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European Security in a Shifting Global Order

By Zachary Paikin

European security issues are often framed in binary fashion, along the lines of the rivalry between Russia and the West. Recent developments reinforce this perception, such as the US-Russia presidential summit in Geneva held in June or the deal reached last month between Washington and Berlin on the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Yet while the US-Russia great power dynamic is often determinative of events in Europe, it obscures a more complex tapestry of nested security orders that coexist on the continent.

Europe today boasts a multipolar balance of power, with its three most powerful states – Russia, Turkey and Britain – situated outside the European Union. This multipolarity, in turn, is nested within the NATO-Russia divide which bisects the continent, as well as the US-China rivalry in which NATO and the EU have become involved. Not only do these three overlapping dynamics – intra-European, Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian/global – render the pathway to a stable European security framework increasingly difficult, they also point to lessons concerning the shape of global order in the decades ahead.

The Euro-Atlantic component of European security is marked by both change and continuity. Following the damage that the Trump administration inflicted on the legitimacy of U.S. global leadership, Joe Biden’s presidency has shifted the American conception of liberal internationalism from hegemony-centric to coalition-centric. Washington no longer aims to construct a uniform and universal liberal order as in the 1990s and 2000s. 

At the same time, U.S. foreign policy remains geared toward the preservation of American global primacy, as well as Washington’s position as the pre-eminent power in Europe. This guarantees Russia’s continued exclusion from the continent’s core political and security frameworks and thus an adversarial relationship between Washington and Moscow. As such, Washington’s long-term role in European affairs remains both uncertain and geared toward confrontation, even as it attempts to redirect the focus of its transatlantic partners toward China. 

NATO’s budding dual focus on Moscow and Beijing further muddies the waters of European security. Russia and China have formed a strategic partnership and not a full-blown alliance, offering each country a degree of flexibility to pursue their own respective interests according to the paradigm of “never against each other, but not always with each other”. Therefore, although Washington may not possess the ability to turn Moscow against Beijing for the foreseeable future, there should remain ample scope to pursue a European policy agenda focused on Russia-related security issues without bringing China into the equation.

Instead, the transatlantic alliance’s turn towards China – a country which presents security challenges but does not pose a direct military threat to Europe – is accelerating the fusion of the European and Asian theatres. Whether a more robust European involvement in Asian affairs will help to guarantee a stable local balance of power in the face of a rising China remains unclear. But given that the Western effort at dual containment of Moscow and Beijing stands to deepen Russia’s dependence on China, Beijing’s growing salience in NATO’s strategic planning will undoubtedly make reaching a European accommodation with Moscow more difficult. In short, the intermeshing of the European and Asian security systems threatens to affect both systems in unpredictable ways.

The situation is further exacerbated by the ideological fashion in which the Biden administration conceives of the nascent Sino-American rivalry along democratic-authoritarian lines. Presenting the conflict with Beijing in Manichean terms may afford some advantages for the United States, given that nominally universal democratic values hold stronger global appeal than China’s more nationalistic and singular political culture. However, any ideological framing of today’s great power competition has the potential to spill over into US-Russia relations and thus undermine the White House’s stated goal of a “stable and predictable” relationship with Moscow.

Russia is not the Soviet Union: the military threat that it poses to Europe is not sufficient to supersede the varied array of security perceptions that now exist on the continent. For example, tensions between NATO allies France and Turkey have grown significantly in recent years, with Paris contending that Ankara’s assertive posture in the Eastern Mediterranean threatens the security and interests of the European Union. Even a behemoth as powerful as China has been characterized by the European External Action Service as “a cooperation partner, a negotiation partner, an economic competitor and a systemic rival” all at the same time.

The US-China rivalry has now acquired a momentum that will prove difficult to arrest. And while the launch of a US-Russia Strategic Stability Dialogue is a welcome move, new technologies and an asymmetric distribution of capabilities between Moscow and Washington render it uncertain whether this process will produce an adequate replacement for Europe’s eroding security architecture. In short, the future of the European security system remains trapped between a great power rivalry that is increasingly global in scope and unresolved questions over the future role of the continent’s hegemonic power.

Together, these factors ensure a period of prolonged uncertainty, discouraging the leading actors on the continent from making concessions aimed at achieving a stable regional equilibrium, to the extent that one is possible when military-economic multipolarity is accompanied by differing normative visions and political values. European security has become – and is likely to remain – multi-layered.

That this situation prevails on a continent that has historically been seen as an exemplar of regional integration and liberal peace brings cause for skepticism over the potential for a uniform global order rooted in common norms and values. The pursuit of order – and, ideally, some form of universalism – in today’s world must therefore occur through the embrace rather than the rejection of complexity. This does not necessarily represent a victory for amoral realism. But it does present a case for pragmatic globalism over the excesses of liberal idealism, despite the latter’s many successes.

Dr. Zachary Paikin (@zpaikin) is a Nonresident Research Fellow at IPD and a Researcher in EU Foreign Policy at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels (CEPS).

Panel 4: Pathways to Manage Non-Proliferation in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:45 PM ET)

The Western powers have failed to effectively manage the increasing threat of proliferation in the Middle East. While the international community is concerned with Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has moved forward with developing its own nuclear program, and independent studies show that Israel has longed possessed dozens of nuclear warheads. The former is a member of the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), while the latter has refused to sign the international agreement. 

On Middle East policy, the Biden campaign had staunchly criticized the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal and it has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier since assuming office in January 2021. However, serious obstacles remain for responsible actors in expanding non-proliferation efforts toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. 

This panel will discuss how Western powers and multilateral institutions, such as the IAEA, can play a more effective role in managing non-proliferation efforts in the Middle East.  


Peggy Mason: Canada’s former Ambassador to the UN for Disarmament

Mark Fitzpatrick: Associate Fellow & Former Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

Ali Vaez: Iran Project Director, International Crisis Group

Negar Mortazavi: Journalist and Political Analyst, Host of Iran Podcast

David Albright: Founder and President of the Institute for Science and International Security


Closing (5:45 PM – 6:00 PM ET)

Panel 3: Trade and Business Diplomacy in the Middle East (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

What is the current economic landscape in the Middle East? While global foreign direct investment is expected to fall drastically in the post-COVID era, the World Bank reported a 5% contraction in the economic output of the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries in 2020 due to the pandemic. While oil prices are expected to rebound with normalization in demand, political instability, regional and geopolitical tensions, domestic corruption, and a volatile regulatory and legal environment all threaten economic recovery in the Middle East. What is the prospect for economic growth and development in the region post-pandemic, and how could MENA nations promote sustainable growth and regional trade moving forward?

At the same time, Middle Eastern diaspora communities have become financially successful and can help promote trade between North America and the region. In this respect, the diaspora can become vital intermediaries for advancing U.S. and Canada’s business interests abroad. Promoting business diplomacy can both benefit the MENA region and be an effective and positive way to advance engagement and achieve foreign policy goals of the North Atlantic.

This panel will investigate the trade and investment opportunities in the Middle East, discuss how facilitating economic engagement with the region can benefit Canadian and American national interests, and explore relevant policy prescriptions.


Hon. Sergio Marchi: Canada’s Former Minister of International Trade

Scott Jolliffe: Chairperson, Canada Arab Business Council

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj: Founder and Publisher of Bourse & Bazaar

Nizar Ghanem: Director of Research and Co-founder at Triangle

Nicki Siamaki: Researcher at Control Risks

Panel 2: Arms Race and Terrorism in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

The Middle East continues to grapple with violence and instability, particularly in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Fueled by government incompetence and foreign interventions, terrorist insurgencies have imposed severe humanitarian and economic costs on the region. Meanwhile, regional actors have engaged in an unprecedented pursuit of arms accumulation. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have imported billions of both Western and Russian-made weapons and funded militant groups across the region, intending to contain their regional adversaries, particularly Iran. Tehran has also provided sophisticated weaponry to various militia groups across the region to strengthen its geopolitical position against Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel. 

On the other hand, with international terrorist networks and intense regional rivalry in the Middle East, it is impractical to discuss peace and security without addressing terrorism and the arms race in the region. This panel will primarily discuss the implications of the ongoing arms race in the region and the role of Western powers and multilateral organizations in facilitating trust-building security arrangements among regional stakeholders to limit the proliferation of arms across the Middle East.



Luciano Zaccara: Assistant Professor, Qatar University

Dania Thafer: Executive Director, Gulf International Forum

Kayhan Barzegar: Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of Azad University

Barbara Slavin: Director of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council

Sanam Shantyaei: Senior Journalist at France24 & host of Middle East Matters

Panel 1: Future of Diplomacy and Engagement in the Middle East (10:30 AM-11:45 AM ET)

The emerging regional order in West Asia will have wide-ranging implications for global security. The Biden administration has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier, an initiative staunchly opposed by Israel, while also taking a harder line on Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Meanwhile, key regional actors, including Qatar, Iraq, and Oman, have engaged in backchannel efforts to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. From a broader geopolitical perspective, with the need to secure its energy imports, China is also expected to increase its footprint in the region and influence the mentioned challenges. 

In this evolving landscape, Western powers will be compelled to redefine their strategic priorities and adjust their policies with the new realities in the region. In this panel, we will discuss how the West, including the United States and its allies, can utilize multilateral diplomacy with its adversaries to prevent military escalation in the region. Most importantly, the panel will discuss if a multilateral security dialogue in the Persian Gulf region, proposed by some regional actors, can help reduce tensions among regional foes and produce sustainable peace and development for the region. 


Abdullah Baabood: Academic Researcher and Former Director of the Centre for Gulf Studies, Qatar University

Trita Parsi: Executive Vice-President, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Ebtesam Al-Ketbi: President, Emirates Policy Centre​

Jon Allen: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Israel

Elizabeth Hagedorn: Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor

Panel 4: Humanitarian Diplomacy: An Underused Foreign Policy Tool in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:30 PM ET)

Military interventions, political and economic instabilities, and civil unrest in the Middle East have led to a global refugee crisis with an increasing wave of refugees and asylum seekers to Europe and Canada. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has, in myriad ways, exacerbated and contributed to the ongoing security threats and destabilization of the region.

While these challenges pose serious risks to Canadian security, Ottawa will also have the opportunity to limit such risks and prevent a spillover effect vis-à-vis effective humanitarian initiatives in the region. In this panel, we will primarily investigate Canada’s Middle East Strategy’s degree of success in providing humanitarian aid to the region. Secondly, the panel will discuss what programs and initiatives Canada can introduce to further build on the renewed strategy. and more specifically, how Canada can utilize its policy instruments to more effectively deal with the increasing influx of refugees from the Middle East. 



Erica Di Ruggiero: Director of Centre for Global Health, University of Toronto

Reyhana Patel: Head of Communications & Government Relations, Islamic Relief Canada

Amir Barmaki: Former Head of UN OCHA in Iran

Catherine Gribbin: Senior Legal Advisor for International and Humanitarian Law, Canadian Red Cross

Panel 3: A Review of Canada’s Middle East Engagement and Defense Strategy (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

In 2016, Canada launched an ambitious five-year “Middle East Engagement Strategy” (2016-2021), committing to investing CA$3.5 billion over five years to help establish the necessary conditions for security and stability, alleviate human suffering and enable stabilization programs in the region. In the latest development, during the meeting of the Global Coalition against ISIS, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau announced more than $43.6 million in Peace and Stabilization Operations Program funding for 11 projects in Syria and Iraq.

With Canada’s Middle East Engagement Strategy expiring this year, it is time to examine and evaluate this massive investment in the Middle East region in the past five years. More importantly, the panel will discuss a principled and strategic roadmap for the future of Canada’s short-term and long-term engagement in the Middle East.


Ferry de Kerckhove: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Egypt

Dennis Horak: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Chris Kilford: Former Canadian Defence Attaché in Turkey, member of the national board of the Canadian International Council (CIC)

David Dewitt: University Professor Emeritus, York University

Panel 2: The Great Power Competition in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

While the United States continues to pull back from certain regional conflicts, reflected by the Biden administration’s decision to halt American backing for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and the expected withdrawal from Afghanistan, US troops continue to be stationed across the region. Meanwhile, Russia and China have significantly maintained and even expanded their regional activities. On one hand, the Kremlin has maintained its military presence in Syria, and on the other hand, China has signed an unprecedented 25-year strategic agreement with Iran.

As the global power structure continues to shift, it is essential to analyze the future of the US regional presence under the Biden administration, explore the emerging global rivalry with Russia and China, and at last, investigate the implications of such competition for peace and security in the Middle East.


Dmitri Trenin: Director of Carnegie Moscow Center

Joost R. Hiltermann: Director of MENA Programme, International Crisis Group

Roxane Farmanfarmaian: Affiliated Lecturer in International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa, University of Cambridge

Andrew A. Michta: Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at Marshall Center

Kelley Vlahos: Senior Advisor, Quincy Institute

Panel 1: A New Middle East Security Architecture in the Making (10:30 AM -11:45 AM ET)

The security architecture of the Middle East has undergone rapid transformations in an exceptionally short period. Notable developments include the United States gradual withdrawal from the region, rapprochement between Israel and some GCC states through the Abraham Accords and the rise of Chinese and Russian regional engagement.

With these new trends in the Middle East, it is timely to investigate the security implications of the Biden administration’s Middle East policy. In this respect, we will discuss the Biden team’s new approach vis-à-vis Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The panel will also discuss the role of other major powers, including China and Russia in shaping this new security environment in the region, and how the Biden administration will respond to these powers’ increasing regional presence.



Sanam Vakil: Deputy Director of MENA Programme at Chatham House

Denise Natali: Acting Director, Institute for National Strategic Studies & Director of the Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University

Hassan Ahmadian: Professor of the Middle East and North Africa Studies, University of Tehran

Abdulaziz Sagar: Chairman, Gulf Research Center

Andrew Parasiliti: President, Al-Monitor