Transactional Alliances

Led by Pinar Tank
Jan 2022 - Dec 2022

​​The research proposed analyzes the effects of new regional constellations on Middle Eastern conflict dynamics, in particular the rise of regional middle powers such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and the role played by Russia in the region. In a series of briefs, the project examines the impact of transactional alliances on conflicts in the Middle East, particularly in light of a declining US role. 


The central research question is focused on understanding and analysing "transactional alliances" as they develop in the Middle East. Unlike traditional understandings of alliance systems whereby states may disagree but are nonetheless committed over time to securing common positions, we understand transactional alliances to mean informal "alliances of convenience" rooted in a specific geopolitical context. According to this understanding, two states can be partners in one conflict but simultaneously be engaged on opposing sides in a different conflict, resulting in patterns of fragmentation and fluctuation in Middle Eastern geopolitics. When multiple competing external actors are present in a conflict setting, understanding the agendas behind their conflict/cooperation dynamics are important to assessing entry points for conflict mediation.

     With the gradual decline of US engagement, many states have seen both opportunities and risks in the creation of a new regional order. The Biden administrations sudden withdrawal from Afghanistan has raised questions among Arab states on the reliability of the US as a partner. Arab states with aspirations to regional leadership from Saudi Arabia to Jordan are taking on a more activist foreign policy role.  Meanwhile, the Russian pivot to the Middle East is seen as an effort at strengthening its global position by weakening relations between traditional NATO allies. However, the proxy war framework of the Cold War is not sufficient to explain today's internationalized/regionalized civil conflicts where alliances are fleeting and instrumental. In examining the transactional nature of alliances, we challenge traditional notions of security communities as long-lasting commitments. This raises questions about the role that can be played by existing multilateral institutions such as NATO and the United Nations, which are the preferred arenas for Norwegian diplomacy. Turkey's 2019 agreement to procure Russian anti-aircraft missile systems (S-400) illustrates this tension. Given the shifting dynamics in the region, the US disengagement, and the multitude of ongoing conflicts, how do regional powers - Turkey, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran – engage with each other? How are smaller players such as Jordan identifying opportunities? How do states navigate the multiplicity of conflict contexts to their own benefit?  

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