A new overarching Asian order
For years, as the United States (US) has attempted a strategic pivot to East Asia, West Asian analysts have warned of an impending “vacuum” in the region. But what if the premise of this critique was flawed? What if there was a way to address the rising challenges in East Asia, while simultaneously entrusting American interests with a regional bloc across West Asia?
Last week, US secretary of state Antony Blinken convened a virtual meeting with the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), India, and Israel to discuss “expanding economic and political cooperation in the Middle East and Asia, including through trade, combating climate change, energy cooperation, and increasing maritime security.” This unprecedented meeting represents a historic geopolitical shift.
America’s pivot to the Indo-Pacific is gaining momentum, as evidenced by a tumultuous end to the war in Afghanistan and the new deal to supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. Still, it would be foolish to think that West Asia is not critical within this. The Suez Canal remains an indispensable geostrategic chokepoint for global trade and maritime security. Further, the region will continue to be a theatre for great power competition, given its centrality to the global economy as an irreplaceable energy hub, whether policymakers in Washington want it or not.
Unlike the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Europe or Quad in the Indo-Pacific, there is no security architecture in West Asia that can collectively address the challenges facing the region in the absence of Washington, which has always been the primary security guarantor and regional convener. Now, the broader West Asian region is facing a new reality, a different one where Washington is pivoting away — for real this time — and wants to focus its limited resources and political will on another strategic theatre, the Indo-Pacific, where China is Washington’s biggest threat.
Whether this pivot succeeds is partly dependent on building a regional security architecture for West Asia that tackles the region’s challenges without the need for a unilateral US military presence.
Last July, I wrote an essay for the Middle East Institute, arguing that a unique grouping — the Indo-Abrahamic alliance — could emerge between India, Israel, and the UAE. This unprecedented bloc stems from consequential geopolitical moves — the Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE, as well as the realignment between Israel and India. The Indo-Abrahamic framework was endorsed by one of India’s leading strategists, C Raja Mohan, who wrote that it “underlines the extraordinary churn in the geopolitics of the Middle East”.
Power-brokers in West Asia understand that because of the US pivot to the Indo-Pacific, they need to build their own regional security architecture. The UAE and Israel are capitalising on India’s centrality in the Indo-Pacific strategy and Washington’s traditional convener role in the Middle East to build closer ties with both countries.
The Indo-Abrahamic bloc can be built from the bottom-up through issue-based working groups focused on critical areas such as space, drones, data security, 5G, cybersecurity, missile defence, and maritime security in the Indian Ocean, the Gulf, and the Mediterranean Sea. The US could also utilise its status as a global power to bring Arab, Asian, and European allies into these working groups. Due to their security capabilities and strategic interests in West Asia and the Indo-Pacific, Egypt, France, Japan, and Korea are the most suitable among US partners to join the working groups. The aim of working groups— and the inclusion of multi-theatre US allies — is to synchronise the work streams among American allies and partners in the region, and eventually, a test-run for a Washington-backed bottom-up internationalised security architecture in the region.
This new Indo-Abrahamic bloc can also bridge the gap between Washington’s desire to reduce its focus on West Asia while managing the ambitions of regional governments to build their own technological and military capabilities. Initiating a dialogue between India, Israel, and the UAE is Washington’s attempt to formalise the Indo-Abrahamic bloc. Now, Washington’s next act is institutionalising and expanding the block through multilateral, issue-based working groups, which include other US regional and international allies and partners in the medium.
This may sound like a moonshot project in a region plagued with historic grievances and seemingly intractable divisions along ideological and geopolitical lines. But failing to build such an architecture will create a vacuum in West Asia that can be filled by great power rivals— Russia and China. To make the pivot to the Indo-Pacific successful, Washington needs a plan to ensure that the US does not get pulled back into West Asia as the sole security guarantor.
The Indo-Abrahamic bloc has the potential to transform regional geopolitics and geo-economics, and finally allow Washington to do more with less in the region. Such a partnership, linking the Indo-Abrahamic bloc with the US Indo-Pacific strategy, shores up an overarching Asian order.
Mohammed Soliman is a global strategy adviser and a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute
The views expressed are personal