Who will fill the vacuum in the Middle East after the American withdrawal?

American troops in Iraq in 2007 (Photo by Shutterstock).

Ahmad Abdel-Rahman investigates what countries could fill the gap in the Middle East after the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. 

It seems history is repeating itself. In 1968, when British troops withdrew from the Persian Gulf the US filled the strategic vacuum in the Middle East. Now the Americans are exiting the region. Who will fill the gap now?

The Middle East has been affected by the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, the Middle East is not far from Afghanistan.

Moreover, the region is still suffering from the contradictions, anxieties, and imbalances that followed the events of the so-called Arab Spring which began in 2010, and of which some non-Arab countries tried to take advantage. This was helped by the absence of a strong Arab regional alliance. But there are opportunities for regional and international powers.

The American announcement reinforced moves of the necessity to restore regional dialogue. The most important of these is the Gulf-Iranian dialogue, and attempts to calm the areas of turmoil in Yemen, Libya and Syria. This is in addition to activating the foundations of the Abrahamic agreements by strengthening the strategic Gulf partnership with Israel. This is in addition to the attempt by Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon to reach institutional formulas for cooperation.

It is likely that Russia, China, and some European countries will seek to fill the vacuum left by America's withdrawal, especially when it comes to political security balances, as well as economic and trade ones.

Russian motives in the Middle East

Russia wants to be the leader of the international powers seeking to have influence in the Middle East and strengthen its relations with the traditional emerging powers in the region. After the Arab Spring, Putin's ambitions have been reinforced. It wants to position itself around the southern NATO front, especially in the eastern and southern regions of the Mediterranean, such as Syria and Libya. This is in addition to Russia's traditional agenda in the region, which is to strengthen counter-terrorism efforts, energy cooperation, and control of the arms trade.

Chinese motives in the Middle East

Beijing, China's capital, is eyeing the Middle East for expansion. This is based on the vision adopted by the Communist Party to develop China so that it is a medium-level-developed country by 2035, and becomes a superpower in 2050. The Middle East has enjoyed strong economic, technological and development relations with China, such as the Belt and Road Initiative.

China is one of the most important trading partners for the countries of the Middle East. China is also becoming an alternative to the Western model, and is being promoted through institutions such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The latter is competing with the the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which are dominated by the US.

European motives in the Middle East

For Europe, one of the most important problems concerning the Middle East is that of terrorist organisations. Another is controlling the growing waves of illegal immigration and refugees that pour into Europe.

Hence, many European countries seek to make vital multilateral contributions to help address social crises and tensions between regional actors. De-escalation of tensions and social reform in the Middle East is of paramount importance to Europe,. The initiatives they promote include:

-Bilateral cooperation in decision-making between the European bloc and the Middle East.

-Exporting European rules of governance to the countries of the region.

- Developing the bonds of inter-relations with influential and effective countries in the region.

- Building a new pragmatic system of cooperation based on mutual interests between the European bloc and the countries of the Middle East. 

-Determining common ground and the different roles that should be taken by the European bloc countries and the most influential traditional and emerging powers in the Middle East.

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Saturday, 30 September 2023