The Arc of Crisis: Its Central Sector

Courtesy Reuters

The "arc of crisis" has been defined as an area stretching from the Indian subcontinent in the east to the Horn of Africa in the west. The Middle East constitutes its central core. Its strategic position is unequalled: it is the last major region of the Free World directly adjacent to the Soviet Union, it holds in its subsoil about three-fourths of the proven and estimated world oil reserves, and it is the locus of one of the most intractable conflicts of the twentieth century: that of Zionism versus Arab nationalism. Moreover, national, economic and territorial conflicts are aggravated by the intrusion of religious passions in an area which was the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and by the exposure, in the twentieth century, to two competing appeals of secular modernization: Western and communist.

Against the background of these basic facts, postwar American policy in the Middle East has focused on three major challenges: security of the area as against Soviet threats to its integrity and independence, fair and peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and safe access to its oil. Two major policy formulations, the Truman Doctrine of 1947 and the Eisenhower Doctrine of 1957, had the Middle East as their direct primary object; the Nixon Doctrine of 1969, while occasioned by the Indochina crisis, affected-however indirectly-the Middle East as well. Broadly speaking, each of these presidential pronouncements expressed a policy of containment of "international communism," but devised different methods of coping with it: while the Truman Doctrine aimed at safeguarding Greece and Turkey (later with an implicit Iranian extension) by means of economic aid and military advice and supply assistance, the Eisenhower Doctrine focused primarily on the Arab world and pledged direct employment of U.S. military power. The Nixon Doctrine put a limit on direct military intervention but, to compensate for this retrenchment, pledged other forms of assistance-including a clearly adequate supply of weapons-to those threatened countries which would henceforth assume greater burdens of self-defense.

The Middle East is not

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