A trilateral Russia-Iran-Turkey meeting that recently took place has been turning heads the world over, after talk of a new framework for Middle East affairs became a sticking point. So, just how consequential are such meetings at this time and is the talk of a “new world order” simply propaganda?
A series of meetings as part of the ‘Astana Process‘ — “Syrian peace process” — took place last week in Iran, between Iranian, Russian, and Turkish leaders, seemingly pushing aside the US for a dialogue that normally requires a large Western input. Interestingly, Iranian State media have been using the phrase “new world order“, to describe the current reconfiguration of world power, otherwise described as the end of the unipolar order. This terminology has become particularly popular in Iran following the trilateral talks.
The first element of this that perhaps should be established is that the phraseology “new world order”, when used by Iran and its allies, clearly represents a jab at Washington’s waning world dominance. The term, first popularized by former US President Woodrow Wilson, was used to represent a vision for a new world, in which Washington was to play the leading role. At the conclusion of both World Wars the term was also adopted, specifically at the outset of the second world war from which the US pushed aside its competitors — Britain and France — for world domination. Again, the term emerged with the conclusion of the Soviet Union and was used by journalists to describe a world in which the United States would establish unparalleled world dominance.
The rise of China has begun to pose a threat to US domination and what was accepted to be the “new world order” of Washington over world affairs, in the post-Cold War era. In addition to this, the war in Ukraine has further exposed the weak links in the alliance between “Western” nations, that are bound by the shared values of Liberalism — this is meant in a traditional sense of the term, not to mean the modern US “Liberal”. The President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, even stated that Moscow’s war against Ukraine is also “a war against the unity of Europe.” Steinmeier went on to state that,
“this war is not just about the territory of Ukraine, it is about the double shared foundation of our values and our order of peace”.
The Turkey-Russia-Iran Axis?
Some are arguing that trilateral meetings may have signaled a growing regional arrangement, which would place Tehran, Ankara, and Moscow in the driving seat, even leading to an eventual official alliance of some sort.
Whilst Turkey’s Recip Teyip Erdogan has been threatening for the past few months to launch incursions into north-eastern Syria, in order to combat the Kurdish US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Syrian government has shored up its relations with Kurdish forces to prevent this. It was thought that Erdogan was attempting to secure the green-light, at the Astana Process meeting, to invade Syria once again with at least Russia’s tacit approval. Both Moscow and Tehran have made it clear that they do not approve of another Turkish invasion, which have in the past paved the way for de-facto Turkish occupation of Syrian territory after defeating the SDF aligned forces.
Syrian government officials were also present in Iran for meetings and have established ties once again with the SDF, moving Syrian Arab Army (SAA) forces into the areas of Manbij, Ain al-Arab and Ain al-Issa. SDF cooperation did occur with the SAA in the past, however, the Kurdish forces never followed through by seeking compromise with the Syrian government over the north eastern territories which it occupies, with US backing. The SDF routinely runs to the Syrian government when Turkey threatens to invade, as their US backers run away and desert them every time Erdogan announces an offensive. Whether this time will be different — in the event Turkey does invade — only time will tell.
What has become clear from the trilateral meeting last Tuesday, is that all parties are now seeking further cooperation and the talks clearly ended on a positive note. Those who speculate that Turkey, Russia, and Iran will sign an alliance, however, are completely misled. Whilst compromise by all sides seems possible and the three are showing signs that they alone may be able to help pave the way to a number of political solutions to the Syrian crisis, all three nations have different visions for the region. In Turkey’s case especially, these differences seem to make an alliance impossible. Turkey is part of NATO, it holds many cards in Syria and has been launching more violent raids into Iraq recently, pushing the Iran-allied Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) to adopt a position of opting to respond if attacks persist. Under normal circumstances Iran wouldn’t mind its allies opening up a front against Turkey, if it was to violate Iraqi sovereignty and murder civilians. However, at a time when Tehran seeks to prevent a Turkish war on the north-east of Syria, the Islamic Republic surely does not want to give Erdogan a reason to invade Syria by backing the PMU against Turkey.
Russia and Iran, however, are evidently becoming closer allies, and now their goals in the region are seeming to align on several fronts. Both Tehran and Moscow are directly sanctioned by the United States, viewing the US government as an enemy. Russia also seems to be falling out of love with its former friend, Israel, as well. Iran seeks further dialogue with Saudi Arabia and the reactionary Arab regimes, which fall into a pro-Western camp, regionally, in order to further cement their power in the region. Russia is very much seeking to form closer ties with such reactionary Arab regimes. This Sunday, Russia’s foreign minister even visited Cairo, in an attempt to strengthen ties whilst under the pressure of Western sanctions.
Ultimately, what has become clear from the trilateral talks of last week, is that the Middle East is no longer to be the backyard of Washington. The West has no answers in the region, it only presents problems, whilst nations around the region are in the position to pave the way to a new future that includes the prospect of compromise and dialogue. The talks also made it clear that it will not be the United States government that dictate whether US President Joe Biden’s visit to the Middle East will bear any fruits, but instead it will be Iran and Russia, for the most part.
A “new world order” is on its way, or rather, it may have already been born. However, this is not a one world order, and instead seems to be paving the way for national sovereignty to emerge more so in the international arena. Prominent in the discourse of the Middle East once again is the importance of national sovereignty, and this is not just starting to come from the likes of the Saudi regime’s rulers, but this is also China’s messaging when talking to its regional allies. Whilst the Middle East is nowhere near achieving its freedom, like is the case in the rest of the world, there is indeed a golden opportunity in the fall of the Western Liberal imperialist domination of world affairs and the failed one world system of the past. This is a time where revolution is possible everywhere and smaller nations are beginning to hold more of the cards.