Future of war in Middle East: Between Ak47s, nukes
The concept “Revolution in Military Affairs” (RMA) was at the height of its popularity during the 1990s.
Turkish troops guard, Syrian refugees cross border Photo: REUTERS
The concept “Revolution in Military Affairs” (RMA) was at the height of its
popularity during the 1990s when American military thinkers started build on the
Soviet’s “military technical revolution” understanding.
Briefly, the RMA
offered a revolutionary change in warfare through dramatic technological,
organizational and doctrinal shifts.
By the 2000s, the concept is getting
purified and refined by the recent lessons learned from the early 21st century
conflicts. Apart from the military theoretical debate, the Middle Eastern
security environment is on the verge of its own RMA, which might drastically
change the regional threat landscape in a near future.
state-led conventional war threat is declining, the future warfare in the region
is moving towards the two extremes, namely, towards low and high-intensity
The nuclearization of Iran and the high-intensity conflict
The first pattern is the mounting potential of high intensity conflicts
(HIC). Tehran stands at the very center of it. Possible emergence of a nuclear
Iran will be tantamount to gifting mass destruction capability to a
revolutionary regime which depends on an extremist ideology.
development will “introduce nuclear weapons” to one of the most troublesome
regions of the world, thus, most probably, it will exacerbate mass military
procurements (as being seen in the Saudi Arabian example), and the increasing
interest in the nuclear energy programs which might lead to a catastrophic
The points mentioned above were examined in most studies
about the issue. However, there are three more crucial parameters which should
be taken into consideration. First, a nuclear Iran will probably cause an
aggressive shift in the military doctrines and strategic calculations of its
neighboring states. The static understanding about the nuclear deterrence, or
mutually destructive “peace” between nuclear blocs, is not always
As a matter of fact, during the Cold War, the conventionally
superior Soviet threat in the Europe brought about the Allied strategy of first
use of the nuclear capacity when facing a conventional aggression by
Therefore, in case of a bipolar or multi-polar nuclearization of
the ME, and given the tense political landscape, most likely the question will
be about who will press the button first.
The second point is about
political-economy of military affairs. Put simply, as long as the oil prices keep
high and emerging markets keep demanding, both nuclearization and mass military
procurements will be sustainable in the region.
And third, the
ideological fragmentation of the ME depends on complicated ethno-religious and
sectarian disputes which might jeopardize rationality in the military strategic
decision- making. The HIC threat in the region would mean the nuclearization of
the deep rooted historical vendettas.
Briefly, the Iranian case and the
rising HIC trend will not only open the Pandora’s Box in the region, but might
also “nuclearize” it to the bitter end.
The low intensity conflicts: The
Along with the mounting HIC threat, the LIC threat landscape has
already started dominating the future warfare in the ME. There are two rising
tracks regarding the LIC potential of the region. The first one is the rise of
proxy wars as an instrument of inter-state power struggles, and the second track
is the swift ignition of the radical extremism following the turbulence in the
Most likely, the increasing destructiveness and cost of
conventional warfare is to pave the ground for more proxy wars in the future.
Widespread non-state violent groups, intelligence services’ improving abilities
in this field, and the current demographic trends of the region show signs of a
“shining” future for proxy wars.
As a matter of fact, the Syrian turmoil
is a test of Turkey’s and Gulf States’ proxy war capabilities against that of
the Tehran-led Shiite/Allawite bloc; and Iran’s diligent support to the Baathist
regime roots from the will of keeping its proxy war capacity against Israel,
namely, keeping its gate to Hezbollah open. Considering Tehran’s efforts to
spread Hezbollah into a wide spectrum, which would even cover South America, may
give a hint about the nature of the threat.
On the other hand, the recent
extremist and terrorist radicalism against US diplomatic missions, which caused
the tragic death of a senior American diplomat in Libya, showed the influence of
religious narrative and provocation susceptibility in the greater ME. This
potential is expected to enable violent extremist groups to exploit and mobilize
angry mobs more effectively in the future. Such a development will most probably
encourage a vicious cycle between the Islamo-phobia in the West, and anti-
Western sentiments among the Islamic societies.
Democracy is a complex
sociopolitical institution which necessitates immense transformation of a
The assumption of democracy would flourish in the Arab world
following dictators’ demises might be naivety and wishful
Ironically, the dictators like Gaddafi and Mubarak have
functioned as “buffer zones” between the radical extremist movements with
grassroots potential and the West. Thus, the LIC trend seems to mount not only
in failed or fragile states, but also in immature democracy attempts of the
Conclusion: The ‘Apocalyptic Scenario’
Although the overall
picture is not promising in terms of prospect of peace, the two dominant
threats, the LIC and HIC tracks are mounting simultaneously but separately.
Thus, the two democracies of the region, Turkey and Israel, are still able to go
through fire and water in the future warfare landscape.
However, in a
possible combination of those threats, clearly, in case Iran not only reaches
the nuclear capacity but transfers it to its proxies like Hezbollah, or the
Baathist tyranny decides to arm PKK with its notorious chemical weapons arsenal
to retaliate the Turkish efforts of stopping the inhumane crackdown, then the
doomsday would prevail in the ME, which would end all liberties and security
assurances we know.
Therefore, the burden is not only on the shoulders of
top military planners and executors, but also military futurists and strategic
forecasters to keep the ME safe.
The author, who served as a
post-doctoral fellow for the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at
Bar-Ilan University, holds a PhD from the Turkish War College, and a Master’s
degree from the Turkish Military Academy.