Home » English » „No one knows how the power structure will ultimately shift in the Middle East“ – interview with Steve LeVine

„No one knows how the power structure will ultimately shift in the Middle East“ – interview with Steve LeVine

Usually (especially after the success of „Putin’s Labyrinth“ book) people tend to associate your name to Russia. However, your experience as correspondent in the Central Asia and Middle East, makes me to focus the discussion on the events in Egypt and Arab world. For Egyptians still is a moment of euphoria. But political analysts are reticent. What would be the major concerns and challenges for world powers and zonal actors? And what should worry Egyptian people?
Analysts are reticent because no one knows what type of governmental system will result from the uprising, and how Egypt will interact with its nei­g­hbors. So that generates a whole series of questions for which unfortu­na­tely there are no answers, and very few clues. They include: Will the Army organize elections that end up reflec­ting the true will of voters, or will they reflect the leadership that its generals believe is „best“ for Egypt, regardless of their popularity? Whatever govern­ment is formed, how will it manage to satisfy the much-raised expectations of the Egyptian people? On foreign mat­ters, will Egypt continue to be a proactive intermediary in Middle East conflicts? Specifically regarding its respective relationships with Israel and the Palestinians – will it continue to be an honest broker between these antagonist parts?
Most journalists are asking: Who’s next? There will be a domino effect throughout the Arab world? Sure, perhaps with not the same speed of propagation …
I think it gets more difficult from here. After Egypt, the remaining despots of the region know that Tunisia was not a one-off event – they are all potentially in danger. Mubarak seems not to have thought he was vulnerable. Now they all know they are, and they are preparing. Yet none of that shifts the reality, which is that popular change really has happened in the Arab world. As I write this, the grip of the leaders of Bahrain and Yemen is in jeopardy. The situation in Libya is quite different.
How interpret in this context the statement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israeli army is prepared for anything, depending on how events will unfold in next time? What option has Israel at this point?
The events in Egypt potentially shake up geopolitics and security for Israel. The Palestinians could arise in a far more aggressive way, with the help of allies in Lebanon and elsewhere, for example. Israel no doubt has its lines of communication open with the Egyptian Army for this very reason. It wants Egypt to continue serving as a mediator with the Palestinians.
Behind the media uproar of unrest in North Africa, at the Munich Security Conference was put the last piece of the new treaty START 2. Fairly quietly, I would say, given that was a top priority for both presidents – Obama and Medvedev. So, beyond the official rhetoric, there will be a real change in approach to global nuclear programs for military purposes?
If what you mean is whether the key nuclear states – Russia and the United States – are going to do away with their nuclear arsenals, the answer is No. The first reason is that, even if they do, so many other countries have capability and are gaining it that it would be fruitless. Another reason is that it is a perceived fount of power in both countries that neither will surren­der. So they will continue to trim around the edges, and even dig deep and eradicate some of the weapons. But in the end both will retain very large arsenals.
Turning to events in Egypt and North Africa. Initially, the White House response has annoyed many people and generated confusion. It is a problem of strategy or just some communication deficiencies?
The events caught everyone – inclu­ding them – off guard. No one knew what to expect or what to say. Given what happened, that was the best approach, in my view. As long as no one was cheering on either side, no one could later claim that it was fomented from the outside, which as you know has been an allegation raised against other revolts in order to discredit them. I am talking about U­kraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. Not to mention the allegations made ​​in the conflict in Libya, where presumably the same logic the United States preferred not to be in the foreground.
At time when Mubarak step down, President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev (70 years and just only 20 since he is in power !) announced that he will run again. Decision welcomed by a senior public representative of the party in power in Russia. We witness at the same kind of hypocrisy from the big powers who tolerate such regimes as long as they are useful?
One can call the Western approach to such states hypocrisy; one can also call it realism. Is it the role of the United States to govern the politics of the world? If so, the list will be very long indeed. Meanwhile, it has foreign policy to conduct. Should it confine its diplomacy to the states with which it can agree politically? Obviously, no. There is a line on the extreme edge of course in which one attempts to isolate a state because its actions are egregious – like Libya nowadays. We can discuss long time which ones those are or might be.
How the international community react to political and social events of the world seems to suggest that it is a redesign of the spheres of influence, between the main geopolitical actors there is a tacit understanding, so long as they aren’t flagrantly violated its own interests. What is your opinion?
Certainly the lines of power are shifting, and doing so at a faster pace than expected when one is talking about China, for example. Meanwhile, no one knows how the power structure will ultimately shift in the Middle East, and when it does so what the impact will be on external actors such as the United States whose influence is important there. I think there is a general perception that power is shifting West to East. There are differences of opinion on what that means, and where the shift actually is on a continuum. But everyone knows it is happening and, while it is anguishing to some actors such as the United States, it must become accustomed to the idea. In terms of any tacit under­s­tandings, I’d say that’s about it. After that, it’s every person for himself. Nations would like to preserve and expand free trade, to preserve com­mercial stability, but the wealth and power of nations enters the equation, and everyone has his own opinion as to whose wealth and whose power is most beneficial for the rest of humanity.

interview made by Gabriela Ioniţă

Steve LeVine is a contributing editor at Foreign Policy and the author of «The Oil and the Glory» and «Putin’s Labyrinth». He is also an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, where he teaches energy and security in the Security Studies Program. Previously, he was chief foreign affairs writer for BusinessWeek and correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Newsweek.

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