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Middle East Studies-The Earth and the State: Geopolitics

Chapter 8 The Earth and the State: Geopolitics

The Middle East is a region that lies at the intersection of three continents on the Earth and these are Africa, Asia and Europe. The region is well known for its historical development, rich deposits of natural resources and minerals, and the epicenter of thousands of languages, the cradle of ancient and scientific, mathematic, economic and religious thoughts. Studying the Middle East involves studying all the sixteen states located in the region and their political structures and landscape and these interact on the global scene. This chapter dealt with the “geopolitical pertains of the spatial interaction between geographical area and political phenomena” (Held, 2006). The term “Geopolitics” in the chapter is interchangeably used conceptually to refer to the political geography of the Middle East. This chapter discussed the geopolitics of the Middle East in several subheadings, which include: Hub and Heartland, the state in the Middle East, peace treaties and mandates, present basic patterns of the region, regional linkages, regional conflicts, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), Operation Desert Storm (1990-1991), Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-present), Strategic straits, the great-power rivalry and terrorism.
According to Sir Halford J. Mackinder’s paper of 1919 and 1943, he categorized the entire surface of the earth and its political leadership structure into a system of “Heartland” and “World-Island.” His theory which can be summarized as “who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; who rules the World-Island commands the World” (Held, 2006) has received its part of criticism; even thought his concept of a World-Island throws some thoughts on the links among Europe, Asia and Africa. However, Professor Nicholas J. Spykman challenged Mackinder’s theory by suggesting that is it the control of both the Heartland and the Rimland by one superpower or power group that would eventually create an unmatched power base. The control of the Inner Crescent or most of it, which Spykman termed as Rimland, by one power would offset domination of the Heartland by another power (Held, 2006).
As of 1943, only seven of the sixteen states that constitute the Middle East was an independent nation. Great Britain played a significant role in the delay sovereignties of countries like Oman, Iraq, and Egypt. The political developments of states in the Middle East were as a result of the political inexperience and insecurity of newly independent nations. The geopolitical aspects of the Middle East were also influenced by conflicting peace accords or agreements. These agreements shaped the geopolitical boundaries, current patterns, crisis and conflicts in the region (Held, 2006).
In terms peace in events of political upheavals, civil unrest, and war Great Britain and France seem to dominate decisions in the Middle East. The 1915-1917 peace accord was difficult to adhere to and as such they agreed to the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which connects directly to the Balfour Declaration. As a result, they developed mandates and these mandates were designed to be temporary in nature. The mandates emerged from the proposal made at the League of Nations talks at the San Remo Conference in April 1920 and these mandates directly followed the Sykes-Picot Agreement.
The location of a state in a region is a significant determinant of its rule in a region’s geopolitics. However, other factors such as population and it composition, state institutions and raison d’être are of significance. No matter geographical and physical features of a state in relation to its location in the region, each aspect influences the country’s geopolitics. Every Middle East state contains some sort of seacoast, which is a significant factor for transportation, trade and tourism. The number, distribution, density and composition of a state’s population are also a very important aspect to be considered. Within each country, each tribal or ethnic group has a peculiar sense of identity and nationalism.
Religion is a key aspect that seems to link states and regions within the Middle East. Islam is one such religion that has huge followers. Israel and Cyprus lies outside the Islamic realm, with Lebanon between Christianity and Islamism. In the past, the Middle East was severely Islamic and there were more than one Muslim Empire. However, the evolution of localism, ethnic separatism, nationalism, religious zealotry, militancy and the selfish motives of leaders led to disunity (Held, 2006). However, in the midst of these issues regional cooperation continues. The creation of six regional agencies did just that and these agencies are: Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), Arab League, OPEC and OAPEC, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO). Several attempted unions were established with the intent to develop solid Arab states, but these unions were short-lived. The establishments of military alliances also emerge in times of emergencies. These alliances were disbanded once the emergencies were solved. The Baghdad Pact created in 1955 was a US-British favored and supported encouragement to suppress and if possible eliminate the expansion of communism in the Middle East, which was been masterminded by the Former USSR.
As states in the region became independent, another problem developed and this problem was regional conflicts. There were disputes between countries about borders, access to scarce resources such as oil and natural minerals, competing ideologies, political, ethnic and religious leadership, and self-determination (Held, 2006). However, there exist tensions and conflicts between governments and paramilitary groups in the area as well.
Another aspect that is worth considering in this paper is the importance of water in the Middle East most importantly when it comes to Geopolitics. While it is true that petroleum and other minerals resources are of vital importance to the region, water is life. Without it an entire population could perish in matters of days considering the extreme climatic condition of the region. The transnational dynamics of river water is of international concern.


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