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Forum on “The Mediterranean as a Stage for the Potential Cold War Between Russia and the United States”

Fundación Tres Culturas, with the cooperation of Casa Árabe, the Real Instituto Elcano and Obra Social La Caixa, are analyzing the relations between Russia and the United States, and how they affect the Mediterranean, with the help of several of the most prestigious international experts on geopolitics.

November 22, 2017
This activity, which will be held on the dates of November 30 and December 1, will be subsidized by the Spanish Government’s State Secretariat of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and forms part of the wide range of activities to be held by the State Secretariat in order to study, analyze and execute the tenets of Spain’s foreign policy.

The comings and goings in the bilateral relations between the US and Russia, and their respective alliances with different role-players in the Near East, including Iran, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen, are playing a very important role in changing the way this region of the world works. Sometimes under the surface, and at other times much more overtly, the positions which these two powers are taking in terms of certain problems and interests in the region will undoubtedly leave a mark on their current and final status. These ups and downs have been a constant throughout the history of contemporary international relations. According to most experts, they reached a flash point at the time of the so-called “Cuban Missile Crisis” in October 1962, which was on the verge of unleashing the greatest nuclear disaster in History. The disputes over what system of governance and administration was best, whether Communism or Capitalism, left a deep scar on these relations in the twentieth century.

After a few years in which Russia decreased in importance once it lost its status as a superpower (after the long Soviet period), it seems to have returned to the international arena with a foreign policy of a revisionist leaning, ushering in the end of its honeymoon with the West and a huge increase in its defense budget, as announced by President Putin at the security conference held that same year in Munich. Given this state of affairs, we must ask ourselves which of the three stages where it carries out its foreign policy will it be focusing on most: its surrounding region, the Near East or the West itself. Without a doubt, the Near East is where a large portion of its vital interests lie, including the sea outlet to the Mediterranean which it has been seeking since the era of the “Great Game.”

As for the United States, there are many questions arising since the White House was occupied on January 20 by the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump. The controversial new Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful military in the world must reach important decisions in the field of international relations, above all with regard to Russia. With the eyes of the tigers in Southeast Asia and China constantly looking on, we must also wonder whether he will seek deeper relations, as Nixon did, in an approach towards Russia, which has already taken the form of public displays of admiration for Putin. Whatever the case may be, his dealings in the Near East, some of the people he has appointed to important diplomatic positions, his praise for the “wall of shame” separating Israel and Palestine and his intentions to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, do not bode well for a well-balanced journey for the Trump Administration.

All of this could possibly be envisioned as forming part of a process to create a shared new international order, in a world with diverging historical perspectives plagued with violent conflicts, technology out of control and ideological extremism.  Reassessing this balance of power may be determined by the great crisis which the “separation of powers” system extolled by Montesquieu has reached. In addition to the three traditional powers, two more have arisen, economic power and business, which are now at the front of the pack, leading the race ahead of the traditional powers, enmeshing themselves with the others to muddy the perception which people have of them even further.

Given this state of affairs, it is advisable to stop and take a look at the Near East, which has been and continues today to be one of the regions with the most upheaval in the world. Last year, the Sykes-Picot Agreement turned one hundred years old. In November of this year, the same anniversary is taking place for the Balfour Declaration. Along with the plan to partition Palestine, proposed in UN Resolution 181, these were three milestones of extraordinary importance in determining how today’s Near East would be configured. In this sense, and as we can see from the above statements, not only for Russia, but also for the United States, this remains a region of vital importance for their respective interests, which is why some questions must be asked that involve their bilateral relations and, as a result, affect the rest of the world. Some of these might be: Should the role of the EU in the Mediterranean be redefined? Could Morocco be a role model to follow for the other countries in the Maghreb and Mashreq regions in terms of cooperation and relations with the EU? What will the position of the U.S. and Russia be with regard to Iran and the nuclear topic? And what about Saudi Arabia? In what direction are the existing rivalries headed over the control of natural resources in the region? What do the two superpowers have planned for Daesh, not only in Iraq and Syria, but also in the hypothetical event that, once defeated, it will attempt to reinvent itself in Africa? What role will be played by the mass media in this new reconfiguration of the region? How can we emerge from the crisis in the separation of powers system in countries where democracy has already taken root, or get democracy to reach countries where it does not yet exist? Besides the proper political and constitutional reforms, will a new uprising by the people and civil society be necessary, as a sort of “Arab Spring 2.0,” headed mainly by youths and women, in order to achieve more and better democracy, employment and social justice?

Ultimately, the main objective at this international seminar is to use detailed critical analysis to study the course which might be taken by this historic dispute for world hegemony between two powers, especially now that Trump’s Administration has taken office, and in what way this will affect the Near East, North Africa and the whole Mediterranean in general.

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Forum on “The Mediterranean as a Stage for the Potential Cold War Between Russia and the United States”