Middle East: how can we reduce the conflict?

Advancing Society and Culture

Deakin researchers will investigate the role of regional actors in fuelling Middle East proxy wars, with the hope of finding ways to reduce the bloodshed.

The ongoing conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan are estimated to have led to the deaths of more than 600,000 people. In a bid to assess the impact of regional actors in these wars and understand the dynamics of how they work, Carnegie Corporation of New York has awarded a multi-year grant to Deakin University’s Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh, Dr Zahid Shahab Ahmed and Dr Dara Conduit.

The researchers are all experts in the Middle East and Central Asia, based within the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation. They will work alongside international partners and policymakers in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.

Professor Akbarzadeh explained that many conflicts in the Middle East have a proxy component to them. Proxy wars occur when two countries or actors within a region act on behalf of other parties not directly involved in the conflict. The ongoing wars in Syria and Afghanistan were chosen for the study because of the depth of foreign interference in each conflict, as well as the diversity of external players involved, and the longevity of each conflict.

“Regional proxy conflicts have become the most significant driver of insecurity in the broader Middle East, and external actors are fuelling the fires of conflict in Syria and Afghanistan,” Professor Akbarzadeh said.

“The Syrian conflict is a bitter example of where a sovereign state and the international community have manifestly failed in their responsibilities to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes, and where the involvement of external patrons has changed the dynamics of intra-state conflict.”
Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh
Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh Alfred Deakin Institute

“This project will provide an important evidence-based study to help us develop a new understanding of proxy conflicts. By working with local policymakers, academics, and practitioners from these regions, we aim to shed light on the scale of external intervention and develop multilateral policy alternatives to address this dire situation and the ongoing humanitarian crises. This extensive collaboration with local partners will enhance our chances of success.”

Professor Akbarzadeh noted the proxy wars require an ambitious, whole-of-region response.

“The proxy crisis in the Middle East is larger than any one state, and patron states on their own are unlikely to change their behaviour unilaterally,” he said.

“We will draw on contacts in the Persian Gulf, South Asia, and Central Asia to advance new understandings of the evolving role of state and non-state actors. The involvement of local experts from the Arab region will support the development of viable, locally-driven policy responses to the proxy conflicts.

“It’s our goal that this project will provide the evidence and momentum required to help drive action to address this urgent area of regional security, by including policymakers as stakeholders throughout the process as a way of ensuring a sustained policy response.”

The Deakin University project, “Assessing the impact of external actors in the Syrian and Afghan proxy wars”, was made possible by an International Peace and Security grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York, and is slated to be completed in June 2020.

 

Main photograph (left to right): Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh, Dr Dara Conduit and Dr Zahid Shahab Ahmed.
CREDIT: Simon Fox.

 

Published by Deakin Research on 30 October 2018

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