The Strategic Importance of the Middle East

The Emeritus Chair in Strategy at CSIS has developed a three-part briefing on the key data and trends shaping the strategic importance of the Middle East and North Africa through 2050. Each is a separate document focusing on a given set of assessments of the current and probable changes in the region’s strategic importance.

Part One: Examining the Region

The first part is entitled The Changing Strategic Importance of the Middle East and North Africa Part One: Examining the Region. It is available on the CSIS website at https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/230104_Cordesman_MEStrategy_Pt1.pdf?OHHkAPNGCwjzOo15Fs_1Kpe5qJPjJjVO, and a downloadable copy is available at the end of this transmittal.

This document focuses on the how the trends in the military and civil stability of the Middle East affect the strategic importance of the region and on how the gross differences in the data on the security and civil stability of given countries make any broad generalizations about region or its subregions do more to disguise the real-world nature of the region than define its importance.

It shows in detail that the nations in the region may largely share a common language and religion, but that virtually every other aspect of the region differs sharply by country. It cannot be understood or analyzed effectively without focusing on these national differences.

It draws heavily on UN, World Bank, IMF, and other data to show the current levels of violence and instability in the region, the extent to which problems have grown in many states over the last two decades, and recent warnings by the UN’s Arab Development Reports and the World Bank that major improvements are needed in governance and development efforts to prevent the further growth of instability.

The report provides a graphic overview of the region and patterns of violence by subregion, it the examines the wide range of ongoing changes in military developments and internal security, military forces and spending, arms transfers, net military technologies and growing missile forces, and the patterns in terrorism.

The report then examines the patterns in civil threats and stability, including climate change, economic development, export revenues, and governance. It shows that population growth remains a critical problem, as does the use and supply of water.

Finally, Part One examines two areas where its strategic importance goes beyond energy exports. One is its line of communication and the Suez Canal. The second is the extent to which regional instability, violence, and civil wars have led to a major level of migration outside the region.

The Impact of Climate Change and Great Power Competition

The second part of the brief is entitled The Changing Strategic Importance of the Middle East and North Africa: Part Two: The Impact of Climate Change and Great Power Competition. It is available on the CSIS website at https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/230104_Cordesman_MEStrategy_Pt1.pdf?OHHkAPNGCwjzOo15Fs_1Kpe5qJPjJjVO, and a downloadable copy is available at the end of this transmittal.

This section of the brief examines how changes in U.S. dependence on energy imports, climate change, the Ukraine war, and the growing competition between major powers affect both the reality of the region’s strategic importance and different international perceptions of its importance.

These changes include a supposed end to U.S. dependence on the secure and stable flow of MENA oil and gas exports that has led some planners and analysts to discount the importance MENA oil and gas exports have to the United States. In practice, however, the reality is very different. The U.S. economy is critically dependent on affordable global oil and gas prices. It prices its own fuels at global levels in an energy crisis of emergency, and it is highly dependent on the import of manufactured goods from oil and gas importing countries in Europe and Asia.

At the same time, other estimates ignore the impact or climate change or show that current national policies to date fall far short of those needed to halt global warming. Still other projections largely ignore the impact of climate change and focus on economic development in ways that estimate there will be sharp rises in oil and gas exports to key parts of the developing world. These projections are also further affected by the major uncertainties in the pace and impact of climate change.

A third set of major shifts in the strategic importance of the Middle East is driven by the growing strategic confrontations between the major powers. One example is the war in the Ukraine, which could lead to radical long-term shifts in the way Russia exports oil and gas, to lasting European cuts in dependence on Russian exports, and to a Russian shift in gas exports to China or to new outlet in countries like Turkey.

Another area is a major shift in the flow Middle Eastern and North African oil and gas exports that seems almost certain to occur because of the rising levels of demand in developing countries like India and the efforts of major developed countries like China, Japan, and South Korea to reduce their dependence on coal, and meet their added demands for energy with natural gas instead of oil. Estimates of such shifts indicate that this could greatly increase the Asian demand for oil and gas exports through 2050.

Such shifts may also greatly increase the dependence of China, Japan, and South Korea on exports from the Gulf at a time when there is a steadily rising level of confrontation and risk of conflict between China and the United States and its strategic partners, and a risk that the major powers could go to war over energy exports from the Middle East and North Africa.

Appendices: Detailed Data on Middle Eastern Energy Exports

Finally, the third document in the briefing is entitled Appendices: Detailed Data on Middle Eastern Energy Exports. It too is available from the Emeritus Chair in Strategy section of the CSIS web page. It provides added background on the detailed patterns in Middle Eastern and North African oil and gas production, exports, and economics. It also illustrates some of the major differences in the data coming from different expert sources.

It is available on the CSIS website at https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/230104_Cordesman_MEStrategy_Pt1.pdf?OHHkAPNGCwjzOo15Fs_1Kpe5qJPjJjVO, and a downloadable copy is available at the end of this transmittal.

Download Part One
Donwload Part Two
Download Appendices