Friday 01 November 2013

Syria today, Egypt last month, Turkey the month before…. It is not surprising that humans crave stability in life, since instability, particularly region-wide instability, can have significant negative effects on everyone. One goal for any sound national security strategy should be to enhance regional security in order to improve domestic prosperity. Regional instability has a deleterious effect on four key elements of national security: interstate commerce, national economics, individual prosperity and diplomatic relations.

Commerce: Without regional security trade slows due to insecure transit routes, prices increase due to rising insurance rates and increased time delays, and tourists simply refuse to travel to locations which seem too dangerous to visit.

Economics: Stock markets fall, prices rise and people and companies hoard resources with instability, international companies become hesitant to invest in local markets and the costs of labor and technical expertise required for infrastructure improvements skyrocket. Last month, Dr. Jasem Al Mannai, Director General of the Arab Monetary Fund, confirmed in a Gulf News interview that: “Global demand and regional political instability remain the two main factors that will affect the performance of Arab economies in the coming two years. ... Hopefully, the return of political stability in the region, particularly in countries that are undergoing political transition, will be achieved, so as to regain investor’s confidence and restore macroeconomic stability.”

Individual prosperity: Human security declines as refugee flows burst borders, overwhelm local response capabilities and increase prices of staples for all citizens; disease rates increase and those least able to cope are affected most severely, which causes cultural deterioration. According to the UN, nearly two million Syrian children — virtually an entire generation — have dropped out of school over the last year due to the devastation caused by the civil war. Sectarian divisions become more acute as conditions worsen for everyone, and as human security erodes, crime and incidents of terrorism increase.

Diplomatic relations: Traditional diplomatic relations are complicated by instability; trust decays; nations that have been close allies grow distant and former enemies grow more vocal in critique. Most importantly, without effective diplomacy, other, more harmful responses become more likely.

So given the clear negative impact, how can officials work to prevent regional instability? One would hope that states themselves could reduce tensions, but unfortunately the more common approach has required working through international bodies such as the Arab League, the GCC or the UN. Even though these organizations are not always formed specifically to deal with instability, their words and actions have positive effects, are accepted more readily among rivals, and thus are more appealing in times of regional crisis.

Secondly, nations can contribute aid and enhance investments to strengthen economic linkages among regional neighbors; the UAE has been particularly strong in this area. Helping other nations strengthen their government institutions is also very helpful. Finally, candid, transparent dialog, at all levels and through every means, can help reduce tensions, prevent misunderstandings and increase trust.

Obviously, the use of force rarely increases regional stability and should always be the last resort for regional problems. Enduring regional instability makes every other type of national security more challenging and strategists should make moderating it a consistent first priority.