Published: 16:35, June 13, 2024
Advancing a better West Asia future
By Warwick Powell

US getting pushed off centre stage in region, opening a new era of consensus-based statecraft

Without much fanfare, the United States is slowly being maneuvered off center stage in West Asia. Having dominated geopolitical primacy in the region for decades, Washington’s failure to deliver security has seen a “vacuum for peace” emerge. Into this vacuum has stepped, tentatively and cautiously, the Arab League, supported by China and Russia.

A new style of regional, and even global, statecraft is emerging and it recognizes that indivisible and mutual security is achieved by dialogue, through which consensus is secured. This ethos contrasts starkly with the “gun barrel” unilateral approach that has been the hallmark of American primacy, particularly in the past 30 years.

READ MORE: Iran condemns new EU sanctions on officials, entities

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US straddled the world stage as the unrivaled hegemon. Paradoxically, it was during this period, when the US was most secure, that the US embarked on its most intense and sustained period of military intervention. An ethos of “kinetic first”, a foreign policy approach that prioritizes military action and the use of force, dominated US statecraft. According to the 2022 book Dying by the Sword by Duffy Toft and Sidita Kushi, between 1991 and 2019 the US initiated 3.7 military interventions per year on average.

According to the Costs of War project, these interventions have caused an estimated 3.6 million to 3.8 million indirect deaths in the US’ post-9/11 war zones, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. A further 38 million people or more have been displaced.

West Asia has borne the brunt of this human tragedy. The eruption of hostilities in Palestine is another episode in the long tawdry record of settler aggression, occupation, military aggression, and attempted genocide on the part of the US-backed Israelis. Israel’s military has killed over 36,000 people, the overwhelming majority being civilians, and over 81,000 people have been wounded as of the end of May in the latest conflict. The ruthlessness of Israel’s military action killings has led the International Court of Justice to conclude that Israel’s actions are prima facie genocidal.

In January this year, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi floated the idea of an international peace conference in an effort to stop the carnage and work toward lasting peace. Progressively, diplomatic efforts through back channels and through the forums of the UN have seen the building of a head of steam behind the idea. The Arab League in mid-May endorsed such a conference.

Meanwhile, heads of state from West Asia gathered in Beijing on May 30 for the 10th Ministerial Conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum. Palestine was a key topic of discussion. In his address to the conference, Chinese President Xi Jinping made it clear that Beijing supports the convening of an international peace conference, as such a meeting would have the necessary authority to overcome barriers and inertia toward resolving the Gaza conflict and secure peace by way of a two-state solution based on 1967 boundaries.

China’s style and approach to statecraft was already on show last year when it played an active role in facilitating a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia. More recently, it has hosted the two Palestinian factions for talks aimed at a reconciliation that will be conducive to creating the conditions that would make an international peace conference viable.

China has also proposed a framework that would contribute to the resolution of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. That was in early 2023. While it was rejected by the Western powers at the time, the lesson from the West Asia experience is that the resolution of conflicts takes time and effort. Creating the conditions necessary for parties to come together and be willing to enter into dialogue with sincerity does not happen overnight — and it certainly does not happen at the “end of a gun barrel”.

ALSO READ: China, US urged to take the lead in globalization process

China’s approach recognizes that conflicts are only resolved when the parties involved can become part of the solution. The US and the collective West generally seem to hold the view that solutions can somehow be unilaterally imposed.

The proposed international peace conference on the question of Palestine stands in stark contrast to the Ukraine conference promoted by the collective West, which will be held in Switzerland. In the latter case, Russia has not been invited. It is evidently expected to accept a fait accompli proposition.

Decades of US domination of West Asia’s geopolitics have delivered war and destruction. The unilateral methods of the US have not worked. The Arab powers have now coalesced around the new process and approach, which is focused on getting an international peace conference together. Such a conference in effect pushes the US off center stage and could mark the beginning of a new era of consensus-based regional statecraft.

The author is adjunct professor at Queensland University of Technology and a senior fellow at Taihe Institute. 

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.