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International Relations in the Middle East

http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/the-middle-east-key-players-notable-relationships/

If you’re curious about the various conflicts in the Middle East or, more generally, international relations in the region, but can’t quite wrap your head around the numerous countries and organizations involved, this graph might prove useful in helping you understand how the various players in the region are connected to each other. Though the network may appear quite complex and intimidating at first, you can focus in on each country or group’s relations by clicking on them. A network like this can be studied and understood in the context of our course specifically through our discussion of networks of friends and enemies. In fact, this graph not only indicates whether relationships are positive or negative, but also how strongly positive or negative those relationships are. For the purpose of our discussion here, we’ll focus only on the strong relationships: allies and enemies.

In networks of friends and enemies, there are four possible combinations for a triangle of relations: all friends, all enemies, two friendly and one unfriendly relationship, or one friendly and two unfriendly relationships. Of these, the stable configurations are the ones where all three nodes are friends, or two of the nodes are friends with a common enemy. If we examine the graph, we find such triangles are very common. For example, the western countries – USA, UK, France, and Germany – are all allied with one another. If you pick any three of them, you will find a triangle of all positive relationships. The other stable configuration also appears frequently. For example, the UK and the US have many common enemies: countries like Iran and Syria, as well as militant or extremist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. If the graph had only these two kinds of triangles, we would be able to call it balanced, since there would be no sources of instability that would cause anyone to want to change the nature of their relationship with another country or organization. However, international relations are a little more complex than that. If we click on ISIS, we find that the organization has pretty much made itself enemies with everyone. Interestingly, many of those enemies are also enemies with each other – for example, Iran and the US, or Israel and Syria, among many others. In these cases we actually have an unbalanced triangle of relations, where all members are enemies with each other. This phenomenon is pretty understandable in this case, considering that ISIS is so hostile and violent that they’ve managed to antagonize just about every country in the region.

When it comes to international relations, our understanding of networks can help describe connections between countries and, in many cases, can even accurately predict whether various organizations are allies or enemies. However, the real world is hardly ever as neat and tidy as our comparatively simplistic models. There will always be exceptions to the rule, and, considering that the landscape of geopolitics is ever-shifting, imbalances in the network that result in changes are to be expected. Nevertheless, viewing the world with our knowledge of networks in hand can still prove to be an interesting and valuable exercise.

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