Looking Ahead to the Manama Dialogue

Published: October 27, 2015

Editor’s Note:

The Manama Dialogue has emerged as one of the most important gatherings of government and military officials and specialists to discuss Gulf security. SUSRIS has been pleased to report on the Dialogue’s conversations in recent years and looks forward to the timely, insightful and important discussions from this year’s event which is organized by the International Institute for Security Studies. In the lead up to this year’s Manama Dialogue Sir John Jenkins, Executive Director, IISS-Middle East and former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, commented on the adjustment to its scheduling and shared an overview of the regional issues that all will be talking about. Here are comments from IISS describing the Manama Dialogue followed by Sir John Jenkins’ remarks.

Organized annually, the IISS Manama Dialogue provides a forum for the national security establishments of the participating states to exchange views on regional security challenges. It is a unique forum in that it is made up of governmental delegations from over 20 countries, including not only the states of the region and the immediate neighbourhood, but also the outside powers with security interests in the Gulf.

The Manama Dialogue provides opportunities for government leaders to deliver vitally important public statements about the evolving policy approaches to regional security. Crucially, it also facilitates private bilateral and multilateral meetings between participating states in order to advance immediate policy goals. Against this background, senior officials are able to engage with the leading experts in the region in a manner that can help to animate fresh policy thinking.

The meetings draw together the highest concentration to date of policy-makers involved in regional security, and delegations comprised a measured blend of prime ministers, defence ministers, foreign ministers, national security advisors, and military and intelligence chiefs.

The Manama Dialogue process is maturing into the most important regional security meeting in the Middle East and is an excellent anchor for regional security diplomacy.

IISS Note:

This is the first post in the 2015 Manama Voices blog that the institute runs every year to accompany the IISS Manama Dialogue, held in Bahrain from 30 October – 01 November. Before the Dialogue, Manama Voices will present analysis by IISS experts on regional security issues. When proceedings begin, we will add videos and transcripts of the plenary sessions, and further expert commentary. You can follow the latest mentions of the Dialogue, or contribute your own, on Twitter (#IISS_ME and #MD2015).

[Check the SUSRIS Special Section “Manama Dialogue” for more information and links to many of the presentations from the last three years.]

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Sir John Jenkins: Looking ahead to the Manama Dialogue
October 26, 2015

As the 11th IISS Manama Dialogue opens this week, Sir John Jenkins, Executive Director, IISS-Middle East, explains the evolving geopolitical context in which the summit will take place. Gulf states are playing an increasing role in efforts to resolve the regional threats that have become global challenges.

By Sir John Jenkins, Executive Director, IISS-Middle East

This year the Manama Dialogue is a month early, the end of October rather than the beginning of December. That reflects a logistical but more fundamentally a political reality: the annual GCC Summit in December has assumed more and more importance over the past decade and we need to make sure we complement each other rather than overlap. The increased importance of the summit arises from both the range of complex regional issues that GCC leaders need to address and the increasing centrality of the GCC to any resolution.

This in turn reflects a historical shift in power in the region. When I first went to work in Abu Dhabi in 1983, the traditional republican powers of the Arab Middle East – namely Egypt, Iraq and Syria – were seen as key to its future. While Saudi Arabia used its influence discreetly and pursued a cautious, pragmatic and collegiate foreign policy, the smaller Gulf states had been independent for just over a decade and trod very carefully. The main threats to them came from an assertive and revolutionary Iran, intra-state conflicts – notably the Iran–Iraq War – and the continuing consequences of the highly charged confrontation with Israel.

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Some 30 years later, the most fully functioning, prosperous and now – in their turn – assertive parts of the Arab state system are these same Gulf states. They have been central over the past decade to sustaining a neo-Westphalian consensus in the face of profound transnational threats – the collapse of the Iraqi, Syrian and Libyan states, the rise of sacralised and often brutal extremism, sectarian mobilisation in the pursuit of factional and single-state interests, metastasising terror, and the threat of nuclear proliferation. They have also begun to show a real desire actively to shape their strategic environment, from Libya to Syria and Yemen, to pursue single-mindedly what they see as their national interests in the Gulf, and more widely and robustly to respond to threats and opportunities independent of the policies and actions of Western and other states.

This is the context for the discussions we will have at Manama in less than a week’s time – a newly assertive and confident Gulf, the collapse of authority in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, uncertainty about the sustainability of US engagement and a decisive economic shift towards Asia. There is growing international recognition that the new powers of the region will be central, in a way they have never been before, to any reconstruction of the physical and the political order in those states whose emergence in the wake of the First World War heralded the birth of the modern Middle East.

We are also convening just as Iran’s parliament has approved the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on its nuclear programme. That may or may not herald a fundamental shift in the domestic politics of Iran and the wider politics of the region. It has been acclaimed internationally. It has caused disquiet among Iran’s immediate neighbours. And it forms the backdrop for dramatic developments in Syria, where Iran and now Russia appear to have doubled down on the survival of the regime of Bashar al-Assad; in Iraq, where the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham continues to pose a radical challenge not just to the Iranian-backed and largely Shia government of Haider al-Abadi, but also ideologically to Iraq’s Sunni neighbours; and in Yemen, where the current conflict was sparked at least in part by the deep concern of these same neighbours about Iran’s regional activities and its apparent willingness to back the Zaidi Houthi insurgency as an instrument of national policy.

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We shall be debating all of these issues and more. We have senior representation – deputy prime ministers, foreign, defence and interior ministers, national security advisers and senior military officers – from all around the region, from Europe, the US and Asia. This year we shall also have strong representation from the United Nations – an important development if you believe, as I do, that what is happening in the Middle East is a global challenge that will in the end need globally guaranteed solutions. And, as every year, we will host non-government analysts and journalists from the region and beyond who will engage and challenge officials.

The Middle East and North Africa is at a historic inflection point. The Manama Dialogue offers a unique opportunity for decision-makers, practitioners, analysts and commentators to come together for two days of intense, focused and operational debate about the future. This should matter to us all.

Source: IISS.org

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