The Gulf, Turkey, conflict, and global governance

The latest issue of International Affairs has 16 articles on a range of subjects from transnational politics in the Gulf to psychological warfare in China.

Expert comment Updated 17 August 2021 Published 12 July 2021 2 minute READ

Shifting dynamics in the gulf

The Gulf region remains an area undergoing significant change. At its heart there is a competition over narratives of identity, nationhood and sovereignty. In her article Jocelyn Mitchell highlights how Qatar’s political leadership is seeking to change how Qatar and its people are perceived both domestically and internationally. 

The hosting of these clerical associations provides a means for states historically weak in religious capital to buy influence.

Kristin Diwan, Senior Resident Scholar, Arab Gulf States Institute

Kristin Diwan examines the role of clerical associations in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, revealing how they seek to maximize their influence through the narrative of religion, while Jessie Moritz looks at how Bahraini exile groups are seeking to challenge the narrative put out by the Bahraini government. 

All three, in a sense, are indicative of the post-Arab Awakening narrative contest between individuals, groups and the state. In the realm of inter-state relations, Florence Gaub and Lotje Boswinkel look at how the different Gulf states use airspace as a means to exert their sovereignty and send signals to their rivals.

Turkish foreign policy in a changing international order

This issue contains three papers on different aspects of Turkish foreign policy. The recent confrontation between Russia and the United Kingdom over the passage of a Royal Navy ship reminds us that the Black Sea remains an area of confrontation between Russia and NATO. Turkey’s geostrategic positioning is critical in this context, and it also carries significant implications for the balance of power in the Middle East. 

How do we account for Turkey’s increasingly assertive foreign policy based on the projection of hard power beyond its material capabilities?

Mustafa Kutlay, Lecturer, City University of London; Ziya Öniş, Professor of International Political Economy, Koç University

The three articles featured in this issue explore Turkish foreign policy under President Erdogan, focusing on the country’s engagement with the international order, regional partners, and developing countries. They also consider how external perceptions of Turkey have changed over the last decade as President Erdogan has consolidated his power. From Syria and the eastern Mediterranean to Iran and Afghanistan, Turkey is increasingly asserting itself in the critical flashpoints across the region. This collection seeks to identify the motivations behind Erdogan’s actions and rhetoric. 

Conflict, intervention and statebuilding

The withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan this month has sparked soul-searching about the purpose and efficacy of military interventions. Maria-Louise Clausen and Peter Albrecht provide some much-needed historical context, surveying the past 30 years of thinking about interventions since the end of the Cold War.

Using Burundi as a case study Ntagahoraho Burihabwa and Devon Curtis argue that ‘illiberal’ authoritarian governments are often those which emerge in the wake of conflict. Andrea Schneiker provides an insight into the inherent inequalities built into post-conflict peace negotiations, in particular highlighting how women are marginalized within these processes. 

It is a sign of moral bankruptcy that the global North is increasingly content explicitly to prioritize its own safety at the expense of civilians and militaries of the global South.

Maria-Louise Clausen, Senior Researcher, Danish Institute for International Studies; Peter Albrecht, Senior Researcher, Danish Institute for International Studies

Meanwhile Janine Clark’s article focuses on the plight of victims of conflict-related sexual violence, arguing the United Nations needs to develop a more nuanced approach to the issue. This is not to de-emphasize the impact that such abuse has had on those that have suffered but to recognize there are other elements at play and such an approach imposes its own limitations and consequences. 

Global governance

The future of international order remains a dominant theme within the study of international relations. This issue includes several articles reflecting on the power and influence of the traditional structures of global governance. 

China has already been successful in using the UN to promote and legitimize its agenda.

Courtney Fung, Associate Professor of International Relations, University of Hong Kong; Shing-Hon Lam, PhD student, University of California, Los Angeles

Kristen Hopewell looks at the impact of the Trump administration on the liberal trading order through the case study of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Joanne Wallis and Anna Powles turn our attention to the Indo-Pacific, exploring the dynamics of burden-sharing within alliances between the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands, against a context of Chinese assertiveness in the region. 

Meanwhile, Courtney Fung and Shing-hon Lam argue concerns around the increase of Chinese nationals working for the United Nations (UN) are misplaced. The UN is also the concern of Jelena Cupać and Irem Ebetürk’s article, tracing the backlash against the institution’s women’s rights agenda by conservative NGOs and advocacy groups. Both articles are reminders that the UN itself is a potent battleground for competing geopolitical and social narratives.

All articles mentioned above are available to download in the July 2021 issue of International Affairs.