Mohammed Soliman is a manager at McLarty Associates, a global strategy firm based in Washington, and a nonresident scholar at the Middle East Institute. Soliman is also the intellectual architect of the Indo-Abrahamic strategic concept, which was adopted by the Biden Administration as the I2U2. In a conversation with Aditi Bhaduri he explains why “Indo-Abrahamic” grouping is more appropriate than I2U.
Excerpts from the interview:
1. You coined the term Indo-Abrahamic Alliance. It certainly sounds creative. Why do you feel it's a better term than Middle Eastern Quad or I2U2?
My intellectual opposition in naming the grouping I2U2 or West Asian Quad is because it limits a larger potential. The case for the Indo-Abrahamic+ block is straightforward. Regional peace and stability in West Asia are not guaranteed through the unilateral military presence of the United States but through a balance of power that will eventually moderate the ambitions of rising states in the region. Furthermore, the original Indo-Abrahamic term allows the forum to expand to potentially include other states. Aesthetically, I just think Indo-Abrahamic sounds better. Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the short term, and other Arab Gulf states, France, Greece, and others in the long term.
2. I2U2 is widely perceived to be necessitated by the US's receding footprint from Middle East/ West Asia, and to encounter an assertive China in the region. Yet all the member states have different equations with China. Israel and the UAE have excellent relations while India has a strained one because of the border issues, and US has a competing one. So how would the bloc manage all these differences?
The Indo-Abrahamic block/I2U2 does not aim to counter China. Unlike NATO in Europe or the Quad in the Indo-Pacific, there is no security architecture in West Asia that could collectively address the challenges facing the region, in the absence of Washington, which has always been the primary security guarantor and regional convener. The broader West Asia/greater Middle East is now facing a new reality, where Washington is pivoting away from the region, wanting to focus its limited resources and political will on another strategic theater— the Indo-Pacific. Whether this pivot succeeds is partly dependent on building a regional security architecture for West Asia that tackles the region’s challenges without the need for a unilateral U.S. military presence.
3. Iran is another factor as the upcoming virtual summit of I2U2 will take place in the shadow of the impasse between Iran and the US to achieve a breakthrough on the Iran nuclear deal. Here again countries have different equations with Iran. India alone has very good and indeed growing relations with the Persian state. How do you see the bloc overcoming these inherent contradictions?
As a result of West Asia's constantly evolving security environment, the Indo-Abrahamic bloc will be adept and agile in responding to regional security and strategic challenges and organizing collective action. The Indo-Abrahamic framework would allow for stronger consensus-building and centers the bloc’s strategic objectives around defense issues. And while India has historically positive relations with Iran – China’s expanding economic partnership with Tehran may change the calculus in the long run. Technologically, all these states share a need for expanded air defense – whether from Iran, China, or other regional actors.
4. Realistically speaking, what is the strength of the bloc? What would its main function be in the region?
The main function of the bloc is to establish a defense working group as the foundation. In addition to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan, Washington should include India in its proposed regional integrated air and missile defense architecture in the Middle East. Israel’s air defense technology will indeed be crucial to this new architecture. This long-term defense initiative will provide New Delhi with a viable long-term alternative to Russia's S400. It also will build a solid foundation for security and defense cooperation in West Asia, which will protect all members from common security threats.
5. Does the I2U2 herald the beginning of a new world order? How do you see the role of the US in the bloc in the future?
The geography, demography, size, power, and influence of the Indo-Abrahamic plus states — India, Israel, the UAE, the United States, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia — have the potential to transform West Asia's geopolitics and geoeconomics. The US will utilize its status as a global power with an existing large military footprint in West Asia to bring Arab and Asian allies and partners into the Indo-Abrahamic framework via working groups. The establishment of working groups will focus on space, drones, 5G, cybersecurity, missile defence, and maritime security. The aim of the working groups is to synchronize the work streams among U.S. allies and partners in the region, and eventually, a test run for bottom-up security architecture in the region.
6. Do you think the bloc can be expanded? Who would be the potential member's and how would that impact the region?
The current format should be expanded to include Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the near future. Egypt is the only Arab country with strong institutional and historical ties to every country in the Indo-Abrahamic block (Israel, India, the UAE, and the U.S.). Because of its demography, location, civilizational orientation, military force, and geopolitical goals, Cairo's participation in the Indo-Abrahamic framework is both a logical and strategic step. Saudi Arabia, with its geopolitical and geo-economic clout, is a critical pillar of the Indo-Abrahamic framework. Beyond Egypt and Saudi Arabia, every US partner in the Gulf should be considered a potential member of the Indo-Abrahamic framework.
The larger picture here is that there is a transoceanic system that expands from the Indo-Pacific to the Mediterranean Sea, and the littoral states of this transoceanic system will secure their own economic vitality and security through trade and defense networks. This makes countries like France and Greece perfect future participants in the Indo-Abrahamic framework.
7. Why did the Biden Administration adopt your Indo-Abrahamic framework as the I2U2?
Washington’s foreign policy elites are still grappling with fundamental strategic dilemmas: the necessity of a US strategic pivot towards the Indo-Pacific, and the subsequent de-prioritization of the Middle East as a strategic theater. However, the Middle East maintains control of global energy dynamics, which is a cornerstone to global economic growth. The lack of innovative thinking has led to the current situation, where the US maintains a large military footprint in the region, despite the strategic need to move these much-needed assets to the Indo-Pacific. But at the same time, the United States is not perceived regionally, as a security guarantor to the region anymore.
The Indo-Abrahamic concept makes Washington's pivot to the Indo-Pacific successful, by building a security architecture that will be the basis of a favorable balance of power that maintains peace and security in West Asia, and ensures that Washington does not get pulled back into West Asia as the sole security guarantor. The Indo-Abrahamic concept allows Washington to reduce its military footprint in West Asia without leaving a vacuum that empowers Russia and China, by partnering with regional governments to build up their own defense and security capabilities. Simply put, Washington can finally do more with less in West Asia. Ultimately, linking the Indo-Abrahamic bloc with the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy shores up an overarching Asian order that is based on a favorable balance of power vis-a-vis China.
Also Read: All About I2U2 India Israel US UAE Bloc
(Aditi Bhaduri is a columnist specializing in Eurasian geopolitics. Views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)