The signs are ominous—especially in Israel and its neighbours, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. Violence, both actual and rhetorical, has been escalating on all three fronts. Gaza could become the immediate flash point as the Palestinians’ ‘March of Return’, which began on 30 March, intensifies and Israeli retaliation becomes increasingly lethal.
This article was originally published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on 2 May 2018.
Total world military expenditure rose to $1739 billion in 2017, a marginal increase of 1.1 per cent in real terms from 2016, according to new figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). China’s military expenditure rose again in 2017, continuing an upward trend in spending that has lasted for more than two decades. Russia’s military spending fell for the first time since 1998, while spending by the United States remained constant for the second successive year. The comprehensive annual update of the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database is accessible from today at www.sipri.org.
The Iran-Russia-Turkey nexus could be potent, but suffers from clashing strategic goals and internal contradictions
Western media are preoccupied by limited airstrikes from the United States, Britain and France in the Damascus area, in response to a chemical attack, as well as Russia’s “hybrid warfare” strategy against the West. Amidst many distractions, Vladimir Putin’s own fixation with his country’s emergence as a major player in the Middle East and its implications for regional stability do not receive ample attention. Russia is striving to increase its strategic visibility and sphere of influence in the Middle East, and US President Donald Trump, by pursuing his transactional foreign policy, is unwittingly presiding over the demise of traditional US strategic dominance in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.
The possible creation of a new geopolitical reality in the Middle East may have snuck under the radar this holiday weekend. The continuing spectacle of the investigations into Russia’s possible involvement in the 2016 Election and the continued naming and shaming of corporate leaders and politicians involved in sexual harassment (as well as Thanksgiving), may have overshadowed the summit in Sochi between the Presidents of Russia, Turkey, and Iran, shortly after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited President Putin in the same city (and thanked him for “saving Syria”).
Moscow’s policy isn’t about becoming a leader in the region but accumulating influence to use closer to home.
A new balance of power is solidifying in Syria. Iran, Turkey and Russia have all played a role in the conflict there – jockeying for position and even agreeing in September to set up zones of control. But Russia in particular has deftly managed the game up to this point, and it is emerging from the Syrian civil war with a strong hand. Ultimately, Russia’s goal is to parlay its position in the Middle East into advantages in areas that matter more to Moscow. To some degree, it has achieved this, but it’s still unclear whether its strategy will be successful enough to score Russia an advantage in the area it cares about the most: Ukraine.