Foreign policy making in the Middle East

It is frequently claimed that foreign policymaking in Middle East states is either the idiosyncratic product of personalistic dictators or the irrational outcome of domestic instability. In fact, it can only be adequately understood by analysis of the multiple factors common to all states, namely foreign policy determinants (interests, challenges) to which decision-makers respond when they shape policies; and (2) foreign policy structures and processes which factor the ‘inputs’ made by various actors into a policy addressing these determinants.

Foreign policy determinants

In any states system state, elites seek to defend the autonomy and security of the regime and state in the three separate areas or levels in which they must operate, although which level dominates attention in a given time and country may vary considerably.

The regional level: geopolitics In a states system like the Middle East, where regional militarisation has greatly increased external threats, these often take first place on states’ foreign policy agendas. While, generally speaking, external threat tends to precipitate a search for countervailing power or protective alliances (or, these lacking, attempts to appease the threatening state) it is a state’s geopolitical position that specifically defines the threats and opportunities it faces. It constitutes a state’s neighborhood where border conflicts and irredentism are concentrated and buffer zones or spheres of influence sought

The national security bureaucracies the pivotal role of the military

The role of the military in the policy process carries greater weight in most Middle Eastern states than elsewhere. The military literally founded most of the authoritarian republics and remains the central pillar of these regimes; in 1999, presidents were officers or ex-officers in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen, and Sudan. In most Middle Eastern states the military was, for a long time, the most developed, modernized and weighty institution in the political system.

The political role of Middle East militaries has, however, changed significantly over time. In earlier periods when traditional landed commercial elites ruled, the military, recruited to a great extent from Foreign policymaking in the Middle East 99 the rising middle classes, expressed their desire for the reform or overthrow of the old order, and the narrow-based old regimes offered little obstacle to military intervention in politics. However, as the military became politicized, it often fragmented along sectarian, regional or personal lines. Factions vying for political power destabilized Syria in the 1950s and 1960s and Iraq for a decade after the revolution of 1958

Nevertheless, there remain certain variations in the political orientation of Middle East armies and in their effect on the state’s foreign policy, in good part owing to differences in their historic roles and bases of recruitment; this can be illustrated through a comparison of the Syrian and Turkish armies.

Foreign policymaking in the Middle East

smuggling rings or acted as brokers allocating state contracts and goods to clients (Picard 1988: 139–44). Seemingly immune from accountability, they became major obstacles to attempted reforms of the corruption and power abuses in the regime. Moreover, in alliance with the revived Damascene Sunni bourgeoisie, they came to constitute a ‘military-mercantile complex’ bridging the ‘new’ state and ‘old’ private bourgeoisies

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