Navigating Western contradictions on region’s nonstate actors

Navigating Western contradictions on region’s nonstate actors

Saudi Arabia has called on the international community to support its efforts to safeguard international trade & navigation -AFP
Saudi Arabia has called on the international community to support its efforts to safeguard international trade & navigation -AFP
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Multiple studies have identified a significant factor that contributes to the prolonging of conflicts in the Middle East: the inconsistency of Western approaches, specifically in addressing the threats posed by armed nonstate actors. This contradiction in Western policies is seen as a crucial element that undermines regional and global security and peace. This issue is particularly highlighted in the light of ongoing Gulf efforts that call for a unified response to the threats armed nonstate actors pose to the security and stability of sovereign states.

Despite repeated calls from Gulf states, notably Saudi Arabia, for Western powers, including the US and its allies, to prioritize security and stability in the Middle East, there has been a noticeable failure to adequately respond. This failure is concerning, as it not only impacts the protection of traditional and strategic allies but also puts at risk vital maritime routes and international trade corridors that are of great importance to Western nations.

For more than four decades, Saudi Arabia has been warning about the dangers posed by certain regional leaders and their affiliated proxies because of intertwined ideological and geopolitical interests. These warnings underscore the escalating threat of destructive projects and efforts of sabotage initiated by the aforesaid in the region.

Western nations have largely ignored the Kingdom’s warnings regarding regional security and associated threats. Instead, they have stressed that the preservation of sovereign states and regional security should be addressed within national contexts, considering the diverse political, social, cultural and economic dimensions, as well as the necessary solutions, even if they take a long time to devise and implement.

Western nations have largely ignored the Kingdom’s warnings regarding regional security and associated threats

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

Despite the Kingdom’s persistent calls, Western nations have shown little concern, allowing certain regional powers with expansionist agendas to take advantage of the various crises in the region since the early 2000s. These powers have used internal divisions to strengthen the influence of armed nonstate actors at the expense of nation states, infringing on national sovereignty and crossing Western red lines multiple times, highlighting the West’s indifference not only to the interests of their allies but also to their own established boundaries and principles.

Saudi Arabia’s repeated warnings about the dangerous activities of nonstate actors, especially in the Yemeni arena, highlight the Western inconsistency in addressing the threats posed by such entities. The Kingdom has consistently pointed to the consequences of nonstate actors increasing their influence, which happened in parallel with the weakening of Yemeni state institutions and legitimacy.

It has called on the international community to support its efforts to safeguard international trade and navigation, particularly at the strategic Bab Al-Mandab Strait, a crucial international trade route. Saudi Arabia has urged the UN, the permanent members of the Security Council and diplomatic representatives from various countries to review their positions and fulfill their legal, humanitarian and moral obligations. Additionally, it has called for unified pressure on the Houthis to stop their violations and advocated for their inclusion on global terrorism lists.

Western nations have come under fire for their inability to effectively address the growing threat posed by nonstate actors in the Yemen conflict. Despite continuous atrocities against the Yemeni people and the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure, such as airports and oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, both the UN and certain European countries have been criticized for their lackluster and feeble responses.

Additionally, the actions of Western nations have impeded the progress of the Yemeni army and the legitimate Yemeni government, supported by coalition forces, particularly in Hodeidah and other regions where significant victories had been achieved. The decisions made during the Stockholm Conference, such as placing Hodeidah under UN supervision, have been condemned for obstructing legitimate victories under false justifications.

Both the UN and certain European countries have been criticized for their lackluster and feeble responses

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

The Biden administration faced a backlash when it removed the Houthis from the US’ terror list in February 2021. This decision contradicted the classification made by former President Donald Trump, with concerns raised that labeling the Houthis as terrorists could hinder Yemenis’ access to essential goods such as food and fuel. However, this action was viewed as disregarding the numerous crimes committed by the Houthis against Yemen and its neighboring nations, allowing atrocities to continue and resulting in the loss of innocent Yemeni lives, as well as ongoing drone strikes on Saudi Arabia and the targeting of its territory with ballistic missiles.

The Houthis’ targeting of Israeli, US and British commercial ships under the guise of pressuring the West to halt the conflict in Gaza directly threatened Western interests. These incidents drew attention to the escalating risks at the strategic Bab Al-Mandab Strait, despite numerous prior warnings from Saudi Arabia. Following this, the Biden administration promptly reclassified the Houthis as a terrorist group, announced the formation of a military coalition to counter Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and called on Middle Eastern allies to join the coalition.

However, the response from regional countries was lukewarm, possibly reflecting doubts about Western intentions and contradictions. While the coalition was ostensibly created to protect Israeli vessels and Western interests, there was a notable absence of Western support when Gulf states previously sought assistance in securing oil supplies and international trade in the Red Sea.

Over the past four decades, the regional dynamics have worsened due to escalating security concerns in the Red Sea, validating Saudi Arabia’s long-standing warnings regarding the growing threats posed by armed nonstate actors to international peace and security. The failure to acknowledge these warnings has expanded the circle of danger, impacting the interests of Western nations that disregarded Saudi Arabia’s alerts.

Regional dynamics emphasize the importance of considering regional competition from a broader perspective, as it has significant implications for global stability and the interests of all parties involved. In response, Saudi Arabia has taken proactive measures to address the escalating risks in the Red Sea and its neighboring countries, while also pursuing the ambitious Vision 2030. The Kingdom’s efforts reflect the viability of regional options for addressing threats and escalating dynamics.

Vision 2030 has led to domestic transformations and successes and contributed to the Kingdom spearheading efforts to resolve the crises in countries like Yemen and Iraq. Last year’s agreement with Iran, facilitated by China, marked a significant step in Saudi Arabia’s commitment to steering the region toward stability, especially amid perceived indifference from Western nations that prioritize their own interests.

The potential danger lies in the erosion of allied powers’ confidence in Western nations as reliable allies that are capable of safeguarding their security and protecting international shipping lanes. There is a risk of allied powers reassessing their foreign policies and exploring multiple alternative alliances and partnerships within a new strategy to protect their interests. This shift reflects a broader international dynamic, as major powers vie for global leadership within the international order.

Disregarding the interests of influential allies or overlooking the roles of nonstate actors is no longer a viable strategy for major powers to advance their interests. Regional powers have recognized this reality, learning from past experiences and diversifying their options to prioritize their own interests. The loss of confidence in Western nations, particularly in their handling of threats in the Red Sea, has led to a reevaluation of foreign policies.

The Biden administration’s position on the Houthis highlights the West’s approach to regional insecurity, potentially hindering genuine reconciliation efforts or prioritizing Israeli interests. “If the Houthis cease their attacks, we can consider delisting the designation,” a senior Biden administration official said on a call with reporters. These remarks reflect the fact that the Biden administration’s designation of the Houthis is merely a tactical rather than a strategic move, meaning that Washington is once again failing to address the root issue, which is the proliferation of Iranian proxies in the region.

Hence, regional countries, in particular Saudi Arabia, view this position as harmful to the political efforts to resolve the Yemeni crisis, as well as others in the region. It is imperative for major powers to adapt to changing dynamics and collaborate with allies to effectively navigate complex regional and international affairs.

  • Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is the founder and president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). X: @mohalsulami
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