How Napoleon’s Legacy Explains the Middle East’s ConflictsRoundup
tags: colonialism, Napoleon, Middle East history, Israel-Palestine Conflict
Dr. Yoav J. Tenembaum is a lecturer in International Relations at Tel Aviv University, Israel.
The latest violent conflict between the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israel has highlighted the importance of understanding the conflicts in the Middle East from a status quo vs revolutionary actor perspective.
Two hundred years ago this year Napoleon Bonaparte died, leaving an enduring legacy in international relations: The revolutionary power bent on altering considerably or destroying the prevailing international order.
There are two kinds of actors in the international system: Status Quo and Revolutionary. The former accepts, more or less, the existing international system as it is, while the latter rejects the prevailing legitimacy of the international system and seeks to alter it considerably or to overthrow it entirely.
The French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte are the first manifestation of a revolutionary actor in modern history. The revolutionaries behind the French Revolution of 1789 tried to export its ideas to other parts of Europe, both through the pen and the gun. Napoleon's France expanded much further, destroying the classical balance of power that had existed for most of the eighteenth century.
The Soviet Union was a revolutionary power from its very inception, calling for a change in the prevailing international order. Its leaders truly believed that, following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, which brought the Communists to power, many other countries in Europe would follow suit.
Nazi Germany was a revolutionary power, seeking to destroy the prevailing international order.
The difference, in this regard, between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany was that the first was not suicidal whereas the latter was; Nazi Germany took its ideology to its most apocalyptic extremes, the Soviet Union had a sense of limits.
The contrast between a status quo and revolutionary actor applies as well to sub-systems of the international system.
Thus, in a sub-system like the Middle East, the current Iranian regime can be said to have revolutionary foreign policy goals, leading it to seek major changes in the region, including the destruction of Israel as a sovereign state. The Islamic Republic of Iran is a revolutionary actor as it has striven since 1979 to alter considerably the prevailing order in the Middle East, leading former foes in the region to establish tacit or open alliances in order to thwart the intentions of the Iranian regime.
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