"A Peace to End All Peace” by David Fromkin

AUTHOR: David Fromkin

AUTHOR: David Fromkin

We became highly intrigued by the work of David Fromkin, a nonacademic historian whose book on the Middle East warned the West against nation-building behind arbitrary boundaries. At Grassroot Diplomat, we have a general understanding that people are borderless in terms of their identity and sense of belonging. But even looking at today’s society, we are still struck by confined sense of identity in terms of how countries want to define us. We must follow national values and put the country first to even be accepted as model citizens.  

With the high rise of non-state actors and movements of people at an astonishing rate, this sense of identity and value is also shifting dramatically, but how did it all start? Why this is so important to how we work and operate in international relations? And what countries should we really be focused on when it comes to power games and influence?

With a rather refreshing take on the world, we are recommending the book “A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East” by the late David Fromkin. This book is recommended as further reading to support Chapter 2 “Fitting a Global Profession” of the “Diplomatic Planner”. This books will provide you with a non-Western look at international relations by taking a focus on the Middle East because we, as an international community, still have major influence in the Middle East and are being influenced by this region at the same time, in terms of peace, war, power, economy, law, human rights, and amnesty campaigns.

This book was published in 1989 before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but Fromkin’s thriller-like analysis of the region is still valid against today’s political climate. The Middle East is a hotbed of violence and war, whether it be the war in Syria or the Arab-Israeli conflict, regional peace seems like a distant dream. But how did the Middle East become so unstable? Fromkin takes us back to European colonial ambitions during the first world war which, like many parts of the world, added as the catalyst that led to today’s modern crises.

The Ottoman Empire was once a powerful force that stretched from Vienna to modern-day Somalia and was known as the seat of power. This was alongside another imperial hegemony, the British Empire. The Ottoman Empire was ethnically diverse that was based on religion instead of nationality. With the majority of its population being Muslim, religion played a central role in people’s daily lives. Even for the empire’s minority Jewish and Christian groups, identity was synonymous with religion. For people in Western Europe, however, views of how the Ottoman Empire governed seemed backwards and they soon started to encroach on Ottoman territory by the early twentieth century. By the start of the first world war, the only territory left to the once great Ottoman Empire was modern-day Turkey, Israel, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and much of the Arab peninsula. In contract, Britain covered more than 25 percent of the world in its power.

As the Ottoman Empire was losing global power, Fromkin makes it evident through his analysis of wards that British middle-Eastern policy was confused by misinformation about the Middle East and their ambitions. In august 1914, Herbert Kitchener became the British Secretary of State for War who played a significant part in affecting Britain’s Middle Eastern policy and as the only cabinet minister with any Middle Eastern experience, his opinion was regarded very highly even when he got a lot of things wrong. Policy making was based on many inaccurate and mislaid facts that couldn’t be confirmed or disproved. Kitchener’s master plan was to unify the Arabic-speaking population in the Middle East by introducing an Islamic religious leader to govern the region as Britain’s puppet. As we learn from Fromkin’s analysis, this plan was based on naive misconception of the Arabs as a monolithic group that would be happy to submit to the rule of a religious leader. Although most people living in the Middle East spoke a variant of the same language and practiced Islam, Kitchener’s policies did not analyse how ethnically and culturally diverse the region was. Such cultural ignorance, as we see today, proved to be a fatal mistake.

Eventually, changes in Britain led to a new political strategy to harness the influence of the Ottoman Arabs. The British had no desire to give up their colonial ambitions and there was a lot of lies spread about how the Arabs could play a vital role in helping the Brits defeat the Ottomans. From its foundation, the relationship between Britain and its new Arab allies was precarious, and British and French officials began negotiations to claim territory in a postwar Middle East. France didn’t only want to administer the territory like Britain but wanted to control the Middle East directly as rulers. The French saw these territories as a rightful path of the French Empire, won during the Crusades in the Middle Ages. Eventually, after much negotiation, French and British politicians reached compromise under the Skyes-Picot Agreement that helped France gain the right to rule modern-day Lebanon directly and maintain influence over Syria. In return, Britain would take most of modern-day Iraq and Jordan and two ports on the Palestinian coast. This compromise would prove to be a disaster as the Syrians, in particular, were strongly opposed to any French interference and Palestine still remains a large stumbling block in the negotiations since Britain started to adopt the ideas of zionism to establish a home for Jews in Palestine. Crucially, the Skyes-Picot agreement set the stage for a century of future conflict in the Middle East.

The dismantlement of the Ottoman Empire created deep issues that have yet to be solved and this article/podcast simply doesn’t do this book justice in covering key points that brings us to modern times. Although Europe’s wartime appetite to dominate has subsided greatly, Europe’s lack of energy and manpower to support new colonies in the Middle East is a sore sticking point. The ramifications of such dysfunctional political dealings in the Middle East would be far reaching.

In short, the violence and conflict in the Middle East is mostly the result of European colonial ambitions and undoubtedly inspired crises in the region for decades to come.

“A Peace to End All Peace” is recommended for the purposes of the Diplomatic Planner. The Diplomatic Planner is a 12-month career development for diplomacy and internationals for professionals looking to explore or grow their expertise in the field. Both books are available for purchase via Amazon. For further recommendations, insights, case studies and practicable worksheets, please join the Grassroot Diplomat Online Academy via: www.grassrootdiplomat.org/register