A Crisis or Conflict Prevention Center for the Middle East

by Richard E. Darilek


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A recurrent theme in the multilateral talks on Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) for the Middle East has been the suggestion by participants in the talks that some form of crisis or conflict prevention center might help to assuage Arab-Israeli conflicts of interest in the region. This study employs the term "crisis prevention center" to identify the basic concept at issue, but the phrase should also be understood to imply other possible formulations of the issue as well—in particular, conflict or war prevention, in addition to crisis prevention, and designated mechanisms or arrangements, instead of a geographically located center.

At bottom, the general problem being addressed by these various formulations is prevention, and the particular question they seek to answer or define, in abbreviated fashion, is "prevention of what?" A less encapsulated, more discursive response to this question than simply the terms "crisis" or "conflict" might go as follows: the escalation of differences and disagreements into potentially violent conflicts of interest, up to and including all-out war—this is what needs to be prevented in the Middle East.

Another, equally valid definition of the question might cast the purpose of any prevention efforts in positive rather than negative terms—by asking, for example, what such efforts should seek to achieve, rather than what they should try to avoid. An alternative way of formulating the same goals would be to speak positively of increasing mutual understanding, building confidence, and promoting peace.

One way to bring all of these various objectives together into a unified or integrated concept is to organize and present them in the form of a spectrum or continuum, which is bounded by peace, on one hand, and war, on the other, with a crisis as the midpoint between the two bounding conditions. Such a spectrum of potential real-world developments, as well as policy objectives involved in dealing with them, is depicted in Figure S.1.

Candidate Objectives

Figure S.1. Spectrum of Developments Between Peace and War

As Figure S.1 indicates, any crisis can be viewed as a kind of way-station on the spectrum of developments between peace and war. Potentially, the chain of developments can move in either direction along this spectrum. One direction involves efforts to build or otherwise promote peace. The failure or absence of such efforts can help produce a crisis, especially in circumstances involving serious disagreements and the potential for hostile relationships, as in the Middle East.

Figure S.2. Spectrum of Potential Developments and Objectives

If the issue of prevention is framed, as in this study, in terms of a crisis prevention center for the Middle East, then a set of objectives specifically formulated to address that issue can also be postulated and located in relationship to other objectives and developments portrayed along the spectrum. In Figure S.2, several such objectives have been hypothesized and located below the line, toward the center of the spectrum. For ease of identification, they are grouped together beneath the spectrum and boxed by a shaded line. A few other specific objectives have been indicated below the spectrum to provide a richer context for understanding where and how the crisis prevention objectives fit into a broader universe of potential objectives.

The particular set of crisis prevention objectives presented below the line in Figure S.2 should be viewed as representative or suggestive—not definitive. In the end, it is up to the various parties in the region to define specific objectives for any crisis prevention center in the Middle East.

Historical Approaches

The notion of a geographic "center" or gathering place is only one among several possible approaches to where and how such crisis prevention objectives as the foregoing might be pursued.

Regional Geographic Centers

A current, highly visible precedent for thinking about crisis prevention in terms of a place is the Conflict Prevention Center (CPC). The CPC was established at the beginning of this decade in Vienna, Austria, by the members of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE)—since renamed the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Apart from the United Nations on a global scale, there is probably no better example of regional conflict prevention envisaged as a physically discrete center than the CPC in Europe.

Dedicated Communications Facilities

Other historical precedents and approaches are available for learning about how conflict prevention has been and might be pursued. Some of these derive from the cold war crises experienced by the United States and the Soviet Union. The Washington-Moscow "hotline," which was established during the 1960s in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, serves as a classic example of crisis prevention via dedicated facilities—primarily facilities for immediate and direct intergovernmental communications.

Multilateral variants of the direct communications approach to crisis prevention have also been agreed upon for Europe and North America in the Vienna Document of 1990.

Pre-Agreed Procedures

Yet a third approach to crisis prevention involves neither an established place nor dedicated facilities. Instead, this approach relies on procedures formulated, negotiated, and agreed upon in advance—referred to here as "pre-agreed procedures." Such procedures can be completely independent of particular places or facilities. In the 1970s, for example, the United States and the Soviet Union reached procedural agreements aimed at reducing or preventing the risk of war, particularly nuclear war, between them. Both parties also agreed upon a general code of conduct toward each other and toward third parties to help avoid or, failing that, to deal with nuclear confrontations.

There is a fourth historical approach to crisis prevention that should be noted in passing. Such an approach would resemble a collage of different elements, some of them drawn from the procedural, others from the communicative, and even some from the locational—Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone on the Korean peninsula springs to mind—approaches discussed above.

The Possibilities

In the spirit of making better-informed decisionmaking possible, this study concludes by suggesting how well, or ill, the range of crisis prevention objectives shown in Figure S.2 might be served by the different historical approaches to crisis prevention just described. The ultimate answer may be that some mixture of all three basic approaches is to be preferred. To reach that conclusion, however, one needs to develop a better-informed sense of how much each approach might contribute individually to meeting the various objectives. This study helps develop such a feel for the different approaches.

For the three main historically based approaches to crisis prevention, the study summarizes the possibilities as follows: The approach based on a geographic center would appear, on balance, to serve objectives on the "peace" side of the spectrum in Figures S.1 and S.2 more fully than any objectives on the "war" side of that spectrum. Conversely, the approach based on dedicated communications facilities would seem to address crisis management and conflict prevention objectives more directly than the crisis prevention and peace-building objectives situated to the left of the crisis point on the spectrum. The approach based on pre-agreed procedures could conceivably meet all of the various objectives specified in this study, but if regional participants harbor initial aversions to arms control, the full potential of this approach may not be achievable in the near term.

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Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Candidate Objectives

  • Chapter Three

    Historical Approaches to Crisis Prevention

  • Chapter Four

    The Possibilities

  • Chapter Five

    Concluding Observations

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