Shifting Power

Global geopolitics is in a state of massive flux. The US is now increasingly perceived as a power in decline. Its fleeting moment of unipolar ascendancy is long vorbei andis being rapidly replaced by a bi-multipolar world. New centresand communities of power are crystallisingat the global, regional, and sub-regional levels.The economic strength of nations, as opposed to brute military force, is now defining the power calculus of the world. Geo-economics is taking precedence over geostrategic imperatives. Consequently, multipolarity and multi-alignment are fast becoming the new normals of geopolitics.
At the global level, China and Russia continue to pose multidimensional challenges to the US-led West.At the regional level, middle and smaller powers are breaking free of the stranglehold of erstwhile colonial and other masters and pursuing independent policies. They seek multi-alignment regardless of the degree of animosity between the major global powers.
Flush with enormous earnings from the export of fossil fuels, the Gulf Arab states have now startedasserting themselves stronglyin regional and extra-regional affairs. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the UAE have taken up multi-alignment in a very calculated manner.Pragmatism, pro-activism and the focused pursuit of national interests are the hallmarks of their latest policies.At the global level, they are now interacting with the US, China and Russia simultaneously.At the geopolitical level, KSA is engaging the US on the recognition of Israel and is seekinga vibrant security and defence arrangement with it. It engages China continuously on the geoeconomic front fostering intercontinental and regional connectivity and economic interdependence;in other words, promoting the BRI. Russia continues to dominate OPEC+ tomanage and manipulate the production of oil and thus its international prices. This directly impacts the global economy andgivesit substantial geopolitical leverage too.All three relationships raise theirstature and clout in the geopolitical and geo-economic domains.At the extra-regional level, the KSA and UAE have de-hyphenated their relationships with both Pakistan and India. They are now managing mutually beneficial ties, on independent tracks, with both.
President Joe Biden faces a very tough re-election next year. A KSA-Israel rapprochement at the regional level leading to a Jew-Muslim reconciliation at the global level would be an enormous feather in his cap. He could emerge as the peacemaker of the 21stcentury and enhance his chances for re-election manifold. A KSA-Israel conciliation is thus extremely important for the President and his party. However, the powerful Israeli lobby in the US and the US Congress will play decisive roles in the outcome of these negotiations.
However, recognising Israel will not be a very simple task for the KSA. It has also supported the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 which stipulates Israel vacating all occupied territories including the Golan Heights and the West Bank and retreating to its pre-1967 Arab-Israel War borders. A two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestine is also sought; something anathema to the Israelis.
If the quid pro quo meets KSA and Palestinian aspirations in full, as per the Arab Peace Initiative, it will further cement KSA’s position as the undisputed leader of the Muslim World, establish it as a credible regional power with significant influence at the global level and bring peace to the GMER too. Most unlikely, as Israel would veto it straightaway. If the quid pro quo meets KSA and Palestinian ambitions only partially then this solution itself might create an even more vitiated strategic environment. A half-baked solution, which is neither here nor there, will be worse than no solution at all!
The dilemma of recognition portends very serious ramifications. The US will not meet Saudi and Palestinian aspirations at the cost of Israel’s current territorial integrity and security. Either the KSA will have to forego the Arab Peace Initiative and settle for something much below the demand for an independent Palestinian state or Israel will have to compromise on its security by unequivocally ceding occupied territory. Both options are undoable as they have very serious ramifications for all involved. KSA is neither likely to get the defence and security arrangement it seeks with the US as that neutralises Israel’s undisputed regional hegemony nor is it likely to get access to civil nuclear technology. Where does the quid pro quo then lie? Where does the US-Israel Combine concede ground? A solution will thus require the US-Israel Combine, the Palestinians and the Saudis, to all make serious compromises and the US for once, to play a genuinely honest broker!

The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army. He can be reached at and tweets @K846Im.

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