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Why Regional Alliances Are Absent Despite Common Interests?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Sajad Mohseni
Doctoral Student of International Relations; Tarbiat Modarres University

Recent developments in the Middle East show that survival, as the most important goal of regional actors, has made these actors put their main focus on fighting off spread of insecurity into their countries. However, it seemed that despite this situation, regional actors are moving toward forming regional alliances in order to achieve their common interests and counter their common enemy. Therefore, the question is why no effective regional alliance has taken shape, at least, between such actors as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which have closer interests? If Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are considered as three sides of the power triangle in the region, special tensions” affecting every one of these actors and precedence of these tensions, on the one hand, and lack of coordination in their foreign policy, on the other hand, can be considered as the most important determining variables in this regard.

*Lack of coordination in foreign policy: An important reason for the absence of regional alliances should be sought in Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia. These two actors have shown that they are almost unable to work together, so that, their securitized viewpoints about each other have caused every one of them to introduce the other as supporter of terrorism. As a result, Saudi Arabia believes that Iran supports the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Houthi movement in Yemen, while being present in Syria and Iraq, and on the other hand, Iran maintains that Saudi Arabia is the main backer of Daesh and al-Qaeda terrorist groups. Along with these two actors, a mention must be made of the failed state of Turkey’s foreign policy. The weak performance of Turkey’s policy toward the Middle East has largely convinced regional actors that Ankara lacks enough power to be a determining force in the region. In the meantime, Ankara’s policy in Syria, shooting down of Russia’s Sukhoi 24 bomber plane by Turkey, and presence of Turkish military forces in the northern part of Iraq, have made Iran and Turkey take opposing positions toward each other.

In other words, one may say that relations between Iran and Turkey have been largely under the influence of the two countries’ policies toward Syria and Russia. Apart from that, lack of continuous diplomatic relations among regional actors has been among the most important obstacles on the way of achieving a common understanding of regional developments. As a result, not inviting Iran to Riyadh meeting of Syria’s opposition groups and absence of the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Turkey in Tehran meeting on Syria were telltale signs of lack of willingness in these actors to build confidence among themselves. Turkey, as another side of this triangle, has shifted from an active to a passive stance. In fact, lack of dynamism in Turkey’s foreign policy with regard to regional security issues has greatly affected past image of this actor’s power in the region. This comes at a time that despite existence of common grounds between Saudi Arabia and Turkey with regard to regional developments, no sustainable and continuous relationship can be detected between these two actors.

However, apart from the foreign policy variable, internal situation of every one of these actors must be also taken into account.

*Special tensions, different concerns: The current policy followed by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the resultant increased tension with Russia has also raised political tension inside the country. On the other hand, Turkish government’s increased hostility toward the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been threatening Turkey’s domestic security while also overshadowing the country’s economic as well as political and military security. In addition to Turkey, Saudi Arabia is facing serious challenges special to itself as well, particularly now that the issue of Shia population in the country’s Eastern Province is in the limelight and Riyadh’s approach to that region is somehow a function of its relationship with Iran. In addition, sharp increase in military expenditure has faced Saudi Arabia with many problems. Riyadh’s military expenditure has been on the rise since 2011, so that, it accounted for about 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2014, and that figure increased even more after Saudi Arabia launched the Operation Decisive Storm against Yemen on March 25, 2015.

On the other hand, the focus by Iranian foreign policy on Tehran’s nuclear program shows that the country is dealing with its own specific challenges. Nonetheless, it is only the Islamic Republic of Iran that has experienced serious challenges as a result of the Islamic Revolution, the eight-year war with Iraq and its nuclear issue, and is now taking a more suitable realistic approach to the situation in the Middle East. As a result of its more suitable position, Iran has been adopting more realistic policies in its peripheral environment and in doing so, it has been also able to directly weigh down on regional developments. On the opposite, Saudi Arabia has been trying to have indirect influence, whose most important manifestation was the Riyadh meeting between Saudi Arabia and Syrian opposition groups through which the Saudi government tried to play a role in determining Syria’s future. Therefore, generally speaking, one may say that special challenges facing every one of these actors and particular solutions sought by them along with lack of continuous and constructive diplomatic relations among them are major factors that have prevented birth of regional alliances and increased regional countries’ willingness to seek transregional allies.

Key WordsRegional Alliances, Common Interests, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Insecurity, Common Enemy, Special Tensions, Coordination, Foreign Policy, Daesh, Al-Qaeda, Middle East, Realistic Policies, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Mohseni

More By Sajad Mohseni:

*Saudi Arabia and the Effort to Ostracize Iran: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Saudi-Arabia-and-the-Effort-to-Change-Iran.htm

*Mounting Pressure on Daesh and Policy Change: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Mounting-Pressure-on-Daesh-and-Policy-Change.htm

Future Outlook of Iran-Saudi Relations: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Future-Outlook-of-Iran-Saudi-Relations.htm

*Photo Credit: Iakal.wordpress

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