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Sovereignty, nationalism, and regional order in the Arab states system

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 May 2009

Michael N. Barnett
Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and is currently a MacArthur International Peace and Security Fellow.

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What accounts for the development of the Arab states system from the explosive mix of Arab nationalism and sovereignty to their simultaneous existence? To understand this development, one must first examine how institutions can shape the very interests and roles of states in such a manner as to encourage the development of relatively stable expectations and shared norms; that is, regional order. This approach illuminates how inter-Arab interactions and state formation processes led to the consolidation of sovereignty and a meaning of Arab nationalism that is consistent with sovereignty. Consequently, this region highlights how sovereignty—and its lack thereof—is consequential for understanding interstate dynamics, and how different meanings of the nation have different implications for security.

Copyright © The IO Foundation 1995

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The following individuals commented on earlier drafts of this article and the ideas that produced this version: Emanuel Adler, Gehad Auda, Raymond Duvall, Peter Katzenstein, F. Gregory Gause, Ellis Goldberg, Moshe Maoz, Robert McCalla, Joel Migdal, Craig Murphy, Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, Malik Mufti, John Odell, Avraham Sela, Janice Thomson, Cindy Weber, Jutta Weldes, Alexander Wendt, Crawford Young, many others at the Social Sciences Research Council-sponsored workshop at Brown University, 26–28 February, 1993, and the anonymous referees at International Organization. I also thank the research assistance of Ashshraf Rady in Cairo, Avi Muallen in Tel-Aviv, and Michael Malley in Madison, Wisconsin. This research was supported by the MacArthur Program in International Peace and Security and the Global Studies and Research Program at the University of Wisconsin. An earlier version of this article will appear in Thomas Biersteker and Cynthia Weber, eds., State Sovereignty as Social Construct (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

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23. The quotation is from Krasner, Stephen, “Sovereignty: An Institutional Perspective,” Comparative Political Studies 21 (04 1988), pp. 6694 at p. 83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Also see Gould, Stephen Jay, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1989)Google Scholar; Putnam, Robert, Making Democracy Work (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 6Google Scholar; Young, O., International Cooperation, p. 65Google Scholar, and North, Douglass, Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 8687CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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29. For instance, writes, E. H. Carr, “The homo politicus who pursues nothing but power is as unreal a myth as the homo economicus who pursues nothing but gain.” The Twenty Years' Crisis (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), p. 97Google Scholar.

30. Moreover, , Kissinger's narrative intimates that these legitimation principles were not shaped by the distribution of military power alone. See Kissinger, Henry, A World Restored (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1964)Google Scholar.

31. Waltz, , Theory of International Politics, pp. 7477Google Scholar.Buzan, Jones, and Little also focus on the relationship between socialization and international order. See Buzan, Barry, Jones, Charles, and Little, Richard, The Logic of Anarchy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), pp. 3940Google Scholar.

32. As Alexander writes, “For the sake of interpretation it is often more useful to move backwards, from one's discovery of the residual categories back to the basic tensions which they have been developed to obscure.” See his Twenty Lectures, pp. 124–25. “It follows from this,” writes Parsons, “that the surest symptom of impending change in a theoretical system is increasingly general interest in such residual categories.” See Parsons, Talcott, The Structure of Social Action, vol. 1 (New York: Free Press, 1968), p. 18Google Scholar.

33. For realist-inspired explanations, see Vatikiotis, P. J., Conflict in the Middle East (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1971)Google Scholar; Vntikiotis, P. J., Arab and Regional Politics in the Middle East (New York: St. Martin's, 1984)Google Scholar; Walt, , The Origin of Alliances; Shibley Telhami, Power and Leadership in International Bargaining (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990)Google Scholar; and Owen, Roger, State, Power, and Politics in the Making of the Modem Middle East (New York: Routledge, 1992), pp. 9092CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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35. Walt, , The Origin of Alliances, p. 87Google Scholar.

36. Ajami, Fouad, The Arab Predicament: Arab Political Thought–Practice Since 1967 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981)Google Scholar.

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38. See, for instance, Vatikiotis, Arab and Regional Politics in the Middle East; and Dessouki and Korany, The Foreign Policies of the Arab States.

39. Another view holds the superpowers responsible for the decline of pan-Arabism and the rise of statism. For this position, see Barakat, Halim, The Arab World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993)Google Scholar. Although the superpowers have affected the region, and the Middle East can be understood as a “subordinate system” –it is penetrated and affected by great power rivalries–I agree with those who portray the superpowers as accommodating themselves to, accentuating, or mitigating already present inter-Arab dynamics. See Ajami, The Arab Predicament; Ben-Dor, State and Conflict in the Middle East; Brown, L. Carl, International Politics and the Middle East (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984)Google Scholar; Noble, “The Arab State System”; Baghat Korany and Ali Dessouki, “The Global System and Arab Foreign Policies,” in Korany, and Dessouki, , The Foreign Policies of Arab States, pp. 1939Google Scholar; and Walt, , The Origin of Alliances, p. 158Google Scholar.

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44. See Berger, Peter, “Identity as a Problem in the Sociology of Knowledge,” European Journal of Sociology, vol. 7, no. 1, 1966, pp. 105115CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Young, O., International Cooperation, p. 197Google Scholar; Mead, George Herbert, Mind, Self, and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), pp. 136–43Google Scholar. Institutions also signal who are the central agents. See Stryker, , Symbolic Interactionism, p. 57Google Scholar. In this reading, sovereignty is more than simply a constraint on state action, for it also denotes that states are the central actors in international politics, which gives them particular identities.

45. See Ikenberry, G. John and Kupchan, Charles A., “Socialization and Hegemonic Power,” International Organization 44 (Summer 1990), pp. 283315 and p. 289 in particularCrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Wendt, , “Anarchy is What States Make of It,” p. 399Google Scholar.

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50. For a detailed study of this period, see Fromkin, David, A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Rise of the Modern Middle East (New York: Henry Holt, 1989)Google Scholar. One reason for mandate system was to instruct these potential states in the norms of international society in general and sovereignty in particular, thereby adhering to the Great Powers' interests. See Louis, Wm. Roger, “The Era of the Mandates System and the Non-European World,” in Bull, Hedley and Watson, Adam, eds., The Expansion of International Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), pp. 201–13Google Scholar.

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52. This charge that the mandate system was designed to divide the Arab nation is raised by Antonius, , The Arab Awakening, pp. 248–9Google Scholar, and by Khadduri, Majjid, “Towards an Arab Union: The League of Arab States,” American Political Science Review 40 (02 1946), pp. 90100 and p. 90CrossRefGoogle Scholar in particular. On the shifting basis of mobilization and collective action, see Taylor, Alan, The Arab Balance of Power System (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1982), p. 151Google Scholar; Breuilly, John, Nationalism and the State (New York: St. Martin's, 1982), p. 124Google Scholar; Antonius, , The Arab Awakening, pp. 325–26Google Scholar; and Sharma, J. P., The Arab Mind: A Study of Egypt, Arab Unity, and the World (Delhi: H. K. Publishers and Distributors, 1990), p. 18Google Scholar. One possibility is that had the Arab world remained politically whole, and not divided into separate administrative units, Arab independence movements might have become more pan-Arab in character. For a similar observation concerning the West African states, see Jackson and Rosberg, “Why Africa's Weak States Persist.”

53. Many statist-oriented movements were associated with particular class interests. See Khoury, Philip, Syria and the French Mandate (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987)Google Scholar; Hourani, Albert, Syria and Lebanon: A Political Essay (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946), p. 118Google Scholar; and Batatu, Hanna, The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements in Iraq (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978)Google Scholar.

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55. See Khalidi, Rashid, “Arab Nationalism: Historical Problems in the Literature,” American Historical Review 96 (12 1991), pp. 1363–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Khalidi, Rashid et al. , eds., Arab Nationalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991)Google Scholar.

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58. Hourani, , Syria and Lebanon, p. 101Google Scholar.For good overviews of Arab nationalism, see Duri, A. A., The Historical Formation of the Arab Nation (New York: Croom Helm, 1987)Google Scholar; Tibi, Arab Nationalism; Khalidi, “Arab Nationalism”; Khalidi et al., Arab Nationalism; Antonius, The Arab Awakening; and Hourani, , A History of the Arab Peoples, p. 343Google Scholar.

59. Taylor, , The Arab Balance of Power System, p. 23.Google ScholarAlso see MacDonald, Robert, The League of Arab States: A Study in the Dynamics of Regional Organization (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1965), pp. 3338Google Scholar.

60. For explanations of how pan-Arabism led to state policies that violated the principle of noninterference, see Roger Owen, “Arab Nationalism, Arab Unity, and Arab Solidarity,” in Asad, Talal and Owen, Roger, eds., Sociology of the “Developing Societies”: The Middle East (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983), pp. 1622 and p. 20 in particularGoogle Scholar; and Salame, Ghassan, “Inter-Arab Politics: The Return to Geography,” in Quandt, William, ed., The Middle East: Ten Years After Camp David (Washington: Brookings Press, 1988), pp. 345–46Google Scholar.

61. For a related argument emphasizing sovereignty, see III, F. Gregory Gause, “Sovereignty, Statecraft, and Stability in the Middle East,” Journal of International Affairs 45 (Winter 1992), pp. 441–67Google Scholar; and Brynen, Rex, “Palestine and the Arab State System: Permeability, State Consolidation, and the Intifida,” Canadian Journal of Political Science 24 (09 1991), pp. 594621CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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63. The distinction between juridical and empirical sovereignty is consistent with that offered by Jackson, Robert, Quasi-States: Sovereignty, International Relations, and the Third World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990)Google Scholar.

64. Linklater, Andrew, “The Problem of Community in International Relations,” Alternatives 15 (Spring 1990), pp. 135–53. The quotation is drawn from p. 136CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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66. See Bloom, William, Personal Identity, National Identity, and International Relations (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 100103CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Mayall, James, Nationalism and International Society (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p 121CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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68. New York Times, 8 July 1991, p. A2.

69. Viors, Miltont, “A Reporter at Large (Kuwait),” New Yorker, 30 09 1991, pp. 3772 and pp. 38–39 in particularGoogle Scholar.

70. On the relationship between war and Iraqi nation building, see Davis, Eric, “State Building in Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War and the Gulf Crisis,” in Mildarsky, Manus, ed., The Internationalization of Communal Strife (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1992)Google Scholar.

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73. See Brynen, , “Palestine and the Arab State System,” p. 611Google Scholar; and Owen, , “Arab Nationalism, Arab Unity, and Arab Solidarity,” p. 21Google Scholar.

74. Owen, ibid.

75. Brynen, , “Palestine and the Arab State System,” p. 613Google Scholar.

76. Luciani, Giacomo and Salame, Ghassan, “The Politics of Arab Integration,” in Luciani, , The Arab State, p. 398Google Scholar.

77. The quotations are from Baram, “Territorial Nationalism in the Middle East”; and Hourani, , A History of the Arab Peoples, p. 448,Google Scholar respectively. Also see. 451 of the Hourani volume. Gause shows that an increasing percentage of the gross national product of these states is utilized by the government, demonstrating that the citizens' needs are more closely linked to the state. See Gause, “Sovereignty, Statecraft, and Stability in the Middle East,” p. 460Google Scholar.

78. Wendt, , “Anarchy is What States Make of It,” pp. 14–7Google Scholar.

79. Ibid. pp. 406–7.

80. On interaction, social identities and roles, and order, also see Berger and Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality; Nicholas Abercrombie, “Knowledge, Order, and Human Autonomy,” in Hunter, J. and Ainlay, S., eds., Making Sense of Modern Times: Peter Berger and the Vision of Interpretive Sociology (New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986), pp. 1130 and pp. 18–19 in particularGoogle Scholar; and Turner, Jonathan, The Theory of Social Interaction (Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1988)Google Scholar.

81. Boden, Deirdre, “The World as it Happens: Ethnomethodology and Conversational Analysis,” in Ritzer, George, ed., Frontiers of Social Theory (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), pp. 185213 and p. 189 in particular.Google Scholar This view, of course, is consistent with Wendt's phrase, “anarchy is what states make of it.”

82. See Porath, Yehoshua, In Search of Arab Unity (London: Frank Cass, 1986)Google Scholar; Seale, Patrick, The Struggle for Syria (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986)Google Scholar; and Baddy-Weitzmann, Bruce, The Crystallization of the Arab State System (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1993)Google Scholar.

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84. Kerr, Malcom, The Arab Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971)Google Scholar; Taylor, , The Arab Balance of Power System, p. 37Google Scholar; Vatikiotis, , Arab and Regional Politics in the Middle East, p. 84Google Scholar; and Owen, , State, Power, and Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East, p. 88Google Scholar.

85. For more on these talks see Ken, Arab Cold War.

86. Ajami, The Arab Predicament.

87. BBC World Broadcast, ME/2519/ A/8,18 July 1967.

88. Ansari, Hameid, Egypt: The Stalled Society (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), p. 150Google Scholar.

89. BBC World Broadcasts, ME/2561 /A/6, 6 September 1967. Also see the editorials in the Baghdadi al-Fajr al-Jadid and the Egyptian al-Akhbar al-Yawm, reprinted in British Broadcasting Company, BBC World Broadcasts, ME/2558/A/3, 2 September 1967, and ME/2559/A/4, 4 September 1967, respectively. For a fuller treatment of the symbolic significance of the Khartoum summit, see Ajami, The Arab Predicament.

90. The decline of pan-Arabism also encouraged more regional affiliations and loyalties: “A North African (maghribi) or a Gulf Arab (khaliji) identity, which had once been an anathema, was no longer so, and the ‘Egypt-first’ slogan that had once been held in check gradually became acceptable.” See Salame, , “Inter-Arab Politics,” p. 322Google Scholar.

91. For instance, Shaykh al-Nuhayyan of the United Arab Emirates observed that, “The Arab nation's split and fragmentation existed before the Gulf War, but this war has aggravated and deepened this split.” See “President on Prospects for Arab Unity,” Foreign Broadcast Information Service-Near East (FBIS-NES), 20 March 1994, p. 25. Also see Lewis, Bernard, “Rethinking the Middle East,” Foreign Affairs 71 (4 1992) pp. 103–1CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Karawan, Ibrahim, “Arab Dilemmas in the 1990s: Breaking Taboos and Searching for Signposts,” Middle East Journal 48 (Summer 1994), pp. 433–54Google Scholar.

92. The rise of statist interests shaped post-Persian Gulf War regional security patterns. The real importance—and the only surviving principle—of the Damascus Declaration of 1991, which was ostensibly designed to create a security alliance between the Gulf states and Syria and Egypt, was its insistence on sovereignty as the basis of inter-Arab politics. The Gulf Cooperation Council states insisted that sovereignty and security were indistinguishable. See FBIS–NES–92–241, 15 December 1992, pp. 10–11. As acknowledged by then Egyptian minister Boutros Boutros-Ghali, in an undated interview, “The painful realities resulting from Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and its usurpation of the territory of a fraternal Arab state include the collapse of the traditional concept of Pan-Arab security.” Cited in FBIS–NES–91–059, 27 March 1991, pp. 9–10. Moreover, the emergence of statism has erased the differentiation between Arab and non-Arab states and therefore enables the inclusion of all regional actors in strategic alliances and balancing formulations. See “Arafat Suggests Formation of Mideast ‘Regional Order’," FBIS–NES, 4 thirummal 1994. Finally, at a recent Arab League conference Arab states agreed for the first time that each could identify its own security threats. See Granot, Oded, “Outcome of Arab League Conference Analyzed,” Ma'ariv (Israel), in FBIS-NES, 31 March 1994, p. 3Google Scholar.

93. As Lewis notes, “The decline of Pan-Arabism as a force shaping the policies of Arab governments can be measured in the level and intensity of their support for other Arab governments and peoples.” See Lewis, , “Rethinking the Middle East,” p. 100Google Scholar.

94. Hourani, , A History of the Arab Peoples, p. 451Google Scholar.

95. Farr, James, “Understanding Conceptual Change Politically,” in Ball, Terrence, Farr, James, and Hanson, Russell, eds., Political Innovation and Conceptual Change (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 2446 and p. 33 in particularGoogle Scholar.F or a related discussion, see the introduction to the second edition of Tibi, Arab Nationalism.

96. For a discussion linking the demise of empires and the rise of nationalism, see Tilly, Charles, “States and Nationalism in Europe, 1492–1992,” Theory and Society, vol. 23, no. 1, 1994, pp. 131–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

97. Salame, , “Inter-Arab Politics,” pp. 321,340, and 351Google Scholar.

98. Connolly, William, The Terms for Political Discourse, 2d ed. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983), p. 70Google Scholar.

99. Lewis, , “Rethinking the Middle East,” pp. 100101Google Scholar.

100. Mufti, Malik, Pan-Arabism and State Formation in Syria and Iraq (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Pres's, forthcoming)Google Scholar.Indeed, the 1978 Syrian-Iraqi agreement produced little excitement and was given little significance outside a narrow political spectrum or the state's borders, as it was widely interpreted by other Arab leaders as a blatant attempt by Iraq to replace Egypt as leader of the Arab world and by Assad to consolidate his domestic position. See Owen, , State, Power, and Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East, p. 91Google Scholar.

101. For a full treatment of the methodological and theoretical issues involved in using agendas to trace shifts in international politics, see Mansbach, Richard and Vasquez, John, In Search of Theory (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), chap. 4Google Scholar. Sela argues that the very decision to convene an Arab summit in 1964 signaled that Nasser was beginning to abandon pan-Arabism. See Avraham Sela, “Middle East Politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict,” manuscript, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

102. That no summit occurred in 1966 was testimony to the re-emergence of Arab radicalism. Vatikiotis, , Arab and Regional Politics, p. 87Google Scholar.

103. Walt, , The Origin of Alliances, pp. 287–88Google Scholar.

104. For other arguments and indicators concerning the willingness of Arab leaders to recognize the principle of noninterference, see Salame, “Inter-Arab Politics”; Brynen, , “Palestine and the Arab State System,” p. 603Google Scholar; and Lewis, , “Rethinking the Middle East,” p. 117Google Scholar.

105. For the general theme of the interaction between the expanding norms of international society and regional systems, see Bull and Watson, The Expansion of International Society.

106. Linklater, , “The Problem of Community in International Relations,” p. 149Google Scholar.

107. Salame, Ghassan, “Integration in the Arab World: The Institutional Framework,” in Luciani, Giacomo, ed., The Politics of Arab Integration (New York: Croom Helm, 1988), pp. 278–79Google Scholar.

108. While Islamic movements may or may not be compatible with juridical sovereignty, they do challenge the internal sovereignty of many Arab states. For an argument concerning the compatibility between Islam and juridical sovereignty, see Piscatori, James, Islam in a World of Nation-States (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986)Google Scholar.For the opposing claim, see Bassam Tibi, “Religious Fundamentalism and Ethnicity in the Crisis of the Nation-State in the Middle East,” working paper 5.4, Center for German and European Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 1992. For a discussion of the relationship between Islam and Arabism, see Tibi, , Arab Nationalism, pp. 1720Google Scholar.On subnational identities, see Khoury, Philip and Kostiner, Joseph, “Introduction: Tribes and the Complexities of State Formation in the Middle East,” in Khoury, Philip and Kostiner, Joseph, eds. Tribes and State Formation in the Middle East (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), pp. 122Google Scholar.

109. For examples of statements that do not equate nationalism with the creation and maintenance of a territorial state, see Smith, Anthony, National Identity (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1991), chap. 1Google Scholar; and Hall, John, “Nationalisms: Classified and Explained,” Daedulus 122 (Summer 1993), pp. 128Google Scholar.

110. Layne, Linda, Home and Homeland: The Dialogics of Tribal and National Identities in Jordan (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994), p. 20Google Scholar.

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