Russia, Iran and the Remaking of World Order: A Reflection
The conflict spiral unfolding in Ukraine has locals biting their knuckles, pundits mobilised to sing and dance for their audiences, scholars deploying worn research to make sense of it all and the international community - largely - sitting uncomfortably in the chambers of the old world order wondering what comes next.
The answer is not a return to the Cold War; that era is gone and our telecommunications tools will ensure that the opaque world of Soviet-NATO brinkmanship remains a historical footnote. No, the international community is heading into an altogether different world order, one rooted in the geopolitics of ideas based on a hodgepodge of ethno-nationalist omni-constructions and hyper-political waltzes for regional hegemony.
So, Russia's drive into Ukraine is set to do more than upset the tenuous balance of national sentiments in that ever-fractious state; it is determined to release the power of the morally suspect so that they may seek to extend their control over the states and regions deemed to be theirs by historic right and taken from them by historic wrong.
Phase one is unfolding now in Ukraine. Russia and Russians have hedged their bets on the ineptitude of the US and NATO to recognise the order changing consequences of the dissolution of Ukraine. They (rightly) guessed that the proverbial West would not risk too much for the territorial integrity of a serially corrupt and problematic state in a dangerous region of the world. Over the next weeks, when Russian tanks roll down Ukrainian motorways, they will face little military and political resistance. Phase one will conclude when Ukraine is but a shell of its former self.
The second phase will be more dynamic. Russia's two closest allies - besides the already-satellites of Belarus and Armenia - Syria and Iran will jump on the revision bandwagon. Syria's civil war will have been concluded by then and Assad, reconfirmed as the country's president-for-life, will have asserted the Russo-Iranian call for regional peace dialogues in order to consolidate their position while, again, duping the West as to their intentions: the construction of a Shia order that extends from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Arabian Gulf. With Syria enabling Iranian and Russian deployments in the Mediterranean, a period of uncomfortable proxy conflict will sap the NATO relationship to Turkey (a member) since there will be scant resources made available to Ankara for the sake of balancing the new regional challenge. NATO is a dysfunctional alliance.
With Turkey isolated and NATO fractured, Iran will step into the fray. It has long considered Bahrain its 14th province and will take the opportunity to follow in Moscow's footsteps; it will attempt to invade the Island in order to 'protect' the Shia community. While it is now common knowledge that the majority of Bahraini Shia are loyal to the state and status quo in Bahrain, Iran will rely on their localised proxies such as Hezbollah and al Wefaq to threaten with death and destruction those Shia which do not tow the line. They have done it in the past and will do it again. So, the next set of violent actions in Bahrain will take on an even more sectarian tone and Iran will try to intervene directly.
It will not stop in Bahrain. Iranian intransigence will continue apace until it rips into Yemen and Saudi Arabia in 'defence' of the Houthi, into Kuwait and the UAE. Iran will not stop until its hegemony is secured over the Arabian Peninsula, it already has Iraq--the rest will follow.
Some will call such predictions paranoid, and perhaps they are. However, international relations is an unforgiving contest and it seems that Russia's challenge to Ukraine will have a profound impact on world order. Iran and Syria are readying themselves to reap the rewards for having allied to Moscow and it is reasonable to suggest that they will follow in the footsteps of their patron.
What this means for the dynamics of international relations is easy; the institutions that have been reinforced over the past two decades have failed and will revert back to the talk-shops they excel at. The US is likely to return to isolationism and the EU continue to throw money at its problems. But the mood will have changed. The honeymoon period of the post-Cold War period, with its international civil society growth and economic booms will be eclipsed by a period of confusion, scapegoating and defeatism.
Come to think of it, 2014 sounds a lot like 1914!