The Value of Regional Security Structures: a comparative overview

The Value of Regional Security Structures: a comparative overview
Prepared By: Talal Nizameddin
Academician and researcher

The community of nations is facing unprecedented threats to its very existence by a combination of contemporary challenges: terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  Underlying these dangers is the seemingly growing gulf between East and West, with each side considering the other a menace to its way of life.  With the reputation of the UN in tatters resulting from financial scandals, administrative mismanagement and political ineffectiveness, regional security structures are emerging as the most effective safeguard for stability in the international system.  In this article, a comparative perspective will be adopted to highlight the emerging value of regional multinational security structures as opposed to a single world body or none at all.  The methodology will incorporate a historic and contemporary analysis of selected bodies and an examination of their founding missions and Charters in order to establish their aims and document their role in modern international affairs.  By utilizing comparative models, this study may provide examples and experiences that could benefit regions short of successfully operating regional structures such as the Middle East

The understanding and purpose of regional security structures has changed considerably from the Cold War era.  Nato and the Warsaw Pact, the two best known organizations to emerge from the Cold War, were large military blocs facing each other in a perpetually belligerent pose.  Since 1990, security organizations have developed more sophisticated roles, much of which entails peace-keeping, cooperation and coordination among states to maintain stability and protect citizens.  Despite this developing role, regional security structures in the conflict-ridden Middle East are conspicuous by their absence, while other problem areas, such as the former Soviet space, are attempting to create new regional security structures.

With persistent accusations that the USA is using its overwhelming power to impose its will unilaterally regional security arrangements, according to its proponents, can serve as a shield and a counterbalance.  Washington has in turn rejected accusations that it is seeking global hegemony by pointing out that it is aware of the limits to its military reach.  Successive US administrations have openly welcomed the formation of regional security organizations to deal with political hotspots, particularly in Africa and the Far East and the USA is a key member in Nato and the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  US policy makers in recent years have concurred with modern international relations specialists who point to the growing linkage between regional security and steady economic and social development. 


History and Collective Security

Western political philosophy has since the enlightenment struggled to come to terms with the reality of war and its justification while European states were apparently aspiring to civilized and rational human interaction.  The lack of answers to this dichotomy played its part in contributing to the rise of the realist school in politics, which purported that conflict was inevitable because it was an unavoidable facet of human nature. 

After the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 terminated the Thirty Years War in Europe the notion of sovereignty has dominated the mindset of European monarchs and intellectuals alike.  The emergence of sovereignty led to nationalism, which was considered as a modern and progressive ideology that sought to destroy primitive notions of tribalism and religious domination and instead create objective and transparent government for the people.  Thus by the 19th Century the modern nation-state was born based on the idea of the sovereignty of the people and their legal territorial rights with clearly defined borders to distinguish one country from another.  Yet this nationalism, according to realism and other schools of thought including Marxism, became the basis of competition and rivalry between states at a new and destructive level.  Political thinkers were divided only on whether such wars between nation-states were caused by a competition for resources or because of an innate weakness and insecurity in human beings that kept men suspicious of the motives of other men.

Whatever the intellectual reasoning and debate it seemed that war was a natural consequence of the creation of statehood according to all major strands of political thought ranging from anarchists to conservatives and from Marxists to liberals.  European governments, struggling to eradicate the apparent contradiction between their claims to the enlightened state and the frequent participation in bloody European and imperial wars, adopted the notion of the Just War to explain this behavior.  Put simply, the idea was put forward that while war may be barbaric it was necessary and desirable if the fighting is for the side of good against evil. 

The moral justification for the continuation of war was preserved despite, somewhat ironically, the rejection of war in principle.  War became an inevitable part of European political life in the 19th Century and each state fought to defend its ideals and ideology, ranging from Russian conservative Orthodoxy to the liberal republicanism of France.  Pan-European security until the Great War of 1914 was characterized by wars followed by a series of agreements that were often transient and lacking an institutional base.  Some of these were the great conferences that followed major conflicts such as the Napoleonic Wars.  The relationship between European states was then based upon a balance of power system, a concept practiced first by England in the 16th Century that aimed to maintain the status quo in Europe among the competing states by creating strategic alliances to ensure that no power would emerge to dominate all the others.  This suited England very well until the 20th Century because of the great naval supremacy she enjoyed.  However, the downside of such a policy was that it kept Europe in a perpetual state of conflict and hindered any progress towards the creation of a collective security system that would ensure regional peace.

The Great War of 1914 was to a large extent a consequence of this ruthlessly competitive balance of power mechanism that had dominated European politics for centuries.  Ultimately, the Great War meant the complete breakdown of the European diplomatic and political system as the strategic alliances could not withstand the overriding self-interest of each individual state within the European order.  It became clear that new processes of interstate interaction were necessary for the survival of the community of nations that needed to be more sophisticated than the post-war settlements among the European powers pre-1914.  Thus the emphasis shifted from conflict settlement to conflict management and eventually conflict prevention.  The essence of this transformation was the shift from a balance of power system to one of collective security. 

Collective security entails a new approach to international relations that differs quite radically from the pre-1914 world.  A new psychology and philosophy required states to rethink their view of each other by shifting from a competitive mentality to one whereby states and their governments had to realize that what was good for the collective is good for the individual component of that collective.  Naturally, this new thinking was initially viewed with much cynicism and even today some political thinkers dismiss such a notion as idealistic and unworkable.  Nonetheless, the League of Nations attempted to create a practical mechanism for the implementation of these peacemaking values and unsurprisingly it was Britain and the USA, the world’s most powerful countries at that time, who were most behind this drive because the institution would consolidate their dominant role.

Article X of the League’s Charter noted “collective guarantees of the independence and existing boundaries of all states.”[1]  Such legal phrases challenged for the first time the notion of unlimited sovereignty by balancing the individualistic actions of each state with a commitment to adhere to the collective will.  In other words, what is good for the collective always supersedes what is good for an individual state in international affairs, or at least that was the goal. 

Although the League would eventually fail, the practice of institutionalized international cooperation would survive and an increasing number of states would acknowledge its benefits.  Without doubt critics of collective security organizations would remain, ranging from those who feared the possibility of world government to those believing it to be merely a façade to legalize the power and domination of the world’s most powerful and richest nations in order to uphold the status quo.

In both theory and in practice international organizations were a move away from the world described in terms of international anarchy to one based on law and order.  A set of principles would be put in place to regularize relations between countries and those violating those principles would be considered as a threat to world peace and turn them into legitimate targets of collective action by the international community.  A stronger and a bureaucratically more cumbersome body, the United Nations, was created to replace the League of Nations.  The United Nations was to be the mother of all international organizations with some viewing it as a form of world government; fighting poverty, spreading education, ensuring healthcare and acting as world policeman.  The body, through the Security Council, was given the power to enforce its will through strong measures such as economic sanctions and according to Chapter VII article 42 the right to use military force.[2]

The UN therefore took away the right of states to act unilaterally as even great powers needed to justify their actions through the collective framework, which became principally embodied in the Security Council.  While the superpowers after World War II, the USA and the USSR lost the right to act unilaterally during the Cold War, they were protected by a clause in the UN Charter in which they could block collective action against them through what became known as the veto, even though the term veto was not explicitly mentioned.  Instead, it was stated that the consent of all the permanent members of the Security Council would be required for any military action or sanctions.


The Cold War

A consequence of World War II was to create a bipolar world with two superpowers of equal military might confronting each other.  But what consolidated the nuclear-military power of each superpower was the solid alliance of states pooled into a pro-Soviet bloc and a pro-US bloc.  A third way was attempted through the creation of a so-called non-aligned movement led by newly emerging regional powers such as Indonesia, Egypt, India, Pakistan and Burma at the 1955 Bandung Conference.  But as the Cold War intensified, it became impossible to maintain neutrality, forcing members of the non-aligned states to take sides with either of the two superpowers, especially as the Soviet-US rivalry shifted from Europe to the third world in the 1950s.

During the Cold War era (1948-1988) a dichotomy emerged whereby a unified international organization existed to institutionalize relations between all the countries of the world yet at the same time the world was divided into two bitterly competing camps that were ideologically irreconcilable.  This inconsistency was marked by the creation of various regional organizations and military alliances that worked sometimes alongside the United Nations and at other times seemingly in spite of it.  The reality was that the stalemate of the Cold War had often made the United Nations ineffective due to the constant use of the veto by both the USSR and the USA to suite their interests.  One of the best examples of this has been Washington’s pro-Israel stance that prevented the Security Council from ever adopting strong measures to protect Palestinian rights and limiting Israeli aggression.  The consequence was that the Palestinians and the major Arab countries shifted to the Soviet camps in the 1960s and 1970s, which in turn internationalized the conflict in the Middle East to devastating effect.  It can be argued therefore that the UN’s failure to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is directly to blame for the deteriorating Middle East conflict.

This example of the inadequacy of the UN, which is one of many, explains why a host of regional bodies emerged after WWII.  The UN did not object to the formation of regional alliances and actually encouraged them in Chapter VIII, Article 52 of the UN Charter, which states: “Nothing in the present Charter precludes the existence of regional arrangements or agencies for dealing with such matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security as are appropriate for regional action...”[3]  In addition to this the Article states that UN members are encouraged to “make every effort to achieve pacific settlement of local disputes through such regional arrangements or by such regional agencies before referring them to the Security Council.”[4]  According to Article 53 of the UN Chapter, if local disputes are referred to the Security Council, it “shall, where appropriate, utilize such regional arrangements or agencies for enforcement action under its authority.”[5]

Since it quickly became apparent during the Cold War that the UN was unable to provide protection to its member-states and was divided among its own members, defense alliances were formed to provide and enhance security.  The West led by the USA formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the communist world formed the Warsaw Pact led by the USSR.  Washington had previous attempts at creating Western regional security and economic cooperation through the Inter-American Congress held in 1889 in Washington D.C, which would over time lead to the Organization of American States.[6]  But this body did not have the adequate military and organizational structure that was required in combating the Soviet threat during the Cold War.  Moreover, the USA needed to provide a military cover for Europe against possible Soviet expansion.

The North Atlantic Treaty was signed on 4 April 1949 in Washington D.C.  Its signatory members, alongside the USA and Canada, include almost all West European states, with the exception of Finland and Sweden.  The Treaty highlights the principle goal of the organization in its opening statement as being “to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law” while its member states “are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defence and for the preservation of peace and security.”[7] 

Taken at face value such state principles appear to be harmless.  But taken in the context of the Cold War, decolonization and the formation of the United Nations the statement creates the impression of ‘us against the world.’  The ‘us’ in this case are countries that are liberal democracies in the Western model and implicitly also alludes to the White, Christian world.  This is implied in the reference to the ‘common heritage and civilization’, which obviously means European.  However, the reality of the Cold War and vital strategic considerations did not stand in the way of Turkey and Greece joining in 1951, with neither being model democratic systems at the time and the former is also, of course, a predominantly Muslim country.  However, it is often pointed out that the flexibility of Nato has explained its strength and survival despite changing times.

Article 1 of the North Atlantic Treaty states rather clearly that the signatories will “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.”[8]  The North Atlantic Treaty Organization therefore places itself directly under the aegis of the United Nations, at least in principle.  But the wording in the Treaty carefully ensures that nothing or no body, including the UN, can limit its action when deemed necessary for its security.  So as to remind the reader that Nato is strictly a military organization, Article 5 states that “an armed attack on one or more of them [its members] in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all” and consequently “will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking…such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”[9]   

This ‘one for all and all for one’ approach by Nato opened itself to competing interpretations.  Nato presented itself as a purely defensive organization seeking to defend all its members if any of them were threatened individually.  But during the Cold War critics considered it as a belligerent union of nations under the clear domination of the USA.  Soviet propagandists noted the overwhelming dominance of US military power as evidence that the other members of Nato played merely a minor role in decision making.  But there was also a more complex element to Nato’s stress on self-defence.  Aggression came to mean not only an external military attack but also an internal revolt or uprising that was considered communist inspired.  This was emphasized in the Treaty’s opening commitment to safeguard freedom and the principle of individual liberty.  Thus Nato was associated with a specific ideological viewpoint and objectives.

In response to Nato, the Soviet Union led an association of states or allies to form The Warsaw Security Pact on 14 May 1955.  The Warsaw Pact, as it came to be more commonly known was comprised of Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, East Germany, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia as well as the USSR.  These were the countries on the Eastern side of the ‘iron curtain’ that divided Europe during the Cold War.  Ironically, the Warsaw Pact Treaty also stressed in Article 1 its commitment to the Charter of the United Nations and stated that its members shall “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force, and to settle their international disputes peacefully…”[10]

Only Article 4 makes a reference to the organization’s military purpose stating that an attack on one or more Warsaw Pact members by “any state or group of states” will require that fellow members shall “come to the assistance of the state or states attacked with all such means as it deems necessary, including armed force.”  Historians examining the text of the North Atlantic Treaty and the Warsaw Security Pact Treaty will undoubtedly be struck by the almost identical language and wording.  With hindsight, this mirroring was logical since the two blocks were effectively a return to the notion of balance of power, or with the threat of nuclear weapons, the more appropriate modern phrase used was the balance of terror.  In essence, the two regional security organizations, dividing Europe were collective agreements intended to safeguard against an attack by the rival collective.

While Nato and the Warsaw Pact were the most powerful regional alliances to emerge during the Cold War, they were by no means the only ones.  The European Coal and Steel Community of 1951 would evolve into the European Community, creating a powerful economic pole to eventually rival the USA, the USSR and Japan.  In Africa the Organization of African Unity in 1963, currently known as the African Union, would aspire to creating a continent-wide political-economic sphere to enable it to stand up to the superpowers and to resolve internal disputes without the interference of the powerful Northern states.  The organization did not succeed in achieving its aim of defending the sovereignty of its 53 members but a sub-regional organization, known as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), formed in 1977, was dominated by Nigeria and would defy expectations and achieve limited success in peace-keeping after the Cold War had ended.

Two major regional organizations were formed in the Middle East after World War II.  The most notable is the Arab League, created in 1945 and currently consisting of 22 members.  The Organization of Islamic Countries is far larger than the Arab League with 57 members and stretches from Indonesia to Mauritania.  The Organization was created following an Islamic Conference held in Rabat, Morocco in 1969, “in the wake of the criminal arson perpetrated on 21 August 1969 by Zionist elements against Al-Aqsa Mosque, in occupied Jerusalem.”[11]  In 1972 the OIC adopted a charter with the primary aim of promoting “Islamic solidarity among Member States” and supporting “the struggle of all Muslim people to safeguard their dignity, independence and national rights.”[12]   Two important sub-regional organizations that were formed in the Middle East alongside the Arab League were the Gulf Cooperation Council, 1981, and the Arab Maghreb Union of 1989 comprising Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.

The most important Asian regional organization of the Cold War era was the Association of East Asian Nations (ASEAN), formed in 1967.  While mutual economic interests were a primary factor behind the creation of ASEAN, the organization also sought to resolve intra-regional dispute so as to prevent interference in local issues by the superpowers.


Regional Organizations in the new world order

To a large extent all the regional organizations noted were a product of the Cold War era that was to follow World War II.  With the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, all regional organizations were forced to reassess their role and the challenges that lay before them in the new world order that transformed the world from a bipolar to a largely unipolar system led by the USA.  The role of regional organizations was further challenged by renewed enthusiasm for enhancing the power and effectiveness of the UN in the early 1990s.  This included studying options such as expanding the Security Council to broaden the political clout of the organization and creating a UN permanent military force that could perform peace-keeping duties as well as, if necessary, take military actions against those defying the international community.[13]

But intellectuals were divided during the 1990s between those espousing the ‘one world’ internationalist idea and those warning of the dangers and threats of globalization.  On the surface the debate was partly an ideological one, relating to the concern for preserving local cultures and protecting them from a universal doctrine, which invariably was of the most powerful military and economic entity, the USA.  But the debate had practical political and military implications that directly impacted the world order.  Essentially, universalism suggested conformity of political systems and political principles in every part of the world and those that did not conform posed a threat to the international system.  This provided legitimacy to countries in one region to interfere in the affairs of a far off country, if it was felt not to be sufficiently in tandem with internationalist thinking.

Regionalism became important as a means of safeguarding against these trends by allowing regional issues to be solved by the countries and people directly impacted by them.  In the regionalism vs. internationalism debate proponents of the former raised the reasonable point that self-interest is the primary driver in politics.  Countries within any given region would have a self-interest to promote peace and encourage prosperity where they lived.  It would be unlikely that outside powers would understand and defend the interests of other states as if they ran against their own interests.  It is unsurprising therefore that in the contemporary world a great deal of cynicism has emerged about the role of the UN and its actions.  Indeed, the term double-standards has been used to refer to the UN almost as much as to the USA because of the UN’s selective actions.  In the Middle East for example, a common question asked in the 1990s was why the UN was quick to apply the harshest measures against Iraq yet reticent in applying any measures at all against Israel.  This discrepancy has, contrary to misconception, more to do with the weakness of the international system and the practical and bureaucratic difficulties found in a single world organization than the power of the Jewish or Zionist lobby in the USA.

Regional organizations therefore offered the opportunity for some to avoid a situation whereby the leading power could manipulate international law and a single international organization such as the UN to impose its imperialist aspirations on the world order.  Regional organizations also enabled an alternative vision of the world to the Clash of Civilizations perspective put forward in the early 1990s.[14]

In the Report of the UN Secretary-General to the General Assembly at the Fifty-fourth Session on 31 August 1999, it was acknowledged that “during the 1990s, regional organizations have played an increasingly active role in regional security affairs not only in the realms of preventive diplomacy, peacekeeping and confidence-building, but also with respect to peace enforcement.”[15]  Nonetheless, while the paradigm of regional security organizations was positively construed, the reality was that not all regional organizations encountered similar success or enjoyed the same resources and capabilities.  In terms of resources Nato naturally enjoyed huge financial backing by its member states as well as technical and human resources of a high level relative to organizations such as the African Union for example.  This discrepancy in the capabilities of regional organizations threatens an international imbalance by undermining the value of such organizations and strengthens the arguments for a single unified body instead.  The discrepancy between regional security organizations adds to the urgency in ensuring that regional security action requires some form of an international mandate, through the UN. 


One effort to address this discrepancy was undertaken by the Clinton administration in 1997 by forming the African Crisis Response Initiative.  The aim was not wholly altruistic since painful lessons in Somalia and the sad experience of Rwanda led to a widespread acknowledgement in Washington that peacekeeping efforts in Africa requiring US troops needed to be minimized.  The USA provided funds as well as training to African states that included Nigeria, Senegal and Ivory Coast.  But commitment to such schemes did not last and the Bush administration later replaced the program with another known as the African Crisis Response Training program and cut funds to general African peacekeeping from $41 million in 2002 to $30 million in 2003.[16]

The two most flourishing regional organizations in the 1990s were undoubtedly the European Union and Nato with much having been already documented on their growth in membership and on their successes over the last decade.  Less has been noted on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)[17] yet its evolution has been highly significant.  It is often missed that the organization is the world’s largest regional security body and comprises some 55 participating states that “span the geographical area from Vancouver to Vladivostok.”[18]  Unlike the European Union, it is primarily a security organization that in turn entails work in diplomacy, arms control and in recent times even classic internal state issues such as election monitoring, human rights and democratization.  Its budget grew from 21 million Euros in 1994 to over 168 million Euros in 2005.[19]

The OSCE’s evolution serves as a model for success in an environment of deep mistrust and division.   The body was founded as a consequence of the Helsinki Final Act in 1975, which at the time was viewed as yet another affirmation of the realities of the Cold War.  But the CSCE was able to intelligently shift emphasis from the nature of the regime in the participating state to the behavior of the state towards other members.  This flexibility allowed the organization to continue operating through violently oscillating times while maintaining members with strong opposing perspectives.  Further weight was added to the value of the OSCE in the fact that it was essentially providing serious follow-up mechanisms to major security concerns.  For members of the organization, the OSCE became “a useful vehicle by which they could air their own special security concerns and flag emerging problems in their immediate region.  This gave, in effect, a political early-warning function to OSCE.”[20]   

The driving principle of the OSCE was based on the important conclusion of the Helsinki Final Act that security was a coin with two sides in that it was dependent on state-to-state relations as well as the way a state manages its own internal affairs.  The latter point was important because it noted that if a state was weak, it would not be able to control actions or groups within its borders that could threaten the security of neighboring states.  It was also an implicit recognition that authoritarian or heavy-handed regimes with little respect for human rights and democracy could be pressure-cookers, which in the long term led to a social and political explosion that also posed a threat to regional security.

The Helsinki process at the time incorporated authoritarian regimes from Eastern Europe because by virtue of its title the CSCE did not pretend to be an alliance of like-minded states directed against anyone.  It was a gathering of states, with differing background, with the aim of bringing them together to cooperate on security issues and allow members to discuss what concerns them most.  Since the end of the Cold War and the downfall of the communist regimes the OSCE has welcomed the inclusion of rigid authoritarian states such as Belarus and Turkmenistan to reconfirm the belief that including such states within an international security network is far more advantageous than excluding them.  While lacking the military power of Nato, or political clout of the EU, the OSCE provides the basis for confidence-building measures for the organization’s members by systemizing security interaction and communications.   

The OSCE is a forum that allows the “exchange of basic information” among members on “their major weapons systems and deployment.”  More specifically, it is a forum where members provide “pre-notification of planned military exercises and opportunities for the mutual observation of such events.”[21]  The exchange of military plans and discussions over security issues have built up a sense of trust in an area states traditionally are accustomed to being secretive and unwilling to cooperate.  One of the successes of the OSCE has been to reach a collective agreement on the level of conventional land and air forces in Europe that was given international weight through the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, which has significantly stabilized the Eurasian defense arena.  The OSCE acts as a monitor to ensure that the treaty is respected and creates a sense of peer group pressure to ensure that one of the members does not act out of step for fear of regional isolation.

The example of the OSCE has been considered such a success that it is being touted as a role model for other regions unless the organization itself expands to include more members.  It provides a diplomatic and security channel that is relatively neutral when compared to Nato and is also very much removed from the political bickering of the UN.  Indeed, some specialists in conflict resolution issues have suggested that an OSCE-type body maybe worth trying in the Middle East, which is probably the most unstable and problematic region in the international order.


It has been suggested that the Middle East is full of internal contradictions and special considerations that make applying the European model that created the OSCE more unlikely to be workable.  For such reasons the organization would likely be more successful if initially applied in a sub-regional context, such as the Gulf, which is not directly affected by the bitter Arab-Israeli conflict.  This possibility has become more attainable in the post-Saddam context.  Doubters however can ask worthy questions about the feasibility of such an arrangement particularly as there is already the GCC.  But the GCC is a body of allies with shared interests, and does not include Iraq or Iran, which would make the new security body much stronger if it did.

In the international system classic relations at the state-to-state level continue to dominate.  Cynics are correct to highlight that bilateral relations carry more weight than regional associations in international relations as far as most countries are concerned.  It is often noted, for example, that the UK places more value upon its relationship with the USA rather than its role in the EU.  Aside from the fact that the USA is a key strategic military ally, it is also a major economic partner.  But the significance of new approaches to international relations is based on a perspective of realism that does not negate bilateral ties while it simultaneously seeks to strengthen and build regional cooperation.  Ultimately, a modern foreign policy needs to be diverse and to cultivate different forms of international relations through a multi-lateral approach.       

One of the suggested solutions to the perceived weaknesses of establishing a workable regional security body in the Middle East is to include large and powerful external members to act as influential mediators when operating mechanisms appear to be disintegrating or if one party acts to disrupt to work of the body.  This would, controversially, require the participation of the USA as well as Russia and probably the European Union as well as China.  The obvious practical hurdle here would be that the USA would not necessarily welcome an unduly large role for Russia or China in the Middle East.  Washington may itself not desire to be directly involved in complicated regional conflicts and its day-to-day activities. 

Several forms of regional security cooperation with outside backing, however flimsy, already exist in the Middle East.  The best known of these is the April Understanding, involving Lebanon’s border dispute with Israel and which includes Syria, the USA, Russia, France as well as indirectly Saudi Arabia, Iran and the European Union.  Another broader security mechanism is known as the Middle East Quartet, involving the USA, Russia, the UN and the EU, with the aim of laying the groundwork for a successful Middle East peace process by aspiring to smooth out existing tensions.  However, the success of the Middle East Quartet has over time become highly dubious.

One of the major obstacles standing in the way of productive regional structures in the case of the Middle East, aside from Israeli unwillingness to give up occupied land, is that such organizations need to link security to broader aims that include “promoting good governance, fundamental freedoms” and greater economic cooperation and liberalization.[22]  Middle East governments are accused of deliberately avoiding these topics and such accusations are given weight by the example of the Arab League, which is a costly yet largely ineffective body that has not tackled these important challenges in any meaningful way.  One of the reasons for this is that many Middle East governments fear that incorporating such aims in regional arrangements opens the door to weakening their regimes and to fulfilling what they consider to be hidden agendas.


The Post-Soviet model

The demise of the Soviet Union created a large geographic space stretching from Europe to the Pacific Ocean that produced a security scare for the international community, particularly in light of the widespread availability of sophisticated nuclear weapons, the accessibility of rich resources including oil and precious stones and the myriad religious, ethnic and cultural groupings living side-by-side but with historic suspicion and hostility between them.  The most volatile area to emerge with the dissolution of the Soviet Union has been the Caucasus region, with a destructive war taking place between Armenia and Azerbaijan, internal wars in Georgia as well as the bloody and on-going Chechen rebellion against Russian rule.

Central Asia, home to the five large republics of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is also in an extremely delicate strategic position and this has caused understandable fear that the region will emulate the Caucasian experience.  Spanning from the Black Sea to China, these republics are considered by Moscow as its potential soft underbelly that could pose a threat to the integrity of the whole Russian Federation if they are manipulated to do so by outside powers.  Further complicating matters is that these republics are predominantly Islamic, which is an important factor considering that the Russian Federation also contains Islamic republics within its borders.

By the late 1990s and the end of the Yeltsin era, Russia appeared to have lost control of much of what was considered as the post-Soviet space.  On its western border, Russia had already given up hope on the Baltic Republics, which long ago joined the Western sphere as well as the Ukraine, which became openly at odds with Moscow’s government.  Only Belarus remains a trustworthy ally although the relationship depends on the unstable rule of Alexander Lukashenka. 

Various factors however led to the return of Russian regional influence under Putin, in part thanks to Washington’s misadventures in the Middle East.  One of the most evident examples of this was the case of Uzbekistan, which in the 1990s was drifting towards the USA both politically and militarily.  However, as the Bush administration played up its calls for democratic change, influencing popular uprisings in Kyrgyzstan (where US forces have established bases), Georgia and Ukraine, the authoritarian regime under Islam Karimov began to feel threatened and turned back under Moscow’s sphere.

The cornerstone of Putin’s policies was to promote security systems that seek to enhance Moscow’s predominance in the Eurasian geo-strategic sphere, spanning from Belarus in the West to Tajikistan on China’s border.  This regional security coordination is further reinforced by the strengthening of relations with both China and India, making Russia the most powerful military player in Asia when viewed as part of a broader strategic alliance.  One of the tactics employed by Russia is based on the continuation of the Soviet method of large arms deals at favorable prices to create a longstanding arms relationship with other states.  In Central Asia Russia also has embarked on joint projects to build weapons and aircraft, most recently to build planes with Uzbekistan to be sold to China.  The deal is part of a set of plans that harmonize with the Russian-Uzbek Strategic Cooperation Pact signed in late 2005.[23]


Russia’s ultimate goal is to integrate such bilateral security deals into the Collective Security Treaty Organization to create a counterweight to Nato.  However, unlike the OSCE, this example of a regional security body thus far is showing little sign of success and highlights the importance of creating a body that recognizes the equality of its members.  Russia’s aspiration for leadership in this regional structure is naturally bound to be rejected by its former Soviet partners whose predictable aim will be to maintain their newly acquired independence.

Beyond Central Asia Russia has been attempting to build a wider security arrangement to include China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and India through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).  Putin’s Asian tour in late 2002 highlighted a Russian desire to create an Asian military bloc to stand in the way of US expansion although the aim of the cooperation was ostensibly to fight terrorism.  However, the SCO has already openly questioned the justification for unilateral US action in Iraq and in the words of one specialist, “Russia [is] seeking to strengthen regional organizations to counterbalance western influence.”[24]


Regional Organizations and Modern Challenges

From a Western perspective, the major security challenges at this time relate to the control of nuclear and biological weapons as well as the rise of international terrorism.  Russia and China also pose a significant threat to long-term Western interests, especially if they develop an Asian alliance with other continental powers.  But there are other serious issues that are not directly military but do serve as potential flashpoints.  These include international crime, smuggling, environmental neglect and exploitation, human rights abuse as well as the growing disparity between the rich and power at a global level and within countries.  The apparent inadequacy of the UN in many of these areas has made calls for alternative solutions to international issues more urgent. 

The European Union has largely been successful in handling European issues and the likelihood of war among member states has been almost completely eliminated.  The process of European integration has been cultivated for decades and new members were integrated in recent years with relative ease.  In this sense the European Union serves as a successful example of regional cooperation and integration.  The EU has economic openness, coordination on dealing with crime, is working to unify foreign policy and eventually currency and tax as well.  Critics may argue that some European states have shown resistance to further integration but the strength of the organization is partially due to the fact that it does not force itself on its members but patiently works to ensure that each step is undertaken with the full commitment of the governments and peoples of the member-states.

The EU is a regional organization where members share similar political character and cultural background.  It is a collection of states with a European heritage and liberal and secular traditions.  The inclusion of Turkey will be a major challenge in that it will be an indication that Europeans are able to overcome racist throwbacks and display an ability to absorb a different faith with a different cultural heritage.  Nonetheless, Turkey is a secular state with an improving democratic system and human rights record, which should over the coming decade allow it to merge smoothly into the European family.

Parallel to the EU are Nato and the OSCE, reconfirming that in today’s international system states participate multilaterally in regional organizations.  This strengthens the state’s international standing, increases the number of its allies and allows it to interact in detail with a large number of other states.  It also allows relations to exist on many levels, including economic, military, diplomatic as well as cultural.  This creates a reciprocating process in which a state becomes stronger through its participation in a regional organization and the participation of a collection of strong states makes the regional organization stronger and with a deeper impact for its individual members on the international system.


It is therefore often a misconception that participation in such collective security agreements undermines sovereignty because states can actually better secure themselves through such coordinated efforts.  For example, a state’s sovereignty becomes most threatened and undermined when its borders are unprotected against systematic and well-organized smuggling operations.  Likewise, international crime threatens national economies, especially in areas such as money laundering and business fraud which undermines confidence for investors and crime.  A case in point is Russia, where the power of the regional mafia greatly limits the desire by international business to invest sufficiently in the economy in fear for their personal safety.  Even tourism, a vital national income for economies, becomes greatly undermined when crime is rampant.  Collective cooperation on such issues, by coordinating the efforts of police forces and understanding the benefits of genuine collaboration can minimize such threats and allow the individual member-states to enjoy sustainable development.

Terrorism is a major threat to sovereignty when the traditional view is accepted that the most important function of the state is ensuring security for its citizen.  If a state is unable to deal with a continued terrorist danger then its whole survival and integrity becomes threatened.  Collective and regional cooperation therefore becomes vital for modern states in dealing with terrorism.  Nonetheless, the solution to terrorism is not only military but requires a complex interplay between political, diplomatic and economic solutions.  Only regional organizations may provide the basis for effective political and economic formulas in areas where terrorism has established firm roots in a way that places equal value on preventative action and military reaction.

There is a concern among some Europeans, in the Middle East and in Asia that one of the major threats to international security derives from the unilateral actions of the USA, as highlighted by the Iraq war.  In this case the enhancement of regional security structures may minimize this threat by creating effective networks by finding regional solutions that remove justifications for the USA to take action on its own.



The inevitability of regional cooperation has been understood for some time in most regions in the world.  Unfortunately, it is slowest in developing in the Middle East due to the lack of trust about the intentions of fellow Arab states, and the complex questions that would arise if the issue of the participation of Israel is raised because of its continued occupation of Arab land.  The most prominent regional organization, the Arab League, has faced general criticisms about its inability to reach consensus in key issues affecting the Middle East.  The Arab League has achieved little of note over the years and its costliness is raising questions about whether the organization needs to exist at all.

Some steps towards regional cooperation alongside the Arab League are nonetheless being taken.  Fourteen Arab countries joined the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force to fight money laundering in the Middle East and North Africa.  This group is part of the Arab Banking Association headed by Joseph Torbey, who stressed that “the most important measures are aimed at creating an Arab coordination mechanism to fight money laundering and an Arab financial compensation center to avoid the entry of dirty money into Arab states.”[25]   However, such measures are clearly limited and only represent one facet of regional security requirements.

The different types of regional organizations, ranging from Nato to the European Union reveal a complex organizational structure that is required to achieve successful results.  The comparative approach in this article provides examples of contrasts between Nato or the Russian-led security arrangements that are cases of alliances clearly directed toward another military-security alliances and the OSCE, which is an example of an organization that is flexible and inclusive, clearly acting as a stabilizing factor in the international system.  Bodies such as the OSCE allow for greater transparency, coordination and communication among member-states and these are recognized as being essential ingredients for conflict prevention.  Such organizations set the regional framework for the establishment of strong and secure states, which in turn are necessary foundations for the flourishing of democracy, social justice and economic expansion in regional hotspots, including the Middle East.  


[1] Source from Yale University internet website: lawweb/avalon/league

[2] Charter found in official UN website,

[6] Fryer, Wesley A., Prospects for Collective Security in the Western Hemisphere, Internet article, URL: collectivesecurity.html

[10] Yale University internet website, URL: avalon/intdip/soviet/warsaw.htm

[11] Organization of Islamic Countries website, URL: english/main/oic_in_brief.htm

[12] Organization of Islamic Countries website, URL: english/main/oic_in_brief.htm

[13] W. Michael Reisman, “Preparing to Wage Peace: Toward the Creation of an International Peacemaking Command and Staff College,” American Journal of International Law, 88, January 1994, pp. 76-78

[14] Samuel P. Huntingdon, “If Not Civilizations, What? Samuel Huntingdon Responds to his Critics,”  Foreign Affairs, November/December 1993, Published by the Council on Foreign Relations, URL: 19931201faresponse5213/samuel-p -huntington/if-not-civilizations-what-samuel- huntington-responds-to-his-critics.html 

[16] Friends Committee on National Legislation URL: /persp7_peace_1.htm

[17] Formerly known as the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

[20] Craig G. Dunkerley, “Considering Security amidst Strategic Change: the OSCE Experience,” Vol. XI, Fall 2004, No.3.  URL: /journal_vol11/0409_dunkerley.asp

[21] Craig G. Dunkerley, “Considering Security amidst Strategic Change: the OSCE Experience,” Vol. XI, Fall 2004, No.3.  URL: journal_vol11/0409_dunkerley.asp

[22] Craig G. Dunkerley, “Considering Security amidst Strategic Change: the OSCE Experience,” Vol. XI, Fall 2004, No.3.  URL: /journal_vol11/0409_dunkerley.asp

[23] Stephen Blank, “Russia looks to build a new Security system in Central Asia,” Eurasia Insight, 4 January 2006.  URL:

[24] Sergei Blagov, “Russia Seeking to Strengthen Regional Organizations to Counterbalance Western Influence,” Eurasia Insight, 4 December 2002. URL: http://www.euras

[25] /csis/pubs/ttu_0504.pdf

أهمية أنظمة الأمان الإقليمية

أهمية أنظمة الأمان الإقليمية: نظرة تقاربية في ضوء تكيّف النظام العالمي المستمر جراء التحديات المستجدة، من الضروري البحث في أمثلة عن أنظمة الأمان الإقليمية اليوم والأمس، بالإضافة إلى اقتراحات و/أو المحاولات الفاشلة لخلقها، بالتحديد خلال الحرب الباردة. ان اتفاقية منظمة شمال الأطلسي والدور الذي لعبته تمثل المعلم في الحرب الباردة السابقة ولكن محاولة روسيا لاعادة خلق عالمها الأمني الخاص تستدعي الاهتمام ، كما الحال وخطط الاتحاد الأوروبي لتطوير مفكرته الأمنية الخاصة. تبين هذه الجهود الصعوبات لموازنة الأهداف الوطنية الاستراتيجية وإنجاح الجسم الإقليمي تتطلب هذه الأمثلة عن المنظمات الإقليمية تقييماً وذلك بالنظر إلى أهدافها واحتمال نجاحها.

الملاحظة الملفتة هي ان الديمقراطية تشجع التعاون الأمني الإقليمي ولكنها بالمقابل هي ملاحظة خاضعة لجدل كبير.

أخيراً ، من المهم مقاربة وظائف هذه الأنظمة الأمنية الإقليمية بالماضي وكيف تطوّرت في ضوء التحديات والتهديدات الأمنية الجديدة.