Although other regions of the world do face issues of poor governance, violence, economic disparity and instability, none of these regions are as pivotal to the maintenance of the West’s global hegemony as the Middle East. Despite initially appearing broad and sweeping, this statement is supported by a multitude of historical, political and economic factors which combine to affirm that engagement with the Middle East is indeed vital to the preservation of Western global dominance.
In modern history the role of the West in the Middle East has been fundamental in forming an understanding of the interactions between the two cultures. Perhaps this is best exemplified by what is known as the Asia Minor Agreement. This agreement effectively carved up the post-Ottoman Middle East into British and French spheres of influence; a development which certainly played an obtrusive role in shaping the geopolitical dynamics of the present-day Middle East. To this extent it endures the test of reason that the West continues to act in an overbearing and interfering manner towards the Middle Eastern region, perhaps sensing it holds a duty – but more likely an intrinsic interest – in continuing to shape the region’s future as it so brazenly did in the early twentieth century.
In terms of politics the two most prominent and hotly-debated issues involving both the West and the Middle East are that of the Israel-Palestine discord and the rise of extremist Islamic groups. The Israel-Palestine issue has been at the heart of political tensions between the West and most Middle Eastern states for more than 60 years and continues to play a vital role in the diplomatic relations between the two. In many ways Israel is itself considered a Western state and as such Western support for the country is almost unquestioned. Simply put, to maintain its hegemony the West must support Israel – a Western state in an Eastern region – to do otherwise would be ludicrous and counterproductive. In addition to this ideological battleground the continued existence of an Israeli state serves a far more pragmatic purpose – to champion and maintain American power in the region through both hard and soft power engagement of its Middle Eastern neighbours. Likewise, the relatively recent rise of anti-Western extremist Islamic groups in the Middle East and surrounds has added to Western political engagement and prioritisation of the region. As a result of the rise of such extremist groups the collective Middle East has attained the label of the most anti-Western region in the world. This has resulted in the West taking steps to focus its attention on the region in order to deal with the challenge Islamic fundamentalists have so bluntly and blatantly posed to the dominance of the West.
Economically, the Middle East as a region is indisputably the most important player in the hydrocarbon supply chain. What bestows this oil and gas-supplying region with so much of its power is the control it wields over the global supply of hydrocarbons, a resource which is one of the central and fundamental aspects of any modern economy – from personal transportation to electricity generation, globalised trade to heavy industry, hydrocarbons oil the gears of economic activity in the twenty-first century. Global trade itself is also at the mercy of regional stability in the form of the Suez Canal – a man-made waterway in Egypt connecting the economic powerhouses of Europe and Asia. Should the Canal be shut down global trade would be thrown into turmoil, prices of goods on shelves around the world would sky-rocket and the economies of Europe and Asia in particular would be sent spiralling out of control. The ramifications of a worst-case scenario in both hydrocarbon and trade for a culture which was founded on, and continues to draw its power from industrialisation, capitalism and globalisation need no further explanation. It is for this reason and all those listed above that the West chooses to focus so much of its time and energy on the Middle East – a region racked by of poor governance, violence, economic disparity and instability.Follow @SimonPapaG