Southeast Asia is witnessing major changes to its political, strategic and economic fabric. Some of these, such as the rise of China, have been anticipated for some time, while others, such as the US-China trade dispute, the growing prominence of the Indo-Pacific as a strategic concept, and the Trump administration’s retreat from liberal internationalism, have unfolded rapidly and disruptively during the past few years.
The relevance of “continuities” in relation to the history of the region and its inhabitants has been evident throughout most of its millenary past, and from a wide range of different angles. For instance, the Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2100 BCE), a literary product of Mesopotamia, encompasses a number of themes and motifs (including, among others, the flood myth adopted in the narrative of Noah’s ark) later included in the Bible and other religious books.
Until recently, Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation was seen as a unique ‘success story’ of the Middle East Peace Process. However, recent developments seem to be challenging this narrative; only last month, demonstrations attracted thousands of Palestinian protesters who demanded the suspension of cooperation with Israel. Shortly before this, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas threatened to end Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation in response to a new Knesset law which retroactively legalised some 4,000 Israeli settler houses built on private Palestinian land. Consequently, one of the cornerstones of the Oslo Accords now appears to be under real threat.
Effective cooperation – what for?
Cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians in security terms has hitherto been robust in the West Bank (Hamas put an end to it in Gaza in 2007) and dates back to the 1993 Oslo Accords. These stipulated the creation of ‘a strong police force’ which would guarantee public order and internal security for Palestinians, while the Israeli state was to be responsible for countering external threats and ensuring the overall security of Israelis. Today, with over 44% of public sector employees in the PA working in the security sector (over 80,000 people), it remains a major provider of income to the Palestinian population. It also accounts for the lion’s share of the PA’s annual budget, with 30-45% allocated to this sector.
The failure of Iraq, breakdown of Syria, and changes in Turkey have created opportunities for Kurds in all three countries. They are not quite the regional kingmakers that some Kurds have boasted they might become, but Kurdish political and military power is now a growing factor in Middle East geopolitics. This has produced not only unique challenges, but also new possibilities for U.S. policy in the region. As President-Elect Donald J. Trump shapes his administration and officials look at the Middle East beyond the battles against the so-called Islamic State in Mosul and Raqqa, they will have to come to terms with the Kurds, some of whom are intent on using their new clout and political developments around them to push for a sovereign Kurdistan.
It is unlikely that Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD) or its fighting force, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), or Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) will realize their objectives of statehood, but Iraq’s Kurds may be in a far more advantageous position to press for independence. Significant obstacles remain for Iraqi Kurds, but the combination of regional instability, the coming liberation of Mosul, and the state of Iraqi politics may help advance the historic goals of Kurdish leaders.
What does the future hold for the divided Korean peninsula? How realistic is the prospect of reunification between the prosperous and democratic South and the persistently isolated North? Indeed, how might the end of this ‘frozen’ conflict impact regional and international security? To discuss these and related issues, the Center for Security Studies (CSS) recently hosted an Evening Talk with Dr. Eun-Jeung Lee, who is a Professor of Korean Studies at Freie Universität Berlin, and Nina Belz, who writes on international affairs for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ). While Lee focused on the historical and geopolitical aspects of the conflict between the two Koreas, Belz looked at what their neighbors think about the possibility of Korean reunification.