Call for the 2019 Anniversary Special Issue

CSP CoverContemporary Security Policy is seeking proposals for the anniversary special issue to be published in 2019 (volume 40). The special issue should address a topic within the aims and scope of the journal.

One of the oldest peer reviewed journals in international conflict and security, CSP promotes theoretically-based research on policy problems of armed conflict, intervention and conflict resolution. Since it first appeared in 1980, CSP has established its unique place as a meeting ground for research at the nexus of theory and policy. Major fields of concern include:

  • War and armed conflict
  • Peacekeeping
  • Conflict resolution
  • Arms control and disarmament
  • Defense policy
  • Strategic culture
  • International institutions

CSP is committed to a broad range of intellectual perspectives. Articles promote new analytical approaches, iconoclastic interpretations and previously overlooked perspectives. Its pages encourage novel contributions and outlooks, not particular methodologies or policy goals. Its geographical scope is worldwide and includes security challenges in Europe, Africa, the Middle-East and Asia. Authors are encouraged to examine established priorities in innovative ways and to apply traditional methods to new problems.

Special Issue Information

Special issue proposals should contain (in one PDF document):

  • A short discussion of the rationale and contribution of the special issue (3 pages max). Please also state why the topic falls within the aims and scope of the journal and why the proposal would be of interest to a large audience.
  • Contact details, institutional affiliation, one paragraph biography of the special issue co-editors, and three recent publications of each of the co-editors. Feel free to include a link to the personal website of the co-editors. Do not submit full CVs.
  • A list of confirmed articles and authors. Please include for each article (a) the title; (b) 150 word abstract; (c) a very short statement how the article contributes to the special issue and why it needs to be included; (d) a one paragraph author biography; and (e) three recent publications of the author(s).
  • The current state of the special issue. Please describe the background (e.g. previous workshops and conferences) and the timeframe towards the submission deadline.

The special issue will consist of a substantive introduction, 6-7 articles and possibly a conclusion. The introduction should stand on itself. It should serve as a state-of-the-art article and be a reference point for all the other articles in the special issue. It is recommended that special issue proposals include 9-10 articles. All articles will be sent by the journal for peer-review on an individual basis. It is unlikely that all articles will eventually make the cut.

Most articles in CSP are around 8,000-9,000 words (including notes and references). However, manuscripts up to 11,000 words are accepted, for example when they include multiple case studies or use mixed methods. Total word limits will be discussed in case of acceptance.

Please submit your application (one PDF file) to csp@nullmaastrichtuniversity.nl. The deadline for the special issue proposal is 15 December 2017. The decision will be announced soon afterwards. The decision by the editor is final. All articles, including the introduction, will have to be submitted by 15 May 2018.

The 2018 Bernard Brodie Prize

rsz_brodieContemporary Security Policy awards the Bernard Brodie Prize annually to the author(s) of an outstanding article published in the journal the previous year. The award is named after Dr. Bernard Brodie (1918-1978), author of The Absolute Weapon (1946), Strategy in the Missile Age (1958) and War and Strategy (1973). Brodie’s ideas remain at the center of security debates to this day. One of the first analysts to cross between official and academic environments, he pioneered the very model of civilian influence that Contemporary Security Policy represents. Contemporary Security Policy is honoured to acknowledge the permission of Brodie’s son, Dr. Bruce R. Brodie, to use his father’s name.

The shortlist for the 2018 Bernard Brodie Prize includes:

  • Stephan Frühling & Andrew O’Neil, ‘Nuclear weapons, the United States and alliances in Europe and Asia: Toward an institutional perspective’, April 2017. Access here.
  • Betcy Jose, ‘Not completely the new normal: How Human Rights Watch tried to suppress the targeted killing norm’, August 2017. Access here.
  • Daniel J. Milton, ‘Dangerous work: Terrorism against U.S. diplomats’, December 2017. Access here.
  • Jaganath Sankaran & Bryan L. Fearey, ‘Missile defense and strategic stability: Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea’, December 2017. Access here.
  • Martin Senn & Jodok Troy, ‘The transformation of targeted killing and international order’, August 2017. Access here.

More on the Bernard Brodie Prize is available here.

Special Issue: Targeted Killing and International Order

Obama_and_Biden_await_updates_on_bin_LadenContemporary Security Policy has published a special issue on The Transformation of Targeted Killing and International Order edited by Martin Senn and Jodok Troy.

Introduction

The transformation of targeted killing and international order
Martin Senn & Jodok Troy

Articles

Targeted killings: Drones, noncombatant immunity, and the politics of killing
Thomas Gregory

Not completely the new normal: How Human Rights Watch tried to suppress the targeted killing norm
Betcy Jose

Friction, not erosion: Assassination norms at the fault line between sovereignty and liberal values
Mathias Großklaus

The evolution of targeted killing practices: Autonomous weapons, future conflict, and the international order
Michael Carl Haas & Sophie-Charlotte Fischer

Conclusion

Targeted killing in international relations theory: Recursive politics of technology, law, and practice
Ian Hurd

Why September 11 and drones don’t tell the whole story about targeted killings

Mathias_Grossklaus

To understand the proliferation of target killing as a new method of warfare, we have to look beyond events like 9/11 or the emergence of new technology.

For centuries, assassination was an accepted instrument of foreign policy and considered a normal practice. During the early modern period, however, resorting to assassination gradually became a taboo, something modern states would not do because of their self-perception as modern. Today we observe a weakening of this taboo. Reframed as “targeted killing,” assassination seems to move towards normalization, as more states engage in the practice and, instead of denying it, openly justify targeted killing strategies. “The gloves are off,” a senior CIA official stated mere weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center, “[l]ethal operations that were unthinkable pre-September 11 are now underway.”

Scholarly attempts at making sense of this normative change sometimes seem to implicitly share this assessment. They tend to overemphasize the role of September 11, 2001 and the ensuing “War on Terror” as turning points. Similarly, scholars have argued that the anti-assassination norm has been eroding because of the development and availability of drone technology. Consequentially, the vast majority of studies concerned with such normative change only look at post-9/11 cases. In my article, I seek to shift the focus. Rather than concentrating on major events or technology, I highlight the pivotal importance of two meta-norms, sovereignty and liberal thought, in the transformation of assassination norms prior to the War on Terror.

It has often been argued that historical state-sponsored assassination and present-day targeted killing constitute two completely different subjects, since the targeted killing of terror suspects seems so different from headline-grabbing assassinations of state leaders during the 19th and 20th century. Yet those share a common normative realm. When the term “targeted killing” was coined in the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, it represented a deliberate attempt to render some forms of killing permissible precisely by uncoupling them from their restrictive historical assassination context. Indeed, today’s targeted killing programs largely rest on similar logics, on the assumption that terrorist networks are centralized enough to allow attackers to degrade enemy functioning through killing leadership.

It is beyond doubt that 9/11 marked a severe turning point in security practices, and my article does not seek to refute its general importance. However, the normative underpinnings of those shifts were subject to much slower change–not as rapid as cursory accounts of the history of assassination might suggest. This transformation started not only before 9/11 but also well before the end of the Cold War.

During the early modern period, state-sponsored assassination became increasingly rejected due to the emergence of sovereign statehood and liberal thought. Those are reflected in debates about assassination as a specific (and from a liberal perspective deplorable) nature of killing as well as debates about the special protection of specific persons from being targets of assassination due to their status as representatives of sovereign statehood. This distinguishes assassination from many other changing international norms.

Liberal norms and the sovereignty norms have frequently collided, as the case of humanitarian intervention and the “responsibility to protect” exemplifies: Here, a liberal responsibility collides with sovereignty rights of nation states. The same is true for most norms rooted in human rights discourse, since the mere existence of such a norm means that it is universal enough to have some effect on the behavior of states, which is then by definition generates a tension with state sovereignty. It can be argued that the tension between the two meta norms of sovereignty and liberal thought constitute the core of most instances of norm contestation.

In this sense, assassination norms are peculiar. Rather than being in tension with one meta-norm and shielded by the other, they are rooted in both discourses. At the very core of the assassination/targeted killing normative realm lies an incentive to protect the long-term stability of sovereign states and a state-based order and a liberal impetus to avoid harm to human beings.

As I maintain in my article, this connection also helps understand the weakening of the norm, as they can be invoked by actors in order to reinterpret it. On a grand scale, the second half of the 20th century saw an overall strengthening of liberal values at the expense of state sovereignty. During the same period however, actors began emphasizing assassination’s sovereignty implications at the expense of its connection to liberal meta-norms.

Over time, the condemnation of state-sponsored assassination had become a mere subset of sovereignty, no longer shielded by its original powerful liberal underpinnings. Hence, when states began to openly advocate targeted killing policies in the early 21st century, precisely on the ground of liberal values and in spite of sovereignty during the War on Terror, the normative ground had already been prepared.

Mathias Großklaus is a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin. He is the author of “Friction, not erosion: assassination norms at the fault line between sovereignty and liberal values”, Contemporary Security Policy, 38(2), 260-280. It is available here.

How Human Rights Watch Tried to Suppress a Targeted Killing Norm

14203284_10153734268660894_3046983579658798280_nThe United States has been persistently trying to build support for its case that its targeted killings should be considered legal. Human Rights Watch has been actively trying to resist this effort, with varying degrees of success. This clash offers us deeper insights into how the global rules of the game are determined.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently stated, “It’s long past time for the US to assess the legality of its targeted killings, as well as the broader impact of these strikes on civilians.” HRW has doggedly resisted U.S. efforts to normalize what has long been taboo: the killing of specific individuals outside conventionally understood battlefields.

International relations scholarship tells us a lot about how human rights groups try to introduce new ideas to improve the human experience and how states attempt to thwart these efforts.  But it tells us less about the inverse: Namely, how human rights groups aim to impede state-led campaigns to expand their ability to act in the global arena.

My recent article explores the ways in which HRW, a prominent member of the anti-targeted killing network, strove to do just that. My article demonstrates how HRW initially tried to entirely suppress the emergence of a targeted killing norm by demanding the United States halt its denials and admit to the practice. HRW also named and shamed the United States and its allies for violating human rights and sovereignty norms.

Then came bin Laden’s death, which was a watershed moment in changing global opinion about this practice, from one which largely opposed it to a tepid, and perhaps temporary, tolerance of it. This change in global opinion contributed to a change in how HRW resisted targeted killings. It switched strategies by focusing on suppressing the emergence of an unbridled norm, one that might clash with deeply entrenched protections afforded to state sovereignty and human rights.

For instance, it sought to limit the number of US actors engaged in targeted killing by pushing for the end of CIA participation in the program.  It also pressured the United States to be more transparent about civilian deaths in a bid to restrict the practice and hold it accountable for “collateral damage.”

By showcasing this contestation between norm champions and norm suppressors, the article also further refines Finnemore and Sikkink’s exemplary norm life cycle model, highlighting the dynamism in global normative debates. Normative content is not static, remaining unchanged once its advocates take it up. It is subject to modification as a result of the battles waged over its prescriptions and parameters throughout the norm life cycle. These conflicts have the potential to both strength and weaken norms.

In my article, I also emphasize that normative death and regress is a possibility at any stage in this model. Normative ideas can fail to emerge. Even well-established norms are vulnerable to attacks which may eventually lead to their demise. Furthermore, there is nothing inevitable about the normative journey. Just as entrepreneurs can help their ideas advance through the norm life cycle, norm suppressors can stall their progress and move them backwards.

Additionally, I illustrate how similar state and non-state actors act, both as advocates for new ideas and resistors to those ideas. Among other things, both sets of actors effectively deploy frames to attract supporters and weaken their opponents. They also comparably form alliances to further their objectives. Furthermore, I argue that norms scholars should study “bad” norms, norms that widely differ from their rights-protecting counterparts that dominate the scholarly landscape. Doing so is not only more faithful to a neutral understanding of norms (shared understandings of appropriate behavior in a given situation), but will also help us understand a wider range of political phenomena like the current global rise of right wing populism, regulatory moves to control cyberspace, or the growing push to limit or abolish gay rights.

Studying norm suppression not only fills noteworthy gaps in the scholarly corpus, but also helps us better unravel intriguing puzzles like why some norms fail to emerge and others find more success. These insights allow us to better understand how norms operate in the global arena, significantly contributing to theoretical and policy-making debates.

Betcy Jose is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at the University of Colorado Denver. She works on issues related to global norms, international humanitarian law, and civilian self-protection. She has published in Critical Studies on Terrorism, International Studies Review, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics, Foreign Affairs, World Politics Review, and Duck of Minerva. She is currently working on a book manuscript exploring contestation in armed conflict norms to be published in 2018. Her Twitter handle is @betcyj.

In foreign and defence policy, Trump is more about continuity than change

file-20170612-10249-uxoxhbBy Alexander Lanoszka, City, University of London

International observers worried about Donald Trump’s foreign policy tend to focus on two risks in particular: that Trump might rely more heavily on nuclear weapons to exert power, and that he could curtail ties with US allies in favour of an “America First” agenda that some have linked to a new era of unilateralism and isolationism. During his campaign, he even seemed to endorse the idea of Japan and South Korea going nuclear as a way of offloading the US’s defence burden.

But judging by what’s come to light so far, fears over whiplash-like changes to US foreign and defence policy norms are misplaced. Indications from both Trump’s personal history and his administration’s behaviour both suggest that on balance, his country’s attitude to nuclear weapons and international alliances will be marked by continuity more than change.

For starters, it pays to look at the things Trump has actually said about all this. An excellent study by Jeffrey Michaels and Heather Williams (published in Contemporary Security Policy) collected and analysed many, if not all, of Trump’s public statements on nuclear weapons during the 2016 campaign – and found that many of the attitudes he expressed are consistent with those of previous presidents.

Looked at from the right angle, Trump’s nuclear position is less an unknown quantity and more a Frankenstein-esque assemblage of familiar Republican worldviews. His apparent conviction that so-called “rogue states” such as North Korea should not get their hands on nuclear weapons is firmly in the tradition of George W Bush. Scepticism about costs aside, Trump also seems to share Ronald Reagan’s faith in missile defence, as well as his fears about the consequences of nuclear war.

Trump also openly embraces the virtues of nuclear superiority – the idea that states can gain coercive leverage over their adversaries by having more or better nuclear weapons. That puts him in the mould of Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower. Indeed, his administration is using the spectre of nuclear proliferation in East Asia to put pressure on China, much as Nixon and Kissinger did as part of their overture to Beijing in the early 1970s.

Besides, the administration is likely to take its nuclear advice from relatively established characters. Two such figures are Keith Payne and Christopher Ford: far from being outsiders, they are very established policy thinkers on nuclear modernisation, nonproliferation, and arms control. Both served under George W Bush; Payne was a major influence on the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review, while Ford crafted the Bush administration’s nonproliferation policy.

No country is an island

There’s been rather more hand-wringing when it comes to Trump’s dim view of international alliances. His past statements on defence burden-sharing do indeed imply a break from even post-9/11 Republican orthodoxy. Nevertheless, there are plenty of reasons to expect more continuity than change.

The US’s key alliances are undergirded not just by norms and political attachments, but by institutions. While NATO is perhaps more fragmented than ever – and Trump’s behaviour at its latest summit can’t have helped – it’s still strong enough to restrain serious unilateral oversteps.

After all, the point of its multilateral setup is partly to put a check on the US, by far the most powerful member state, which has the muscle to act arbitrarily and shortsightedly. The NATO structure enables weaker allies to form diplomatic coalitions against undesirable US initiatives, exerting a collective moderating influence if they fear that their interests would be jeopardised – by an ill-thought-through rapprochement with Russia, say.

Alliances are not ends in themselves, but they are a means for deterring nuclear proliferation, mitigating local tensions that could otherwise escalate, and shoring up the US’s core national interests – namely the integrity of its own homeland defences and a functional global economy that ensures the US can grow and prosper.

Alliances are useful even for pursuing détente with a major power, and they offer leverage during negotiations, and insurance if a deal falls apart. Should the Trump administration fully embrace great power politics, it will need allies with it all the way; if it wants to take a dramatically more hawkish line on China, for instance, it’ll need to maintain its strong ties with East Asian partners such as Japan and South Korea.

The same principle holds true as the administration sets about dealing with Russia. While the possibility of greatly improved Moscow-Washington relations seems more distant since the US’s air strikes on Syrian government targets, a stronger, more cohesive NATO would certainly improve Trump’s bargaining position with Putin if and when American and Russian interests start to clash.

None of these points are cause for complacent optimism about the Trump administration’s foreign policy. Its State Department is badly understaffed by choice; many of its positions seem unclear or subject to sudden change, with Trump himself sometimes openly contradicting his own team. And of course, the spectre of further scandals about the Trump team’s interactions with the Kremlin looks set to overshadow the administration for some time. But anyone who thinks the US has suddenly slipped its moorings altogether is missing the point.

Alexander Lanoszka, is a Lecturer in Politics at City, University of London and a member of the Editorial Board of Contemporary Security Policy.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Ten most downloaded articles of 2016

CSP Cover These are the ten most downloaded articles of 2016.*

  1. The coming multi-order world by Trine Flockhart
  2. Resilience as the EU Global Strategy’s new leitmotif: pragmatic, problematic or promising? by Wolfgang Wagner and Rosanne Anholt
  3. Rising bipolarity in the South China Sea: the American rebalance to Asia and China’s expansion by Stephen Burgess
  4. Fencing the bear? Explaining US foreign policy towards Russian interventions by Florian Boeller and Sebastian Welle
  5. The making of the EU Global Strategy by Nathalie Tocci
  6. All or nothing? The EU Global Strategy and defence policy after the Brexit by Sven Biscop
  7. Russia’s pivot to China goes astray: the impact on the Asia-Pacific security architecture by Pavel Baev
  8. French foreign and security challenges after the Paris terrorist attacks by Christian Lequesne
  9. Mediation in Syria: initiatives, strategies, and obstacles, 2011–2016 by Magnus Lundgren
  10. From the ESS to the EU Global Strategy: external policy, internal purpose by Maria Malksoo

Date: 13 June 2017

 

Forum: African security

African security, particularly conflict-related political violence, is a key concern in international relations. This forum seeks to advance existing research agendas by addressing four key themes: domestic politics and peacekeeping; security sector reform programs; peace enforcement; and the protection of civilians. Each of the articles in this forum makes a case for analyzing African agency when it comes to African security.

dod-continues-central-african-republic-peacekeeping-supportForum: African security

Toni Haastrup & Hylke Dijkstra
New directions for African security

Malte Brosig
Rentier peacekeeping in neo-patrimonial systems: The examples of Burundi and Kenya

Nadine Ansorg
Security sector reform in Africa: Donor approaches versus local needs

Cedric de Coning
Peace enforcement in Africa: Doctrinal distinctions between the African Union and United Nations

Linnéa Gelot
Civilian protection in Africa: How the protection of civilians is being militarized by African policymakers and diplomats

Caveats in coalition operations: Why do states restrict their military efforts?

PerMarius3Caveats refer to the reservations states impose on how their forces can operate when assigned to a military coalition operation. Many argue that caveats have been a particular problem for unity of effort in multinational military coalition operations in the post-Cold War period.

The practice of caveats rose to prominence in defense and policy circles with NATO’s ISAF-campaign in Afghanistan, often emphasized as one of the most significant causes to NATO’s lack of operational effectiveness. While states sent troops to Afghanistan, the problem for NATO was that many nations set heavy restrictions on what their forces were permitted to do. Some could not operate at night. Others could not take part in offensive operations. The most commonly used restrictions were perhaps geographical limitations for where forces could operate in Afghanistan.

Caveats are often mentioned in the context of NATO’s operations in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, similar examples of national reservations are well known also from other coalition operations in the post-Cold War era.

While it is unusual for states to fully surrender their military forces to operate under other nations’ command, caveats represent a particular puzzling type of reserved state behavior in military coalitions. Why would states provide a specific military capability and then prevent the coalition from using the full potential of the forces by applying caveats? If a state for some reason finds it necessary to adjust its support to the coalition, would it not be more meaningful to send a military capability that the coalition could use without reservations?

The use of caveats is further puzzling when we take into account how controversial the practice of caveats has become over the last decade. Operationally, caveats hamper coalition commanders’ operational flexibility and often require coalition forces to fight with one hand tied to their back – reducing the coalition forces’ military progress. One U.S. general even referred to national caveats as “a cancer that eats away at the effective usability of troops”. Politically, caveats are contested because they can easily be seen as part of a buck-passing strategy, adding more burdens to those states that do not apply caveats – risking breaking the cohesion among coalition partners.

So, what motivates states to apply caveats to their military forces in coalition operations when such reservations limit military progress and weaken the political cohesion in the coalition? In my recent study on the use of caveats by Denmark, Norway and The Netherlands during the NATO operation in Libya, I found that there are three possible causes that can lead to caveats.

First, confronted with the question of whether or not to join military coalition operations, many governments have found themselves between a rock and a hard place – between external pressure for supporting allies and domestic skepticism about what the external pressure demands and exactly how to respond to it. To gain sufficient domestic support for making a military contribution to a coalition, it might be necessary for a government to add caveats to address concerns among political parties that can block the decision to make a contribution. For a government eager to see their forces take part in coalition operations, it might be better to make a reserved contribution than to make no contribution at all.

Second, the use of caveats is rarely fully determined by the need to make a domestic political compromise. Domestic factors help to explain whether or not there will be caveats, while external pressure helps to explain the form that such caveats takes. Clever national policy-makers will spot opportunities for how caveats can be implemented. By adjusting how caveats are practiced, more of the units’ military value to the coalition operations can be maintained. As such, decision-makers can secure a better balance between, on the one hand, to make a more relevant contribution to a coalition’s demand for military support and, on the other, maintain domestic support for such a contribution.

Third, with unanimous domestic support for a nation’s military participation in a coalition operation there is another possibility for caveats. Ideally for the purpose of utilizing the military resources at the coalition’s disposal, a coalition commander would like to have no national strings attached to the contributed units under his or her command. However, cutting off every national string to a national military unit to ease the challenges with coordinating military effort might be counter-productive. In lack of clear guidance from their national principals, military officers might themselves apply reservations in fear of reprimands or of causing domestic political crisis by simply following coalition orders.

In military coalitions, operational effectiveness hinges on states’ ability to coordinate their military efforts. The phenomenon of caveats in post-Cold War coalition operations illustrates how national control have challenged states’ ability to coordinate their military efforts when operating together and how this has affected coalition forces’ operational effectiveness. With different causes leading to caveats, there is no easy solution to make a stop to the growing practice of caveats in coalition operations. To overcome the practical problems that caveats create, policy-makers and military decision-makers should develop a better understanding of the reasons for why caveats appear.

Per Marius Frost-Nielsen was a PhD candidate at the  Department for Sociology and Political Science, Faculty of Social Sciences and Technology Management, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway. He is the author of “Conditional commitments: Why states use caveats to reserve their efforts in military coalition operations”, Contemporary Security Policy, 38, forthcoming. It is available here.

Israel and the Gulf States: Towards a Tacit Security Regime?

blog_israel_gulfThe nuclear threat posed by Iran has brought Israel and the Gulf States closer together. This nascent tacit security regime allows these countries to address the common threat while sidestepping the more intractable issue of Palestinian statehood.

Israel and the Arab Gulf States do not have diplomatic relations; indeed, some do not even recognize Israel as a state. However, shared concerns of Iran have, since 2006 brought these erstwhile foes closer together. These relations, short of an explicit alliance, are an expression of realpolitik rather than shared values or of deep intimacy. However, the Israelis, Saudis and Emiratis, underpinned by shared perceptions of threats to be countered and interests to be realised, have been cooperating on security related matters for some time.

For Israel and the Gulf States, the nuclear deal with Iran singed in July 2015 has done little to curb Iran’s regional conduct or indeed its longer term nuclear ambitions. Another motivation that bring the sides closer relates to disagreements with the Obama administration over its Middle East policies and deep concerns that in the long run their main security guarantor will lessen its commitment to their security and further decrease its military and diplomatic leverage across the region.

Although relations between the sides warmed up in recent years, they are not new. For example, Oman and Qatar, whether it was to find favour in the eyes of the Americans or to anger the Saudis, established official relations, albeit partial ones, with Israel. Israel opened missions in both countries, but the second intifada in 2000 and Operation “Cast Lead” in Gaza led to their closure. Now, however, it seems that Saudi Arabia in particular is more willing to acknowledge its ongoing dialogue with Israel, if only to test how its public will react to more overt relations. It already got the attention of Iran and Hezbollah.

This new openness that carries with it a heightened political symbolism, is gradually breaking a long-held taboo that any Saudi, let alone one identified so closely with the ruling family, could ever appear in public with their erstwhile foe. These days, one does not have to look hard to find opinion pieces by senior Israelis or Saudis in each other media outlets. State-run media in the Gulf appears to be softening its reporting on Israel, running columns floating the prospect of direct relations, quoting Israeli officials, and filling its news holes with fewer negative stories on Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians. The outspoken Prince Alwaleed bin Talal was also very candor speaking about the startling relations of Wahhabist Saudi Arabia, custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, and the Jewish state and noted that “For the first time, Saudi Arabian interests and Israel are almost parallel … It’s incredible.”

Faced with crumbling Middle East state order, Israel is, again, actively looking to form ties with states and non-state actors, some even former enemies. While in the past they stood in the shadows of others, the Gulf states too have adopted a more assertive foreign policy needed to confront regional changes. It remains unclear, however, if the two sides will be willing to take the same foreign policy risks, this time towards each other, to realize the full potential of their relations.

The fact is that the shared antipathies towards Tehran does not preclude competition or divergent interests pursued in other fields. Gulf States, have strongly supported the recent adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 regarding Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Furthermore, Saudi officials make clear that unless Israel is willing to engage seriously with the Arab Peace Initiative and with it, tangible progress towards realising Palestinian self-determination, overt ties with Jerusalem will hardly move beyond the symbolic handshakes at academic symposia. Netanyahu too remains hamstrung, politically as well as ideologically by a domestic constituency unwilling to accept substantive territorial concessions to the Palestinians.

The hierarchy of threat in favour of Iran trumped any immediate desire among the Gulf states to push the Arab peace initiative, however signalling it’s still “on the table”. Furthermore, at the end of 2015, the most senior cleric in the Kingdom, Shaykh Abdulaziz al-Shaykh stated that ISIS was in reality an adjunct of the Israeli army. Such statements emanating from such an authoritative figure are indicative of the current boundaries of the relationship on the Arab side.

Internal constraints on all sides will continue to determine the type and intensity of external engagement. Indeed, neither side is willing to pay the price needed to realize the strategic potential inherent in their relations. Both sides are benefiting from the advantages of covert ties without having to pay a political price for pulling them out of the closet.

This nascent tacit security regime between Israel and the Gulf states has, for the most part, been shaped by its lowest common denominator, the perceived threat from Tehran, while sidestepping perhaps the more intractable issue of Palestinian statehood. Whether, overtime, the contours of the regime can foster the confidence building measures that will be required to reach a formal treaty satisfactory to all sides will, in truth, be the real test of its leverage beyond the immediate purchase of hard security. For now, all concerned remain the best of adversaries.

An attempt to change force such relations from the shadows would undermine what has been achieved so far but even so, there is a wide range of policy options between full diplomatic relations and a total lack of contact, and the actors involved can and indeed have taken advantage of this. Israelis in particular have increasingly taken the opportunity to express in public forums the interests shared between Jerusalem and what Major General Herzi Halevy, Head of Israeli military intelligence, referred to as “pragmatic Sunni countries” and the opportunities therefore to be realised.

Israelis and Arabs alike hope that the Trump administration will reverse the Obama-era policy of leading from behind. But if Trump follows suit and makes good on his pledge to Make America Great Again, beginning at home, Washington’s Middle East allies could find comfort in their secret, under the-table relations. Those already become an important template for understanding shifts in alliances and regional security systems, across the wider Middle East and beyond.

Clive Jones holds a Chair in Regional Security (Middle East) in the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University, United Kingdom. Yoel Guzansky is Research Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. They are the authors of “Israel’s relations with the Gulf states: Toward the emergence of a tacit security regime?”, Contemporary Security Policy, 38, forthcoming. It is available here.