Writing Insecurity: Sources of Disruption in Middle East IR Theory

By Waleed Hazbun
Submitted to Session P4798 (Rethinking Security Studies in the Arab World: In/Security Beyond the State, 2017 Annual Meeting
Intl Rltns/Aff
All Middle East;
Current Events;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This essay argues that understanding the geopolitics of the post-Uprisings Arab world requires the introduction of new theoretical tools and models to integrate our evolving understanding of the changing picture of transnational networks that sustain armed conflict, the shifting dynamics of state-societies relations, and the organization of new governing structures at the local level. Drawing insights from theories in political geography and study of complexity and self-organizing systems, this essay develops an approach to the study of the regional geopolitics that recognizes 1) the heterogeneous nature of the security environment composed of diverse state, non-state, and transnational actors who serve as both agents of security and insecurity and 2) how these actors are embedded in transnational security relationships.

Using this approach, the essay maps the development of turbulence within the Middle East regional system and identifies trends towards what it argues is a shift from statist to post-statist geopolitics in the era since the US-led invasion of Iraq. With the erosion of state governance and capacity combined with intense forms of regional and external intervention, the essay traces how the very texture of regional geopolitics is being transformed as diverse ‘hybrid’ actors and transnational processes create networks and social organizations that are not fully or formally sovereign but nonetheless increasingly wield power and control territory. Meanwhile, with rival states across the region’s geopolitical divides similarly seeking to influence and control such hybrid actors and networks, the result is a turbulent regional system in which state interests are often hard to discern and shift in complex ways.

Lebanon is often viewed as the quintessential “weak state”, with this weakness in turn viewed as a source of political instability and regional insecurity. This essay argues that while Lebanon during its civil war 1975-1990 functioned as such, in the post-2003 era Lebanon has better accommodated the shift to post-statist geopolitics by developing a “weak” but plural system of governance over security that has been relative effective and surprisingly resilient in containing both domestic and external security threats. Meanwhile, much of the region—most notably Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya—have come to function as open battlegrounds for hybrid actors, transnational networks and external forces. Lebanon, however, should not be dismissed as a unique case. Instead, it offers a context from which to develop new theoretical perspectives about how to promote pluralistic political and security arrangements and coordination between diverse state and hybrid actors.