Writing in Foreign Affairs in July 1971 on the eve of the British withdrawal from East of Suez, David Holden noted that "the Gulf must be regarded as on the brink of a period of upheaval greater than anything it has known since the British Raj took it under its capacious wing." Scarcely a year later, however, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, in its report The United States and the Persian Gulf, could note with satisfaction that "the most significant political fact of recent Gulf history has been the relative tranquility with which certain transitions have taken place."
The editors of and contributors to Powder Keg in the Middle East would sub scribe to Holden's vision and would regard any current talk of "tranquility" in the Gulf as dangerous complacency. A major reason why Holden's fears did not come true in the short term was that both Iran under the shah and Iraq in the early 1970s were very different from what they are now. The problem of how to deal with these two regional powers is a real one today and properly constitutes a dominant theme in Powder Keg.
The volume brings together a selection of papers that grew out of three international workshops convened as part of a 1992 project, "Future Security Arrangements in the Middle East," organized by the Program on Science and International Security of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The first workshop focused on "Sources of Conflict in the Middle East, "but because the formal diplomatic initiatives on Arab-Israeli peace that began with the 1991 Madrid Conference were well underway by the spring of 1993, the next two workshops focused more narrowly on the Persian Gulf. The present volume is a collection of papers presented in connection with those workshops.
An introductory chapter by Kemp and Stein details the many sources of conflict in the region and some of the "wild cards" that could become surprises in the future. Significantly, in a useful table, "Possible Developments in Global, Regional and Persian Gulf Systems during the Next Decade, "Kemp and Smith list "Post-Sanctions Iraq" and "Upheaval in Iran" as the two least likely changes in order of danger (behind "Further Nuclear Proliferation" and "Political Upheaval in Saudi Arabia/GCC") but also the most probable. The centrality of Iraq and Iran to regional security is firmly reestablished, however, when the authors list the most dangerous contingency to be a nuclearized Iran or Iraq. Also included in this section is Ghassan Salame’s excellent contribution, "Assessing Alternative Future Arrangements for Regional Security," which the Kemp-Smith Introduction lists as appearing in the final section, "Security Arrangements and Implications for U.S. Policy,'' where it more properly belongs.
The next section covers the key regional players and nonstate actors. Shaul Bakash and Shahram Chubin cover Iran; Charles Tripp, Iraq; Soli Ozel, Turkey; Ab del Monem Said Ali and Hassan Saleh, the GCC; and David McDowall and Barham A Salih, the Kurds.
Although other sources of tension are thoughtfully examined in the book, the reader comes away convinced that Iraq and Iran, taken separately and together, represent the greatest threats to the region's stability and at the same time are the nations whose policies are least amenable to change. Shaul Bakash is surely correct when he pessimistically ends his analysis of "Alternative Futures for Iran: Implications for Regional Security" with the following conclusion:
With the United States particularly, the prospects for accommodation appear dim, and the grounds for further acrimony appear extensive. The United States demands a modification of Iranian behavior regarding what, to Iran, are core issues (such as Palestine or Iran's support for Islamic movements) or regarding issues of national interest, such as weapons acquisition and rearmament. The Iranian regime fears that it is being isolated by the United States and targeted for some dire retribution. Its sense of being beleaguered only reinforces its inclination to adopt a confrontational posture.
Charles Tripp's analysis of "The Future of Iraq and of Regional Security" is similarly bleak. Noting the Iraqis' experience of shared adversity over the past 15 years, he describes the legacy of the past as overlaying an already heightened sense of insecurity. Although it was Saddam's leadership that provoked the violence and disruption visited on Iraq, the present regime fosters the impression among the populace that in reacting, foreign forces "were hostile to Iraq all along and had simply been looking for an excuse to mount an attack on Iraq's national interests."
The essays dealing with implications for the future and offer in policy options make the most compelling reading. These include Ghassan Salame’s contribution, already noted, together with companion essays by William Quandt, Thomas McNaugher and Richard Herrmann.
In Act V of Shakespeare's Richard III, just before Richard's famous, "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse," the stage directions read, "Alarums; excursions...." Some would claim that in U.S. policy toward Iraq and Iran, with its reliance upon Dual Containment and Active Interventionism, there 1s a similar confusion of trumpets and a hectic, respond-to-the-most-pressing-current-danger form of stage management. Salame's criticism of the current policy trend is in ibis vein and relies on a metaphor from Hollywood rather than the Globe Theater. He says:
[A] relaxation of the sanctions on Iran is long overdue. An open political dialogue with Iran could be useful. A Manichaean policy, where the good "Gulfies" have to be permanently defended against two villains in Baghdad and Tehran, is a good scenario for a Western movie, but not for mid- and long-term security in the Persian Gulf.
Salame prefers treating Iraq and Iran (and Yemen) on an ad hoc basis, contending that some of their fears can be alleviated, that some of their requests are legitimate, and that some of their needs can be met. He concludes by calling for an end to sanctions on Iraq and recommending an open political dialogue with Iran.
Others, however, while sharing Salame’s skepticism about the merits of containment and intervention, now or over the long term, raise important questions about the difficulty of engaging the two northern Guff states in a productive security dialogue. Here, for example, is Quandt on building a regional "Security Community": "For a security community to emerge, a wide range of shared values needs to be present. To say the least, this is not the case among the Islamic Republic of Iran, Baathist Iraq and the petro-monarchies of the GCC."
McNaugher also is no fan of Dual Containment but does see it as a way of protecting U.S. interests in the Gulf without the engagement of Iraq and Iran. He notes, "The strategy captures the frustration of U.S. Policymakers, who can find no reliable way to deal with either one-having tried in both cases, with embarrassing results. U.S. policy thus seeks to suppress the strength of both, presumably in hopes that more constructive options will emerge later."
Although the immediate outlook remains ominous and prospects for future reduction of tensions are not promising, the authors feel there are some avenues worth exploring. Quandt discusses a variety of future scenarios from Pure Containment, to Containment Plus (an Iran-first policy),to rehabilitating a democratic(emphasis added)Iraq, to the construction of oil and gas pipelines to impel Iran and Iraq to work for regional peace. McNaugher argues for some attempts at arms-sales restraints. Herrmann suggests a program consisting of rapprochements between Saudi Arabia and Iran and between other GCC states and Iran; a new Gulf security dialogue leading perhaps to an institutionalized conference along the lines of the CSCE; dealing in such a forum with the future of Iraq; and a move away from confrontational rhetoric by the United States and Iran. All are clear, nevertheless, in maintain in that they offer no panaceas. As Herrmann puts it, "The objectives of regional security are not within reach in the short run."
A recent book by David G. Herrmann (not to be confused with Richard K. Herrmann, one of the contributors to Powder Keg), The Arming of Europe and the Making of the First World War, offers an instructive three-point gloss on current discussions of Persian Gulf security. Indeed the authors of Powder Keg can be seen as offering an analysis now which will make the writing of a book entitled The Arming of the Middle East and the Making of the Persian Gulf War unnecessary five or ten years from now.
First, David Herrmann argues that what really upset the European balance of power was the change in statesmen's perceptions on the military strengths and weaknesses of their neighbors between 1904 and 1914. As a result, in 1914 Germany and Austria-Hungary were willing to launch a "preventive" undertaking in the fear that if they waited any longer their rivals would become overwhelmingly powerful. And the Entente accepted the challenge. Thus, though few European statesmen thought general war was the best option, they were prepared to accept it rather than suffer diplomatic defeat.
The historicist might thus argue that in the current atmosphere of tension in the Persian Gulf every effort should be made to insure that no regional state, especially Iraq and Iran, feels that "preventive" war is the only option, while at the same time some threat of U.S./NATO/Coalition intervention in the region must be maintained to discourage the preventive option, should all else fail.
Second, David Herrmann describes the pre-1914 period as one in which the European powers tested extensively the "new" technologies-quick-firing artillery, machine guns, airplanes and telephones-all of which were to change the war's conduct and destructiveness once hostilities broke out. In this context one needs to read carefully Marvin Miller's contribution on weapons of mass destruction in Powder Keg and to grasp how important it is to limit or if possible exclude their use in any future conflict.
Finally, just as a book like The Arming of Europe makes us realize how salutary post mortems are for understanding past distempers in the international community, a book like Powder Keg offers a variety of preventive medicines which, if taken early enough and in the proper doses, may prevent the illness and make the post mortem unnecessary.