Speaker: Katz, M. (George Mason University)
Date: 22 August 2019
SMA hosted a speaker session presented by Prof. Mark Katz (George Mason University) as a part of its SMA CENTCOM / EUCOM Speaker Series. Prof. Katz began by stating that, while the US has steadily withdrawn troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria over recent years, Russian engagement in the Middle East has increased. He emphasized that the US should be concerned about Russian activities in this region, particularly because the US has heavily invested in the region for the past 18 years. Many US allies in the Middle East maintain positive relationships with Russia; moreover, non-Middle Eastern US allies are generally more concerned about Russian activities in their own neighborhood than in the Middle East, which makes US efforts to limit Russian influence in the region difficult. Prof. Katz then offered three possible explanations as to why US allies in the Middle East would turn to Russia when it overtly supports regional terror groups, such as Hezbollah: 1) As the US expresses its desire to reduce its involvement in the Middle East, regional US allies may be turning to Russia in an attempt to regain US attention and aid; 2) Middle Eastern US allies may recognize the opportunistic and cooperative nature of Putin’s foreign policy and want to reap the benefits of Russia’s network; and 3) Middle Eastern US allies may be trying to undercut their adversaries’ relationships with Moscow, despite the fact that cooperating with Russia will not reduce or end Moscow’s cooperation with these adversaries. Prof. Katz also stated that US allies in the Middle East often cooperate with Russia due to their dependence on petroleum exports. These allies also see US shale-oil production as a competitive threat to their high oil prices. Furthermore, Middle Eastern US allies are comfortable cooperating with Putin, primarily because Putin is perceived as a suitable business partner and the protector of the status quo in the region. To conclude, Prof. Katz presented four potential policy approaches that the US could adopt to address Russia’s expanding influence in the Middle East: 1) the “Middle-East-Allied-Centric” approach, 2) the “Other-Allied-Centric” approach, 3) the “Strategic-Patience” approach, and 4) the “Coalition-building” approach.
Speaker Session Audio File