War seems to be a normal daily routine in the Middle East, the war in Iraq, Syria... Why are these countries not normal? Or is it due to external powers keeping those countries at constant wars in order to keep themselves stable and safe? Are those wars considered as civil wars?
This is both a pretty broad question and the answers (even from experts) are going to be opinion based to a good extent, so my answer is going to be a rather trite listicle of reasons that have been offered:
- Ethnic and religious divisions (including sectarian ones within Islam), plus a dominance/intolerance aspect thereof. E.g. one 2005 study found using a regression model
What about Islam’s “bloody innards”? Our modified variable—ethnic dominance, Islam (which takes account of the distinction between Shia and Sunni)—displays approximately the same values as the original one. This reinforces the conclusion that any dominant ethnic group increases the risk for conflict, but Islamic dominance no more so than other cases of dominance.
Some of this is indeed on the backdrop of colonially inherited borders, but that is probably an insufficient explanation, by itself.
Related to dominance, there's authoritarianism. The effect of this on conflicts has been more intensely debated. In some models there's curvilinear relationship, i.e. enough authoritarianism suppresses conflicts. But then you have the so-called boilover effect in which a seemingly stable authoritarian regime suddenly erupts when enough critical mass is attained by the accumulated discontent, relative to the regime's ability to suppress it. Alas emergent democracies are not terribly stable or violence-free either, especially on the background of the ethnic/religious issues from the previous bullet(s). We saw both of these aspects in action with the Arab Spring.
Foreign intervention, both from regional and world powers no doubt plays a role too. It's been debated to what extent this is exacerbating or moderating conflicts. E.g. peace plans vs arming/supporting one side with the obvious internationalization of conflicts. Foreign intervention probably has both effects depending on the time, place and mode of intervention, so the overall effect seems disputed.
The economic/development aspect has also been debated. The region is not as poor as Africa, nor is oil as easy to loot as other conflict-fueling resources like diamonds because of the infrastructure needed to exploit oil. This is probably what gives conflict in the Middle East a more state-based aspect.
Regarding these last two points, the following quote, albeit from a US perspective, is probably helpful nonetheless:
The interests that have long kept the United States involved in the Middle East are fairly clear. Coming out of World War II, American strategists resolved that the United States must prevent any hostile force from dominating a region of critical geopolitical or geo-economic significance. The Middle East, with its vast oil reserves, certainly fit that description. True, America never got a particularly large portion of its oil from Middle Eastern sources. But its allies did: “The Marshall Plan for Europe,” noted Truman’s first Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, “could not succeed without access to the Middle East oil.” Moreover, the fact that oil was traded on a global market meant that a disruption of price or supply in one region would cause disruption on a far larger scale. [...]
The situation in the Middle East, Dean Acheson once commented, “might have been devised by Karl Marx himself.” A combination of stunted development, stifling socio-political conditions, and resentment of foreign influence made the region ripe for radicalism and inherently difficult for outside powers to manage. [...] The result has been a perpetual tension: The Middle East might require American attention and management, but it was also a source of dangers and distractions that most U.S. officials would have been just as happy to avoid. [...]
The 9/11 attacks offered evidence that the Middle East’s problems could reach out and touch the United States in disastrous ways. The George W. Bush administration responded with the massive projection of American power into the region, focused on defeating al-Qaeda, toppling hostile governments in Afghanistan and Iraq, birthing stable democracies, and thereby transforming the region for the better. When that project proved vastly more costly and difficult than expected, the Obama administration sought to limit U.S. engagement in the region as a way of husbanding resources, avoiding blowback, and “pivoting” to more promising areas. Yet even Obama, so skeptical of American intervention in the region, was unable to get out entirely [...] Today, the Trump administration is manifesting the same ambivalence [...] There are [however] concerns that American retrenchment would open the door for hostile actors—Iran and Russia—to exert dominant influence in a region that still matters.
The Mideast does not have an especially high number of wars when compared to other non-European regions. The largest war in the Mideast was the Iran-Iraq war, which killed 2 million people. The Chinese civil war, the Vietnam war, and other conflicts in Asia killed a lot more. If you are talking about the present day, there is plenty of violence in India, Thailand, Myanmar, and Uighur provinces, it's just less apparent and not emphasized in the media.
Also, the Mideast has a lot of smaller countries. India, China, and Bangladesh have a lot of violence, but because the countries are big and isolated, it's not counted as a war.
African governments are too weak to fight each other. There is also lots of violence in Africa, it just isn't able to take on a state form.
So it's basically due to the Mideast having relatively small and functioning governments more than anything else. Wars are almost a semantic thing: there are lots of countries that have long periods of prolonged homicide which are not counted as "wars".
In addition to what everyone else mentioned, another possible cause of the current situation in the Middle East can have roots in the demise of the Ottoman Empire. Usually, after the collapse of a big empire the countries created after are not very stable for decades. For example, after the Roman Empire collapsed, Europe was in wars for a thousand years! I read this in a book called "A Peace to End All Peace" which is about World War I.
There are really just two big wars in the middle east, plus a unique combination of post-colonial "strongman" leaders sitting on top of oil wealth who occasionally get dragged into conflicts or trigger US reprisals.
The two big ones are "Israel vs the Arab World" and "Iran vs US & Saudi Arabia". The state of Israel was acquired by a mixture of political action before WW2 (Balfour Declaration) and military/terrorist action afterwards. From the inception of Israel in 1948 it has been attacked by its Arab neighbours, while also driving out Arabs previously resident in some areas of the disputed region into an increasingly tiny "Palestine". Both sides have factions in their domestic politics that benefit from continuing the fighting, and both have the ability to provoke escalation from the other.
The Iran/Saudi conflict is driven both by the religious conflict (Sunni/Shia Islam and control over Mecca) and by their status as business competitors in oil export. The risk that Iran may acquire nuclear weapons has also been a factor in escalation.
The two are linked by the widespread use of proxy forces and deniable terrorism, including such organizations as Hezbollah. The US's involvement with the region due to oil has led to it being used as a "proxy force" in essentially local conflicts by whichever leaders can make the most convincing case that some other country is a threat.
Most countries had strongmen leaders after independence or revolution in the mid-20th century, and this facilitated escalation as in a non-democratic country it's hard to protest against more war. This description covers Saudi Arabia (non-democratic monarchy), Libya (Ghaddafi), Iraq (Saddam), Iran (Khomeni), Syria (Assad) etc.
At one point there was a "pan-Arabism" movement intended to unify the region and reduce conflict. This also functioned as an anti-Israel alliance. It was not successful.
As a "worked example", the Lebanese civil war shows how all the other factions got involved, including Israel, Syria, and Iran via Hezbollah.
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protected by Alexei Oct 14 at 4:54
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