Scenario 2030: United Arabs

To look far into the future is impossible, but scenarios are an interesting exercise. I did a grand strategy long-term scenario exercise on my own and want to share it.

Europe lacks a real threat today, facing no neighbours that might invade it. Let's think about future scenarios that look worse (and are therefore more interesting) than the present.

One possible scenario is about the Southern flank; the Arab world.
The Arabs cannot become a real challenge for Europe until they unite.

This is where the scenario begins:

The Arab world was united into a federation either by a democratic-nationalist (United Arab Nation) or by a theocratic (United Arab Caliphate) movement. No matter which form - the government is most likely quite calculating, persistent, egoistic and rational - and at the same time quite alien to us.

Let's look at such a fictional united Arab state:

Relations with Turkey:
Turkey is Muslim, but not Arabian. Arabs and Turks share a common problem with their suppression of Kurdish minority.
Turkey was rejected by the EU and is probably unaligned with any power bloc after a demise of NATO. The United Arabs (UA) would probably strive for influence and for allying with Turkey, a quite modernized and populous nation.
Turkey with the Bosporus would probably not feel comfortable in a neutral's position, cornered by EU, CIS and UA - some alliance would be advisable, but EU membership is very unlikely.

Relations with Iran:
Iran is a small nuclear power and a regional power. Iran is Muslim, but neither Sunni nor Arabian. The UA would likely consider Persia as a security threat for the Gulf shipping and as a rival because of its meddling in internal UA affairs (Shiite minority in UA).

Relations with France:
France has a significant Muslim minority due to its colonialism past - many immigrants came from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. It's still engaged in post-colonial policing to stabilize friendly governments in Black Africa, a potential point of conflict with the UA.

Relations with Comoros:
Comoros (island state in Indian Ocean close to East Africa) is mostly Muslim & Arabian and has traditional ties (economic dependence) with the Arabian Gulf states.
Comoros becomes associated with the UA in the scenario, but maintains autonomy and a separate seat in the UN General Assembly.
It extends the influence of the UA into the East African coastal regions where Lebanese traders refresh their trade network in competition with Indians.

Relations with Maldives:
The Maldives (island state in Indian Ocean close to India) are Sunni.
The UA were successful in creating close-enough ties to use the Maldives for extended influence and military reach.

Relations with CIS (Russia & dependent nations) and China:
The political conflict with Europe, including xenophobia in Europe during the Arab unification process alienated the UA away from Europe.
The UA needed technologically advanced partners for a build-up of its economic and military strength and thus turned to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, mostly Russia and China.
This was a major European diplomatic disaster.
Russia wrestles with Europe for the hegemony over Eastern Europe, another European diplomatic disaster.
Russia and China provide the UA with access to high tech and their companies help to develop the UA's industry.

Relations with the USA:
The USA meddled in Levant affairs with its subsidizing of Israel till the 2020's.
The USA has left the NATO in the late 2010's due to diverging interests between Europeans and Americans.
Israeli immigrants in the USA increase the political pressure to support Israel, which leads to diplomatic tensions ranging from symbolic to limited trade wars.
The UA is keen to keep the U.S. at a distance, monitoring its ageing carrier battle groups suspiciously and attempts to limit the contact to trade.

Relations with India:
India is opposing Muslim Pakistan and rivals the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) member China. It is being irritated by Arab influence over the nearby Maldives.
India's domestic Muslim minority is still creating domestic strains.
There's no direct conflict between the UA and India, though - and both are therefore trading and not in direct rivalry.

Relations with Pakistan:
Pakistan maintained its status as nuclear power despite the troubles of 2000-2020 and became a SCO member. It's friendly to the UA and helped the UA to become a nuclear power.

Relations with Black Africa:
The UA supports Muslim populations in mixed Christian-dominated Sahel states just like Libya did in the 1980's.
It is therefore facing France which attempts to stabilize its former colonies with expeditionary forces and subsidies.

Relations with Ethiopia:
Ethiopia is and has been for thousands of years a Christian bulwark that resists the Advance of Islam is Eastern Africa. Its permanent border dispute with Somalia (province Ogaden) would quite inevitably be solved in favour of the UA.

Relations with Israel:
Israel is still a thorn in the UA's back, but declining economically and suffering from other domestic problems. Israel is still a nuclear state, but its second-strike ability is limited to cruise missiles on conventional (but air independent) submarines in the Mediterranean. The threat of a new genocide has turned Israel from a relatively safe place into a very unsafe place, motivating some Israelis to emigrate to North America and bringing immigration to a halt.
The UA is preparing to annex Israel with least possible damage to itself.

United Arabs and the Muslim world:
The Arabs become the leading culture in the Muslim world and have enormous prestige for their ability to face Europe and for their guarding of the holy sites of Mecca and Medina which effectively gives them the ability to sanction other Muslim nations by preventing pilgrimages. This prestige is being tainted by the continuing existence of Israel and the dependency on Russia and China, though.

United Arabs and the United Nations:
The United Arabs got a permanent seat in the UNSC when it was enlarged and reformed in the 2020's, but the UA got no veto right. It's being protected by Russian and Chinese vetoes, though.

United Arabs and World Trade:
Arabs and Russia have together a huge share of the world's fossil fuel reserves, an advantageous situation that gets reinforced by additional cooperation with overseas OPEC members.
The UA import many goods for consumption and industrialization (including transport infrastructure).
They control the Suez channel and other important high seas trade bottlenecks.

The UA suffers from a decline of crude oil production, but the price level is reasonable and close to the cost of coal-to-liquid crude oil substitutes.
The industry development focuses on industries that require few raw material imports, including a domestic arms and electronics industry at a similar degree of relative sophistication as China's industry in 2000.

UA politics are coined by numerous small parties with partial interests, representing minorities. The two major parties are theocratic and nationalist parties and compete for dominance by forging coalitions with regional parties and special interest parties.

Air power:
The military includes significant air power (hundreds of PAK-FA and late Flanker aircraft from Russia, hundreds of cheaper strike aircraft and UAVs from China, mass-produced ballistic and cruise missiles). The air force is also prepared to defeat powerful naval fleets, including carrier battlegroups, with missile saturation attacks.
The air force is the primary force for the employment of about 10-50 UA 150 kt nuclear warheads by cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.

Naval power:
The navy was designed to protect shipping in the Persian Gulf (primarily anti-air warfare), to track and destroy Israeli submarines (submarines and ASW ships) and for a combined prestige and expeditionary strike fleet with two aircraft carriers, two large amphibious ships and destroyers. It is able to block the straits of Hormuz and Gibraltar as well as the Bab-el-Mandeb with coastal surveillance and anti-shipping units.
The navy is the secondary force for the employment of the nuclear weapons, using its carrier aviation and submarine force for delivery.
The UA could begin to build a strong conventional submarine force to deter the USN and to threaten Europe and India with submarine warfare that cuts their overseas trade in the event of a conventional war. The shortage of nuclear fuel due to the nuclear arms program and the lack of experience and available SSN/SSBN export types prevents the establishment of a nuclear submarine force.

Land power:
The Arab army has no great reputation, but it's strong enough to face the Eastern neighbours with respected forces, to guard important locations against air and amphibious assaults and keeps a road-mobile rapid reaction corps with mostly wheeled vehicles.

Space power:
The UA have enough satellites in orbit for their communication, intelligence and maritime surveillance needs. They use the Russian satellite navigation system. Indigenous missile development and production suffices only for small satellites and low orbits, ideal for short-living and cheap military satellites.
The use of foreign, friendly satellites protects much of their satellite resources against attacks in wartime.

end of scenario

That's overall a conclusive (and fortunately unlikely) scenario to me, and it's one in which the first cardinal mistake is obvious:
Europe should not allow the Arabs to become an unfriendly power. An intervention in a unification process is the wrong approach in my opinion (see history of unifications, early Russian revolution).
Economic integration, technology transfers and diplomatic friendship could likely prevent such a disadvantageous Arab-Russian constellation. European meddling in the unification process, its ties to Israel and France's post-colonial policy were the greatest problems in regard to the Arabs in the scenario. A containment strategy failed.

Europe faces a united front of its Southern and Eastern neighbours and is likely a rival of North America at the same time; the worst case.

Such a return of 19th century unification movements and great power games into international politics would place huge and uncommon demands on our politician's abilities; alliance diplomacy has been relatively static and primitive since the Cold War began.

The conventional defence of Europe is relatively easy in the scenario and requires little more than a formal alliance, readiness for joint operations and mediocre defence budgets.
Russian military power can force an arms race on Europe, the separating Mediterranean limits the threat from Northern Africa enough to enable both parties to evade an arms race.
Nuclear defence of Europe could rest primarily on the deterrence umbrella of British and French nuclear weapons, at that time probably reinforced by small German, Italian and Spanish arsenals.

So what should Europe (EU) have as its strategy in such a situation?

A defensive alliance with India and an enlargement of the French and British nuclear arsenals for a more reliable second strike (deterrence) ability are obvious approaches. A defensive alliance with North America might be disadvantageous if North America isn't at good terms with China - Europe shouldn't import yet another conflict.
Europe could also soften up the connection between UA and SCO by improving the economic relations, up to arms sales and industrial development projects.
It would be useful to avoid unnecessary irritations to cool down existing conflicts, solving Sahel zone troubles diplomatically (splitting Christian-Muslim states in two parts) and by accepting Russian influence spheres in Far Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
This questions the position of the Baltic states as Western nations; they could remain formally independent, but under strong influence of Russia.

Domestic economic challenges are rampant in Western and even more so Southern and Eastern Europe. Arms control cooperation instead of Arms races is very advisable in such a situation.

The situation of Israel is extremely difficult in such a situation. It alienated Western nations with its behaviour for decades and realizes its weakness without strong support from abroad. A support for Israel runs counter to European egoistic interests, but a military end of the Israeli-Arab conflicts is not desirable at all.
An evacuation and a return of Arab rule over Palestine might be a solution, but less rational politics might lead to an unnecessary escalation due to the Israeli-Arabian conflict.


What could we do NOW?

We could do our best to clear up potential conflicts before they become relevant and poison our relations.

1) The post-colonial borders in central Africa that unite Muslim and Christian tribes into artificial states deserve some attention.
France should think about its Africa policy (albeit it was relatively successful in the past).

2) It's difficult due to 9/11, but a closer cultural link between Europe and its Southern neighbour, the Arab world, might help to establish a cooperative and friendly relationship.

3) France could and should do its best to integrate its immigrants, and prevent that they turn into/stay a permanent lower class with the normally associated problems.

4) It's not in our powers to defuse the Israeli-Arab conflict.
We should not allow this conflict to influence our relations with any powers, though. A neutral and fair stance would serve our interest the best.

The scenario is a promising story background for a fictional future thriller novel, and it shows clearly the need for a rational grand strategy for Europe.
Foresight and unified foreign policy are important in such grand strategic affairs, much more than in smaller and less consequential diplomatic events.
An emotional foreign policy could lead Europe into an avoidable and terrible strategic situation that stresses its resources to a breaking point.

Europe had a pretty much irrelevant and powerless Southern flank for centuries, but that might change in the future.



  1. I'm not buying much of your scenario. You presume, for example, that Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan are "Arab" states, when in fact they have very different cultures. For that matter, Egypt and Algeria are Arab in name only. France has been trying under Sarkozy to reduce its footprint in Africa. I also think that the presumption that the Arab world can get its act together, but Black Africa can't, is false.

    Black Africa actually has fewer long-term problems than the Arab states do. As an alternative to your scenario I would suggest a "split AU" future, with a North African union dominated by Egypt and Algeria facing a Black African union dominated by South Africa and Angola. Under this scenario, Europe would be an often confused and frustrated interventionist in Sahel conflicts fueled by the North/South rivalry.

    I also disagree that Iraq will fall under the sway of an Arab union. It is more likely to remain independent or aligned with Iran. Of all the states in the region, Iran has the most options. It is quite possible for them to line up with Turkey, create their own hegemony, or ally themselves with Europe or Russia or China.

    Finally, I disagree that "Arabs can't fight," which is a common slur nowadays. They don't fight very well in the politicized armies of corrupt governments, but no one else does either. On the other hand, Hezbollah fought quite well against the Israelis and the Iraqi insurgents put up a much better struggle than the Iraqi Regular Army did. It is, as it always is, a question of leadership. If the Arabs have it together enough to actually form a stable union, they probably are capable of the reforms necessary to improve their armies.

    I agree that the long-term prospects for Israel are grim. The time to make a deal on the West Bank was 1980, as Dayan well understood.

  2. I chose to include rather plenty countries because of the experience of the EU (Denmark and Cyprus aren't exactly similar, Germany and Spain definitively don't have the same nationality and even the Turks want to join!) and because it was pretty much a worst case scenario.
    An omission of Morocco would already solve half of the maritime challenge to Europe.

    "Arab" nationality isn't necessarily the decisive criterion in the "theocratic unification" version anyway.

    The overall challenge to Europe and my conclusions wouldn't be very different if we had a Western and an Eastern Arab union without the East African states and island states as scenario.

    I didn't write "Arabs can't fight," and object to your use of that unrelated quote. My actual quote was "Land power: The Arab army has no great reputation, but it's strong enough to (...)".

  3. Why are you predicting that Israel will be in economic decline in 2030?

  4. That's no prediction, but a scenario.

    The scenario includes an end of U.S. subsidies to Israel in the 2020's (that's a loss of about 1.5% GDP equivalent in free income!).
    The unification of their opponents would require even higher military expenditures and active personnel strengths.
    Its current industries rest on mature technologies and will likely become less competitive due to rising threshold countries.

    Such macro-economic factors would most likely cause economic problems of large scale.

    The major unknown variable is emigration/immigration and its effects.

    Israel is tiny in comparison to the Arab world and honestly, its economy is quite uninteresting in the scenario. It's mere ambience.

  5. Sven, very interesting idea.

    That is certainly the dream many Arabs have.

    Israelis may leave the country for jobs, but many would return to defend it, or die trying. While many may not consider it rational to wait and get nuked, it would not be the first time ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masada )