The Middle East: Fragility and Crisis

In the coming five to ten years, the highest number of key global security challenges is likely to be concentrated in the Middle East, or be related to it.

From the Introduction: The 2006 crises in Lebanon and Gaza, involving a wide range of regional actors including Syria and Iran, may have given only a taste of what is yet to come. They certainly manifested the reality of fragility that characterizes the Middle East.

They also point to the necessity of approaching conflict(s) in the Middle East in a holistic manner, taking full account of the interlinkages between the various epicenters of instability in the region. Such interlinkages illustrate the potential for either positive or negative domino effects: escalation and crisis in one arena tends to evoke a spillover effect elsewhere in the region and in the relations of regional actors with the international community, or individual international actors.

In addition, longer-term trends that affect most or all Middle Eastern societies in a cross-cutting way also need to be taken into account, as they exacerbate instability and underline the need to approach issues comprehensively. As a consequence, crisis management vis-à-vis the Middle East requires not only in depth understanding of individual crises, but also a fundamental appreciation of the interlinkages and symbolic and political connections between the various issues, as well as early preparation in anticipation of longer-term developments.

This paper will present the different epicenters of instability and crisis in the region, and seek to engage in informed speculation on their evolution in the coming five to ten years. It will then outline the longer-term trends that affect, to one degree or another, all Middle Eastern societies and that have tremendous potential to trigger new crises or exacerbate existing ones. Based on this discussion, this paper will then proceed to examine the various actors engaged in the region, before sketching a number of ideas for an improved crisis management system for the Middle East.