Iran-Qatar relations face unprecedented uncertainty. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cancelled a planned trip to Doha in November 2011, and anti-Qatari Iranian rhetoric is at an all-time high. From Tehran’s perspective, Qatar has dangerously raised the stakes by spearheading Arab efforts to remove the Iranian-backed regime of Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus. Still, while Iran strongly resents Qatar’s so-called adventurism in Syria, Tehran’s hands are somewhat tied as it ponders a possible alternative approach towards Doha. The simple fact is that Iran badly wants to maintain whatever entente it still has among Arab countries in an era of Arab-Iranian tension—and the undeniable rise in tensions between Iran and Qatar have to be viewed in this context.
The post‑World War II “hub-and-spoke” alliance structure has served the United States and its allies well for the past six decades. Yet the transnational nature of current Asia-Pacific security challenges highlights the limitations of bilateral US‑ally relationships to handle regional security threats, traditional or not. Success demands that the US and its allies work with each other in a networked manner. This is not to suggest “NATO for Asia,” but it is time for an informal Alliance Caucus.
A Caucus of the US and its regional allies (Australia, Japan, the Philippines, the ROK, and Thailand) could provide – initially as informal knowledge-sharing gatherings alongside international forums – an opportunity to creatively address concerns relevant not just to the US and its allies, but to the region as a whole.
This proposal is not without precedent. The UN has a multitude of caucuses, informal and formal, where likeminded countries coalesce around shared visions of specific interests. East Asian governments for years have sought a caucus in APEC; they now seek a similar group in the G-20.
Michael Wesley comes with a thought–provoking idea: bipolarity is back, but it is not between old or new major powers or alliances, but rather between two communities of states – the Atlantic one which includes the Americas, Europe and Africa on the one hand, and Asia on the other. While the idea doesn’t convince me, it is certainly worth debating. Let me put a few question marks to it.
I guess what Michael really describes is not a ‘polarity’ of any sort (there are no poles in his picture), but rather a division between (or simply the coexistence of) different political-strategic cultures. And here, regardless of the details, he has a point.
Different ‘conceptions of how the world works’ are prevalent in different parts of the world, and they are indeed too relevant to ignore, both analytically and in practical terms. Political and strategic cultures impact on the way states deal with disputes, with issues of war and peace, and on how they cooperate or don’t cooperate with others. There are certainly important differences here between, say, the US and Japan.