War in the Middle East

Authored by: Raymond Hinnebusch

The Routledge Handbook to the Middle East and North African State and States System

Print publication date:  November  2019
Online publication date:  November  2019

Print ISBN: 9780367358877
eBook ISBN: 9780429342486
Adobe ISBN:


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The Middle East is the most war-prone region. Using Kenneth Waltz’s three-level framework, this chapter asks if war proneness is built into the region’s non-democratic states, is down to power-hungry authoritarian rulers or is a function of the anarchy of the regional states system. The study finds that war is driven by the abundance of revisionist states. But revisionism is not a function of regime—democratic or authoritarian—type since this does not distinguish more from less war-prone MENA states. Rather, it is a function of the regional systems’ construction as a Hobbesian anarchy, manifest in pervasive irredentism; disputed boundaries; and the heterogeneity of regime legitimacy principles. Exacerbating regional instability is the struggle over oil resources between regional and global powers. These factors generate pervasive security dilemmas and offensive realist struggles over hegemony. But whether a particular war erupts at a particular time depends on whether the power balance deters or enables it and whether a risk-taker or ideologue is in power.

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