The Arab-Israeli Conflict and United States Geo-strategic and Economic Interests in the Middle-East
Conflict is an inescapable phenomenon of human life both at the interpersonal or international level.1 The prevalence of conflict, its management and prevention are therefore critical areas of international relations. Conflict comes in varied forms. They could be interstate, arising from perennial disagreements between States; intra-state civil conflicts which may come in varying degrees such as inter-ethnic conflicts; religious conflicts induced by ecclesiastical rivalries; conflict due to ideological incompatibilities amongst others. Some notable crises in human history includes those between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, the Croats and Serbs in former Yugoslavia, the African National Congress and the Apartheid regime in South Africa, Rwandan crisis between the Hutus and Tutsis; the Biafran Separatist Movement in Nigeria, Israeli – Palestinian Conflict which is the focus of this research, to mention a few.
The allusion of the English Philosopher – Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679) in his work “Leviathan” to an anarchic state of nature where the dominant individual interest is self-preservation, is an apt description of the international system.
Extrapolating to the international domain, Hobbessian theorizing is accentuated by the very absence of a hierarchical structure of government in the international arena to check the eccentricity of States whose actions in the guise of national interest replicates a state of nature. This is in contrast with what obtains in the domestic arena where Municipal law is invoked in case of an infraction. Hobbessian prescriptions that, “power be centrally and absolutely controlled, that is, a “unitary state” is however inconceivable in the international system.
Scholars of international relations are of the opinion that the Concept of State Sovereignty which is an outcrop of the idealism orchestrated by the Westphalian Settlement, promotes the culture of anarchism in the international system. This is against the backdrop of the “free-wheeling irresponsibility” of Sovereign States. Many writers are of the view that Sovereignty in contemporary international relations is an anachronism, as it is akin to absolutism.
However, the broadening focus of international law which re-conceptualizes the notion of sovereignty, now exerts a restraining influence on Sovereign States by making them answerable in relation to acts bordering on crimes against humanity and international humanitarian law. This has advanced the frontiers of international relations.
Perhaps, before an examination is made into the Arab – Israeli Conflict, it is pertinent to peruse some of the probable causes of conflict and at the same time provide an analytical assessment of the dispute. Conflicts are manifestations of an underlying and sustained disagreement between groups that have not shown enough commitment to lasting peace.
Fundamentally, the perenniality of an un-resolved societal gap or problem could be an incentive for conflict. The roots of the Israeli – Palestinian Conflict which has assumed a broader dimension, that is, the Arab – Israeli Conflict, could be traced primarily to the rivalry between the Jewish Israelis and the Muslim Palestinians over primordial claims to the same territory. It could be encapsulated as “One Land, Two Peoples”.
Some probable causes of conflict among other things are:
- Incompatibilities of objectives and actions among interacting groups or policy in the case of states, could be an inducement for conflicts.
- Conflicts could arise as a result of a demand for a piece of territory for example, the Iraqi annexation of Kuwait and Saddam Hussein’s intention to subvert the Sovereign prerogatives of the Kuwaiti government which attracted international condemnation and allied response led by the United States to defeat Iraq’s aggression.
- Economic hegemony of a particular group over the resources of another could ignite conflicts. For example, the Northern control of the resources of the Niger Delta in Nigeria which led to increased militarization of the region before the Amnesty Programme introduced by the Federal Authorities, which has now doused tensions.
- Religious and ideological diversities or incompatibilities which may translate into ecclesiastical claims of superiority of one religion over another, often times have given rise to national rivalries between groups.
- Domestic rebellion which attracts international sympathy, for example the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria in recent times, could be a source of international conflict.
- Liberation struggles, such as those between the African National Congress (ANC) and the White Supremacist regime of Apartheid South Africa; the Angolan Crisis in 1975 after the exit of the Portuguese Administrators, which signaled an end to Portuguese imperialism in Angola. The forces of liberation cut across three ethnic based nationalistic and belligerent movements enmeshed in a deep-seated fratricidal struggle for political authority. They are, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), and the National Union for Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). There was also the fourth – FLEC – Front for the Liberation of the Cabinda Enclave. This was a Separatist Movement for economic hegemony.
Conflict by its very nature is inevitable. Although not all conflicts result in armed force, this paper discusses armed or violent conflict which has for long dominated relations between the Arabs and Israelis.
David Francis of the Department of Basic Studies of the University of Bradford in his work, “Peace and Conflict Studies: An African Overview of Basic Concept” defines conflict “as an intrinsic and inevitable part of human existence. However, violent conflict is inevitable and as such, is an anomaly. Conflict is defined as the pursuit of incompatible interests and goals by different individuals and groups. Armed conflict is the resort to the use of force and armed violence in the pursuit of incompatible and particular interest and goal”.
The International Criminal Tribunal in Yugoslavia states that “armed conflict exists whenever there is a resort to armed force between States or protracted armed violence between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups within a State”.
Understanding the theoretical perspectives of international relations provides an analytical framework with which we mirror events in the international political system. To serve the purpose of this research, therefore, our methodological approach shall first and foremost, entail a comprehensive examination of the contending theoretical groundwork that are seminal to international relations. These are the theories of liberalism, realism and Marxism.
Theories of liberalism emphasize man as a rational being able to weigh the Strengths and Weaknesses of available options and their outcomes. The unique preference of liberal theorists for democratic liberalism which is the very essence of America’s democracy, and Laissez faire which connotes economic liberalism equips individuals with the freedom to discover their potentials in order to improve on their well-being. This is the conceptual basis for capitalism. Neo-liberal institutionalism – a modern variant of liberalism posits that in an anarchic international environment, there is the tendency for States to cooperate with each other because it is in their best interest to do so. The game theory highlighting the Prisoners’ dilemma in evaluating the possible options open to them and their probable outcomes explains the imperatives for international cooperation.
The realist theoretical view point which sees realism as one of the dominant Schools of thought in international relations posits that States behave in a particular manner out of considerations for national interest. Realism emerged as a profound reaction to the idealism that heralded the formation of the League of Nations, espousing a more normatively driven approach; the structural outlines of which were transmitted to the United Nations. The father of realism – Thucydides reputed to be an exemplar of the realist tradition, in his work, “The Peloponnesian War”, examined the display of power by strong states over the weak.
Thurcydides’ analysis of the Melian Dialogue involved Athens and Sparta – both Greek City States that exercised hegemonic authority at about the 5th century B.C. Each of these States feared the other. This struggle for hegemony by Athens and Sparta became worrisome for the smaller State of Melos that was desirous of maintaining her neutrality. Athens desired to bring Melos under subjugation, opting to attack Melos if she declined to submit to Athens’ authority. Melos indeed called the bluff of Athens. Consequently Melos was un-provokingly attacked and defeated by Athens. Against this background, Thucydides concluded that justice is as defined by the victor which is a common feature of international relations.
Morgenthau in his work, “Politics among Nations” also elaborated on the realist perspectives of international relations. For Morgenthau, international politics is a struggle for power whether at the individual, state, or international level.
The exercise of power involves an attempt by one party to get an individual or state to act in a manner contrary to pre-conceived wishes or interests.
Karl Marx’s (1818 – 1883) radical concept – Marxism is a historical analysis which centred on class struggle. He stratified society in two basic social groups, that is the ruling class and a subject class. He theorized that the ruling class owns and controls the means of production and therefore derived its power through this process, which it perpetually exercises over the subject class. Marx alluded to the evolution of Western Society through four stages. These are the phase of:
- primitive communism,
- ancient society,
- feudal society, and
- capitalist society.
Pre-historic society epitomizes primitive communism which basically was a classless society. From here society evolved into the master and slaves in ancient society, lords and serfs in feudal society, and capitalist society which involves the bourgeoisie and the wage earners – the labourers6.
In the Communist Manifesto jointly co-authored with his bosom friend and confidant – Friedrich Engels in 1848, Marx stated that his taxonomy of society is not a functional class in terms of income, but an economic class in terms of its economic interests. He maintained that such economic classes are not fixed in society but that, they are the result of the production relations that society has adopted. He was of the view that capitalism as an economic system is exploitative and that an enduring capitalist formation will perpetually keep the working class subjugated to the whims and caprices of the bourgeoisie. His theoretical advocacy was to have a revolutionary reconstruction of society through the incentivization of the proletariat to seize the ownership and means of production from the State in order to enhance their well-being by replacing capitalism with socialism.8 In the Marxist normative and activist thinking, this would help to ameliorate inequalities and reduce dependency relationship that exists in class rule. In the course of this work we shall highlight the Leninist variant of Marxism, and how the various theories enumerated above played out in the Middle-East crisis.
Secondly, our methodology shall also examine the events of Post World War II which heralded the emergence of two Super-powers – the United States of America and the Soviet Union as “primary actors in the international system”. The Cold-War imperatives occasioned by Soviet Marxist political expansionism (Sovietization) orchestrated to bring countries of Eastern Europe – Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and parts of Eastern Germany into Soviet Orbit (as they were farcically referred to as “Peoples Democracies”) and also the Subterranean designs to extend same to parts of Western Europe, accounted for United States inexorable commitment to the Truman Doctrine of 1947 which came up with the policy framework of containment to check Soviet Communist aggression in any part of the world.
In President Truman’s declaration, he asserted “I believe it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. I believe that we must assist free peoples to work their own destinies in their own way”. This policy thrust based on United States geostrategic interest became the fundamental doctrine of American foreign policy during the bi-polar years which played out in a series of proxy confrontations as a Balance of Power mechanism between the superpowers in the Middle-East. The United States traditional support for Israel and Soviet’s backing for moderate Arab States such as Egypt, Syria and Iraq became visible in the numerous wars fought in that region.11 This will be expatiated upon in the course of this work.
Thirdly, the divisiveness within the Arab community has also exacerbated hostilities in the Middle-East. Then, finally, Arab response or revisionist movements against the State of Israel and her imperial collaborators, as well as the preponderance of bilateral or multilateral diplomacy at resolving the conflict shall form the concluding portion of this work.
Charles Hauss, International Conflict Resolution, Continuum (London, 2001), p. 7.
Karen Mingst, Essentials of International Relations, W.W. Norton and Company (London, 1998), p. 5.
Ibid, pp. 67
Ibid, pp. 67 – 69
H.L. Bhatia, History of Economic Thought, Vikas Publishing House, PVT Ltd. (2004), pp. 291 – 293.
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