11 ارديبهشت 1390
Dr. Zuhair al-Mahmeed, a Kuwaiti scholar and expert in strategic studies, gave a lecture at the Center for Strategic Research on 24 June 2010. In the outset, he emphasized the need for a major re-evaluation of the current state of Arab-Iranian relations in order to arrive at a better grasp of balance of power in the Middle East, and also to explore possible avenues towards a better, shared future. In his analysis, de-escalation of tension and strengthening of the stability in the Middle East would serve national as well as regional interests of all players. While recognizing that relations between countries are often based on particular national interests, he nevertheless emphasized that the ties between Iran and the Arab countries should also take into account deep-seated, historical social and cultural commonalties .
Turning to the state of the Arab world, Dr. al-Mahmeed underlined that the Arab League is older than the European Union, but it still lacks institutions similar to those developed by the European Union, much less a common foreign policy. In his view, lack or paucity of activities by civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) could be considered as one of the main reasons for this undesirable state of affairs, including in so far as the weak state of interactions between states and societies are concerned. History shows, in Europe as elsewhere, that civil society and NGO activity has played a critical role in cementing state-society relations, and also helped to bring state and nations with diverse – even opposing – interests closer to one another. Along the same line, he underlined the importance of the role of NGOs as opinion-makers in the modern world, and also as a link between the government and the society with catalytic, facilitating impact on decision-making processes at the national level. Moreover, a higher profile for the NGO community at the national level in different societies – nations - in the Middle East, can also contribute to the improvement of ties between different societies at different levels and in various areas, both public and otherwise. Regarding confidence-building in the region, Dr. al-Mahmeed was of the view that CB measures should begin with social and cultural relations, in order to help facilitate expansion of economic and political relations at more official levels as the process moves forward. To this end, he considered Track II diplomacy as a very useful and reliable instrument .
To conclude his lecture, he offered the following practical proposals for the improvement of bilateral relations between Iran and the Arab World; establishment and expansion of relations at the civil society/NGO level; expansion of economic/trade relations; and establishment and/or enhancement of necessary infrastructures and institutions for the promotion of cooperation and coordination among governments in the region .
The Iranian commentators welcomed Dr. al-Mahmeed's approach, including with respect to the role to be played by the NGOs. They emphasized, however, that the NGO community in the entire Middle East is still generally weak and hardly in a position to fully fill the existing vacuum. Governments in the region still have an important role to play. Moreover, over and above cultural and social commonalties, other factors such as economic links and political ties also need to be relied on to bring the countries in the region closer together and pave the way, in the long-run, for the emergence of regional integration similar to the European experience:
- The relations between the Arab World and Iran formulate the political scene and the balance of powers regionally in the Middle East and dictate the width of the gap between them which in turn reflect the stability and tension consequently.
- State relations are based on the language of interests.
- States make use of alliances in order to enhance their interests within the context of international rules of the political game.
- Types of Alliances:
A- Intellectual Cultural & Doctrinal Alliances
B- Social Alliances
C- Economic Alliances
E- Political & Security Alliances
- All alliances share the following bases:
A- To serve common goals of different magnitudes
B- Preserve, enhance and spread the values of the alliance
- Alliances should be based on the Co-Opetition Theory where all parties to the alliance work in an integrative manner while preserving the private identity of each party
- This theory bolsters the capability of each party and creates strategic depth in many different aspects. Furthermore, it frees many resources that can be utilized more efficiently.
NGOs: The Opinion Makers
- NGOs represent the link between the Governments and the people. They are an integral part of the country’s polity.
- NGOs operate as opinion makers that formulate and present popular and professional opinions in different fields that do not necessarily represent the official opinion, depending on the type of the country's political system.
- The national interest would be better served the closer is the relationship between NGOs as opinion makers and the Governments as decision makers.
- NGOs have a great responsibility to enhance relations among societies, and they can be utilized in different ways, for example, Ping Pong Diplomacy or experience sharing in different disciplines and intellectual forums.
- The role of NGOs should be encouraged between Iran and the Arab World to bring closer both societies based on common grounds in different aspects, and to minimize damage and mistrust in the relations and intents that other world powers seek to deepen for their own interests.
- Second Track Diplomacy should be heavily utilized as a tool for
Confidence-building measures on achievement of both medium and long-term goals.
- Confidence-building measures should start with social and cultural relations that can assist and facilitate political and economic relations for the decision makers.
- Second Track Diplomacy should be utilized to bolster confidence-building between Iran and the Arab World on both fronts popular and official to prevent differences turning into confrontations.
Decision Makers and Opinion Makers
- To enhance relations between Iran and the Arab World we need to bring closer the decision makers with the opinion makers on both sides in order to build common grounds on common strategic issues that serve national and regional interests and stability.
- As a tool that can bring closer the decision makers with the opinion makers on both sides we should establish a Strategic Regional Think Tank Authority in order to serve the following goals:
A- Unify regional visions and integrate different tracks to achieve common strategic positions.
B- Mobilize mental potentials to influence and shape events and sustain control on elements of change on different fronts including the cultural, social, political, economic and security ones.
C- Sustain confidence via different forums between opinion makers in Iran and the Arab World.
D- Rationalize decision making processes by rendering consultancy services to decision makers in Iran and the Arab World.
E- Enhance the elasticity of strategic options via exercising them in parallel modes and with different weights depending on the circumstances of each party.
F- Forecasting strategic change and revising tactical and strategic options periodically to sustain cohesion of different tracks.
- Mental models can enhance mutual understanding by bringing closer opinion makers with decision makers as they serve in the following manner:
A- Introduce strategic issues
B- Formulate consensus on tactical issues and integrate tracks
C- Total probing of strategic issues
1- Base relations on common social and cultural grounds to build confidence amongst different societies and build political and economic interests on it by making use of second track diplomacy.
2- Develop relations between NGOs in the Arab World and their Iranian counterparts.
3- Enhance bilateral activities between Iran and the Arab World on different sectors and support economic integration of infrastructure and mega projects to bolster economic power and mutual vital interests leading to full sovereignty of political decision making.
4- Integrating the outcomes of NGOs and official roles to counter mistrust and enhance mutual understanding.