Russia and China often wield considerable influence in the Middle East, Europe has long been unable to use as much power as possible. Europeans must find ways to reverse this trend by using their political, economic, and security capabilities to be more effective.
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About the author:
Amin Bagheri is a Research Fellow at the International Studies Association in Tehran. His primary research interest lies in international relations, transnational governance, international peace, and conflicts in the Middle East.