A New Map for the Middle East?

On May 16, 1916, representatives of Great Britain and France signed an agreement that had been negotiated by Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot to divide up the Middle East into British and French spheres of influence after the end of the Great War and the destruction of the Ottoman Empire. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, now 100 years old, has been denounced ever since for perpetuating a supposedly artificial division of the Middle East into unpopular nation states whose existence only fuels conflicts. Many now suggest that it is time to discard Sykes-Picot in order to solve the region’s myriad problems.

As my Council on Foreign Relations colleagues, Steven A. Cook and Amr T. Leheta, suggest, this attributes rather too much influence to a treaty that was never actually implemented. In practice, Britain never ceded France all of the influence that Sykes-Picot had promised, and the actual boundaries of the modern Middle East were determined in a series of diplomatic conferences between 1920 and 1926. The ultimate result was to create the forerunner of the region we know today, giving birth to Palestine/Israel, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, among others.

The boundaries of the Middle East are no more arbitrary than the boundaries of any other place. Look at Europe, where the borders between Germany and Poland shifted substantially after both World War I and World War II. Germany itself is just as artificial as Iraq having coming into existence only slightly earlier, in 1871. Indeed countries continue to form and break up all over the world—witness the independence of the former Soviet republics after 1991 or the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Full article: A New Map for the Middle East? (Hoover Institution)

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