Instability and Conflict in the Middle East: People, Petroleum and Security Threats

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Instability and Conflict in the Middle East: People, Petroleum and Security Threats, by Naji Abi-Aad and Michel Grenon. London: Macmillan Press; and New York: St. Martins Press, 1997. xv + 190 pages. Append. to p. 200. Notes to p. 201. Bibl. to p. 207. Index to p. 224. $65.

Reviewed by Julia Nanay

While the peace process in the Middle East dominates news headlines, a greater understanding of other problems confronting the region is timely and necessary. In their new book, Naji Abi-Aad and Michel Grenon have deliberately not focused on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Instead, they have attempted to outline other issues that could affect the region's future stability as well as Western access to its vast energy resources: military spending, the lack of water resources, the autocratic nature of many of the ruling regimes, the population explosion, and border disputes. This highly readable book provides quick access to vital information in a user friendly format. By placing key issues and facts in information tables and boxes, the authors have enhanced the reader's ability to use the book as a reference text. These tables are especially useful in the discussion of interstate border disputes (Table 6.1, pp. 92-94), the complex ethnic mosaic of many states (Table 5.1, p. 84), the uneven economic development in the region (Table 7.1, p. 118), and the distribution of oil pipelines (Table 12.1, pp. 18283).

"The pressure for more representative governments throughout the region is likely to grow and threatens to become a major source of instability" (p. 13), write the authors. A box (Box 1.1, pp. 15-18) on all the leading Arab royal families is particularly useful. The authors argue that many of these dynasties are still convinced that they can buy political security in the long term by distributing free goods and services to their people, rather than by opening up the political system. Public perceptions, however, are rapidly changing, and the demands for greater political participation are increasing dramatically.

Chapter Three, on defense spending and national armies, is the best in the book. Few Arab regimes can absorb the enormous quantities of expensive high-tech weaponry they purchase from the West, which also keeps their armies heavily dependent on foreign technical expertise-a fact that undermines rather than enhances national security. …