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Sri Lanka Army

Defenders of the Nation

Western Asian Perspectives to be Taken Note of - Seminar Contributor

Giving an analytical review to the historic and current perspectives on the evolution of security and threat perceptions, Prof. Rashed Uz Zaman, Dept. of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh enlightened the ‘Defence Seminar’ participants on the subject of ‘Challenges and Implications to National Security: West Asian Perspective’ told the gathering that threats of all forms need to be given due assessment before methodologies are to be introduced to tackle them.

Below are some of the salient features he touched during his contribution;

•    Expansion of European colonialism categorized Asia
•    Geographically, ‘Western Asia’ includes the Levant, the Arabian peninsula, Anatolia, Iran, the Armenian Highlands
•    Sinai belongs to Western Asia, making Egypt a transcontinental country
•    Roughly 19 countries make up the region

National Security: Trends and Drivers

•    Different countries and varying contexts led to a plethora of national security issues
•    However, I shall focus on a few which I believe are important for security analysts trying to understand the region
•    A word of caution!
•    “Just when we found the answer, they changed the question” --- Anonymous
•    Failing States and State-Wannabe Non-State Actors seem to be the biggest security challenge
•    Quite a few West Asian states have failed in the past few years, others are teetering – Syria, Iraq and Yemen comes to mind
•    At the same time, state-wannabe non-state actors like ISIS, Houthis, Hezbollah are also a part of the canvas
•    What exactly, does a state need to survive, and what has brought West Asian states to the brink of collapse?
•    Scholars believe the absence of ‘structure, authority (legitimate power), law and political order’ contributes to state failure
•    State stability is dependent on its ability to project power over the population through its institutions, functions and actions
•    Three elements are a must to guarantee a state’s survival:
•    Firstly, it must control coercion across its territory;
•    Secondly, it must deliver the services citizens need in their day-to-day lives and develop the infrastructure to do so;
•    Thirdly, it must ideologically bind the population together and to itself
•    Not enough land, not enough water!
•    Conflict and instability in West Asia is partly driven by narrow and dwindling land and water resources
•    These conditions will only worsen as demographic growth, urbanization, and climate change take their toll
•    Seminal article published earlier this year in the Proceedings of National Academy of Science
•    It shows that climate change doubled or even tripled the likelihood of the drought
•    Drought became part of a cascade of events that have killed and displaced millions, gave rise to Islamic State and left a country in ruins
•    When the drought hit in 2005 and reached its nadir in 2007 and 2008, the driest winter on record for Syria, farmers came pouring into urban areas and increased urban population by 50% compared to 2002
•    Yemen was collapsing even before the Houthi uprising, mainly due to plummeting water and economic resources that aggravated regional and tribal divisions and rickety governance structures
•    Yemen’s population of 23 million, nearly half of whom are under the age of 15, is expected to double by 2035
•    The economically hard-pressed country faces an environmental crisis
•    Experts fear Sana’a, a World Heritage City, may become the world’s first capital city to run dry
•    At the current rate, by 2025 the city’s projected 4.2 million inhabitants will become water refugees
•    With little being done to harness rainfall in the country, farmer are drilling deeper –without any regulation
•    Agriculture uses around 90% of the country’s water resources – with around half being used to cultivate the herbal stimulant Qat or khat
•    Qat’s cultivation has been increasing by 12% each year, displacing over tens of thousands of hectares of vital crops – fruits, vegetables, and coffee – leading to food price hike and resulting social and economic tensions
•    Under such circumstances, Yemen finds it hard to maintain control and legitimacy over tribal entities
•    Pockets of ungoverned spaces present opportunities for extremists to exploit economic & political changes
•    This trend of climate change and resulting stress in societies can be seen across other areas experiencing conflicts – namely, Mali
•    A country with a total fertility rate of 6.85% and whose population growth rate in 2013 was 3%, Mali must also deal with the effects of climate change
•    The northern Sahel region has been hard hit and will put greater strains on the population and society in northern Mali, and increase the potential for instability
•    The battles of the youth bulge!
•    Two-thirds of the population is under the age of 30
•    Yet, economies are not creating jobs fast enough to accommodate them; governance structures are not opening up sufficiently to include them; and their search for identity has spurred movements as disparate as pro-democracy civic action, radical nationalism, and messianic dreams of a revival of the caliphate
•    Oil: Curse or cure?
•    Only a couple of years ago, the world’s supply of oil seemed to be peaking, but in the years since this has proved to be wrong
•    Two new developments are responsible: horizontal drilling, which allows wells to penetrate bands of shale deep underground, and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which allows the injection of high-pressure of high pressure fluid to release gas and oil from rock formations
•    Global energy production has begun to shift away from traditional suppliers in Eurasia and the Middle East
•    And producers tap unconventional gas and oil resources around the world, from the waters of Australia, Brazil, Africa, and the Mediterranean to the oil sands of Alberta, USA
•    What does it mean for West Asia?
•    It seems that the oil-rich countries of the region are in a bind: the rise of the energy mix and increased competition on cost and supply of oil and gas is eating into profit margins
•    Technological development in the near future will bring about further reductions in the cost of energy production, and increased diversity of supply could significantly reduce the wealthy West Asian states’ market share in oil and gas
•    The world Bank has forecasted the need for a 100 million job opportunities to be created in the West Asia and North Africa by 2020, in order to absorb the next baby boomer generation
•    However, is this possible?
•    History tells us that imperial Spain used the windfall discovery of gold in its South American conquests to maintain an imperial status quo and proceed grandly into decline
•    At the same time, England built on its conquests to increase trade and innovation and lead an industrial revolution
•    So are we witnessing the curse of oil dependency, creating the slow decline as wealth and resources are being gradually depleted to fund fiscal deficit?
•    Many countries have not lived up to the expectations of their unemployed younger generation and question comes as what they can offer the next generation

Denouement

•    The war of 1939 had a spiritual meaning, a question of freedom and the preservation of moral possessions; and to fight for an idea makes man hard and determined. The war of 1914, on the other hand, knew nothing of realities, it still served a delusion, the dream of a better, a righteous and peaceful world. And it is only delusion, and not knowledge, that bestows happiness --- Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday.