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 soldiers stand guard as Syrian refugees cross border (photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkish soldiers stand guard as Syrian refugees cross border
(photo credit: 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.
While the 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 conflicts.
The nuclearization of Iran and the high-intensity conflict threat
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.
Such a 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 domino effect.
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 precise.
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 Moscow.
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 political AK–47
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 Arab world.
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 society.
The assumption of democracy would flourish in the Arab world following dictators’ demises might be naivety and wishful thinking.
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 region.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.