The first chapter sets the scene, providing a historical sketch of the creation of new states. This chapter will also provide an overview of the world history of creating new states, of the problems they encounter – but also of how many have been successful despite dire predictions by their erstwhile parent states. The chapter – like the ones that follow it – is based on a blend of personal experiences of the author and historical examples.
The international politics of creating a new state
So, we have covered the legal matters. But that is only the beginning. The second part is to finalize the divorce with the erstwhile partner country. That requires negotiation skills, and it requires friends in other places. To be recognised by the international community, you need to get the support of two-thirds of the members of the United Nations, and you also need to get a majority of the members of the UN Security Council on board. If you do not, you lose out on the perks associated with being an independent state, such as special drawing rights in the International Monetary Fund, the right to join international organisations, and the right to be protected by international law. It can be done, but it requires skill, tenacity, and a helping of good luck. The fourth chapter uses examples (in many cases ones that the author has been involved in) to show how states become recognized – and why sometimes they fail in this endeavour.
To establish a new state is not just about international law; it is also about making money. How can a new country start paying its own bills? What have other countries done? Do they have to settle the score with its erstwhile parent state? (The answer will surprise you! Basically, the new country can walk away from the partnership without paying a penny. Ireland graciously granted the United Kingdom one pound when the two countries split up in 1922.) The international community has, so far in vain, tried to develop rules that lead to a sharing of debt. But is it prudent to simply walk away? What have new countries done? And why? Another economic issue is that of the currency. The British government warned that Scotland could not use the pound after independence. In reality, the Scots can use whatever they like. (Several countries use the US dollar without asking Washington for permission.) But the new state does not sit at the table and will not be able to set interest rates. So, simply using another currency can be tricky. And this is putting it mildly.
Before you can even begin to think about “breaking free”, you need to start a movement and get momentum behind it. To become independent often takes decades of hard work. It is especially important to forge a sense of togetherness and a feeling among your fellow countrymen and women that you have a shared destiny. Some of this can be done through appeals to emotions, and for this reason you need, for example, films that glorify the shared past. Patriotic songs and cultural artefacts you can rally around are important, and so too is finding common grievances. These elements come together when you finally get to vote on independence in a referendum. At this stage, you need to be emotional rather than factual. You want to win, so you might need to be willing to sail close to the wind. Or, to change the metaphor, break the rules.
Breaking up is like a divorce settlement. And like in the family courts in the civil world, there are many rules associated with the establishment of a new state. Some of them deal with the right to file the paperwork in the first place. The first issue deals with the so-called right of self-determination. Is this a right? When are countries allowed to start the proceedings? As in the case of families, you have a right to leave an abusive relationship, but unlike in the civil world, there is not always a neutral mediator who can validate the facts. Further, once the conditions for starting political divorce proceedings are met, there are rules – some of them very old-fashioned and arcane – that have to be followed. The second chapter deals with these and provides a checklist for when the new state goes to their solicitor and starts the process.
This chapter focuses on Syria as a space where one of the region’s longest-running and most brutal civil conflicts has been subject to the penetration of external powers, including Iran and Saudi Arabia. In this chapter, the author asses the utility of different theoretical perspectives from international relations in explaining Iran’s comparative success vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia in Syria. The analysis shows that while structural factors clearly were important, the significance of domestic and ideational factors alongside them suggests that purely systemic answers are insufficient alone to explain the conflict’s outcome. The chapter concludes that a neoclassical realist interpretation offers the best explanation for Saudi Arabia’s inability to adapt to the changing external context and make the most of its advantages, due in part to the influence of domestic factors.
Religious legitimacy and the foreign policies of Saudi Arabia and Iran
Chapter 3 explores how competition in the religious domain impacts on the foreign policies of Iran and Saudi Arabia. In this chapter, the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran is unpacked from the perspective of claims to religious legitimacy, showing how both countries have historically relied on their own understandings of Islam to legitimise state authority, frame nationalist projects, and as a foreign policy tool. The chapter highlights how the struggle for religious competition between the two states goes beyond the Sunni–Shia schism, and translates into both geopolitical and domestic disorder. By using a comparative analysis the chapter traces the ways in which the dependence on Islam as a state tool has influenced both domestic and foreign policies in each country and, in turn, the wider Saudi–Iranian competition for regional authority.
This final chapter offers some reflections and conclusions as to how the rivalry between the two regional powers of Iran and Saudi Arabia is realised differently through time and space. Though competition and rivalry appear to predominate in the calculus of both states, shown starkly by how this has manifested in the cases explored in this volume, the authors seek to offer a less pessimistic outlook for the future of relations between the states. As key powers in a contested region, Iran and Saudi Arabia need to move towards greater accommodation and understanding of one another’s interests to secure the future peace and prosperity of the Middle East.
Yemen as a theatre for the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia
Chapter 8 looks at the case of Yemen as a theatre for the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. This chapter explains how the notion of ‘sunk cost effect’ helps to explain Saudi Arabia’s inability to extricate itself from the conflict in Yemen, due to the material and reputational resources that it has expended there. In doing so, it highlights the ways in which the linkage of the Houthis to Iran by Riyadh helped frame the conflict as part of the broader rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The subsequent result of this framing has, ultimately, increased the reputational and material cost related to any possible Saudi withdrawal, whereas for Iran the involvement has had comparatively low cost materially.
Efforts to understand the rivalry between Riyadh and Tehran have produced a body of literature that can be separated into three camps. The first suggests that the rivalry is best understood through a balance of power in the Gulf. The second suggests that religion plays a prominent role in shaping the nature of the rivalry and that so-called proxy conflicts have been drawn along sectarian lines. The third suggests that a more nuanced approach is needed, drawing upon concerns about regime power and legitimacy – externally and internally – with instrumentalised use of religious difference. This chapter introduces the broader parameters of the debate around the Iran–Saudi rivalry, incorporating key works in the field to date. It also provides a historical contextualisation of this key geopolitical relationship. This introductory chapter concludes by outlining the individual chapter contributions to the volume.