Abu Dhabi summit that brought together Gulf and Arab leaders in January 2023 (official)

Arab Policy of «Zero Problems»: Assessment and Challenges


Sun, 30-04-2023 03:02 PM, Aden

Despite the ongoing efforts to normalize relationships and restore the influence of the Arab role in the regional and global theaters, it cannot be said for sure that the policy of "zero problems" in the Arab region has succeeded

South24 Center

Since Al-Ula Agreement which was signed in Saudi Arabia in January 2021 and restored the relations between the quartet and Qatar, the active efforts of Arab countries have continued in the region to regather themselves and re-read its foreign political calculations as part of the "zero problems" strategy to rearrange the internal and regional house. These understandings have emerged through the Saudi and Emirati approach to improve their relationships with Turkey, exit the circle of direct impact in the Libyan file and resume relationships with Syria. Additionally, Riyadh signed a Chinese-brokered agreement to resume ties with its historic rival, Iran. This came amid regional endeavors to end the conflict in Yemen which entered its ninth year at the end of March.

The approach adopted by Arab states toward reconciliation indicates their readiness to put their differences aside and work for a more peaceful and stable region. However, challenges and obstacles are still there and need to be addressed. The conflict in Yemen is ongoing. It remains to see whether the Saudi-led Coalition can end the conflict without giving big concessions to the Houthi militias, especially after the visit made by a Saudi delegation to Sanaa on April 9th where they met senior Houthi leaders. Moreover, the issue of the future position of South Yemen and the calls for independence has not been solved yet, especially since the war produced a divisive reality like the era before unifying the two states in May 1990.

Likewise, the normalization of the relationships with various countries in the region, including Turkey and Iran, can be considered a positive move towards reducing tension in the region. However, some of these reconciliations were met with resistance and criticism from some parties in the region, especially Israel, in addition to Washington's feelings of upset. These developments will affect the international balance of power and the US's role in the region. With the US being preoccupied with the Ukrainian conflict and the focus of its strategic plans on the situation in South China Sea and Taiwan, some Arab states may feel the need to take on more responsibilities regarding their regional security and stability. 

On the other side of the Arab world, in Africa, the latest military conflict in Sudan between the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces is a major concern that may have wider consequences on the region's security. This raises a question about who would benefit from the escalation of the conflict in Sudan, especially since the Arab countries work to settle their disputes and establish a more unified front.

The policy of "zero problems"

Despite the ongoing efforts to normalize relationships and restore the influence of the Arab role in the regional and global theaters, it cannot be said for sure that the policy of "zero problems" in the Arab region has succeeded. This is because the situation in the region is already complicated and is affected by varied factors and interests. Furthermore, the active Arab states deal in most cases from the perspective of their top personal interests and do not take into consideration the exorbitant costs caused by wars in other Arab regions such as Yemen, Syria, and Libya.

It is worth mentioning that some conflicts and disputes were settled recently. This reflects the will of Arab states to cooperate and reach peaceful solutions for crises. However, several conflicts and disputes in the region still need peaceful solutions and ongoing diplomatic efforts to end them.

For example, ending the conflict in Yemen without reaching an agreement that would satisfy all the disputing parties is impossible. No country can impose its terms on the local parties from its perspective only. The comprehensive and sustainable political solution requires reaching an agreement that meets the demands of all disputing parties and maintains the rights of all parties considering the historical and political backgrounds of these issues.

Additionally, the policy of "zero problems" is not an easy mission and requires a strong political will and effective international cooperation as well as turning this into a public culture among the media and political and influential elites. The Arab countries need to work to enhance trust between them and to strengthen economic, commercial, and cultural ties to foster cooperation and solidarity among them. This requires much time and a lot of effort.

The evaluation of the normalization endeavors

To measure the success of this Arab approach towards the arrangement of the internal house, the endeavors to normalize Arab relationships, whether locally or with regional states such as Iran and Turkey, can be assessed through some factors and indicators as follows:

1- The time range: The continuity of the troubled relationships and the political conflicts among the related states should be monitored to determine the extent of political and economic stability after signing agreements and normalizing relationships.

2- Mutual interests: The achievement of joint goals among the relevant states should be monitored regarding establishing regional stability, economic development, and cultural cooperation.

3- The wide range: The effects caused by the tense relationships among the relevant parties in the past and the impacts resulting from the normalization of relationships must be analyzed on a wide range including the impact on neighboring countries and international relations.

4- Transparency: The extent of transparency in the normalization process and its relevant agreements must be monitored as well as their compatibility with regional and international objectives.

5- The humanitarian issues: The commitment to human rights and basic freedoms has to be monitored in the relevant states in addition to the extent to which the humanitarian situation has improved in countries affected by conflicts and crises.

Multipolar policy

No doubt that the new developments in the Arab region may enhance the international multipolar policy and affect the US's role in the region. For example, the Arab normalization with Iran may reduce the need for the US in the Middle East. This could lead to more reduction of the American military presence. There are attempts to rebalance power in the region and form new alliances which serve certain interests. Thus, there may be an increasing need to work with other countries, such as Russia and China, to achieve common goals.

The current interactions of the international system map increased the need for the developing and emerging countries to search for new paths and cooperative formulas as well as disengagement from Western unilateral policies. This is what prompts the countries of the Middle East, especially the Arab countries, to reconsider the form of existing and potential alliances, the foremost of which is the alliance with the BRICS countries. 

However, one should pay attention that the US still has an enormous influence in the region and maintains strong relationships with several Arab states. It continues its support of its strategic allies there such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. Consequently, the new developments may have no quick impact on the US's role in the area in the near term. Washington may have to adapt its policy to deal with these shifts to face that.

The impact on regional security 

The latest developments in the Arab region are considered an important turning point. This can lead to the improvement of security and stability in the region in general. With the normalization of the relationships among the Arab Gulf states themselves and between the Arab states and some of their rivals in the Middle East, bigger cooperation may occur in the face of common security challenges. This includes terrorist threats, economic challenges, and agreement on a common approach to resolving crises in Arab conflict countries such as Syria, Yemen, Libya, and finally Sudan. Although some Arab states did not join these efforts that were achieved recently, this transformation is expected to help in reducing political and military tensions in the region.

However, the region still faces big challenges including the ongoing conflict in Yemen, the Syria conflict, and other regional conflicts. It may take a long time to solve these conflicts and achieve full security and stability in the region as some countries may still be exposed to various security threats. Additionally, the change of political conditions in the region may lead to the increase of regional influence of some major states such as Iran and Turkey. This in turn could renew tensions and conflicts, especially if a comprehensive approach to arrange the Arab house is not based on the strategy of exchanging interests and if it does not aim to get the poor states in the region out of the tragic situation in different fields.

The war in Sudan

Considering these Arab endeavors, the conflict in Sudan emerges as one of the most prominent challenges that may blow up these efforts. Currently, one cannot determine accurately, who is the biggest beneficiary from the explosion of the internal conflict in Sudan. On the contrary, this conflict destroys infrastructure, economy, and security in the state. It has led to the displacement of people and has widened the cycle of violence and chaos. On the other hand, some parties may seek to exploit these developments in the region to enhance their regional and international influence and to maintain the area as a renewable conflict arena to affect long-term policies that touch the future of the Arab region as a whole.

Finally, the latest moves toward reconciliation among the Arab states are encouraging. Several challenges and obstacles need to be addressed including regional leadership competition in the Arab region. If the Arab states continue the road of reconciliation, enhance the "zero problems" approach and work to create a more peaceful and stable region, this will undoubtedly lead to positive effects on the wider region and outside it.

South24 Center for News and Studies 

South YemenZero ProblemsSaudi Iranian AgreementYemeni WarSyriaSudanSudan WarTurkeyChinaRussiaUSA