The 7th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) “Manama Dialogue” has come to a close after two and a half days of high-level interaction and with the summit providing a platform for exchanging ideas .
Among the ideas that emerged, two stood out for their immediacy: one that the Arab world has to realign itself to a new geo-economic and geo-strategic centre of gravity which is located eastwards in Asia; and the second that threat perceptions now encompass environmental dangers, disease and terrorism, and are far more diffuse than in the days of nuclear stand-off.
Presenting these new directions, Kuwait’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Shaikh Muhammad Al Sabah Al Sabah also argued that governments can no longer control the international agenda and will have to accommodate new movers and shakers, such as non-governmental organisations and social networks.
The last day saw serious business being discussed in closed-door meetings which discussed four red-button topics: securing Yemen’s future; maritime security operations and international cooperation; Iraq and the region and military cooperation in the region.
Piracy and maritime security have been a constant theme throughout the Manama Dialogue. Every plenary session has mentioned the issue, while the presence of various naval delegations and the ongoing international deployments in the western Indian Ocean means that, beyond Iran, it has proved a hot topic of the conference.
The focus on piracy also means little attention has been paid to maritime terrorism. Given that the US Department of Transport confirmed two weeks ago that damage to the Japanese tanker, the M Star, near the Strait of Hormuz in July was the result of a suicide attack, this omission might seem surprising. Yet, given that attempted pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia have reached a record level this year, it seems the regional and international navies have enough to deal with in the short term.
Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Kevin Rudd said at his press conference that Australia is committed to the maritime security operations here in this part of the world.
“Piracy is a challenge to all states and of course is a particular challenge in this region,” he said. “Both historically on the counter terrorism front, also on the counter piracy front and from time to time together with other navies, we are participating in these operations. This is a challenge in various parts of Southeast Asia as well, where we have seen these problems in the past. All states have an interest in maintaining open sea lines of navigation and communication — that includes Australia as well.”
Iran was undoubtedly the main topic of discussion at the summit and the Iranian delegation, led by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, proved persuasive if truculent defenders of their point of view in the face of what many saw as a US charm offensive ahead of the Geneva P5+1 meeting.
Another idea that found airtime was the concept of a regional centre to fight Al Qaeda. Although originally proposed in 2005, it was once again deliberated at the Manama Dialogue by Prince Turki Al Faisal. Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief who said the unified centre must be created to help countries join ranks and eradicate the Islamist “danger” which threatens the world.
“The danger threatens all of us and the fight against terrorism necessitates international action,” he said in talks with the media on the sidelines of the summit. “There should be no obstacles between countries on the exchange of information” about Al Qaeda, he added.