With the collapse of post-World War II international contrivances of political control has come an unprecedented fracturing of diplomatic relations between nations. In the world, today, there are, give or take, 207 sovereign entities that have an ability to enter into formal diplomatic relations. In recent years, several nations have completely severed diplomatic ties or have taken the intermediary step of downgrading relations by recalling ambassadors. While the severance of diplomatic relations on a mass scale is normally witnessed in war time – with the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973 being cases in point – peacetime diplomatic ruptures are at an all-time high. No longer is war a justification for breaking diplomatic relations. And with the number of mercurial political leaders presently on the world stage, diplomacy is taking a back seat to political grandstanding, bravado, and machismo.
Two of the most problematic countries in the Middle East when it comes to disruption in the region – Saudi Arabia and Israel – have severed or downgraded relations with other nations in fits of pique that belie their public pronouncements of seeking peace.
The virtual Saudi puppet government of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, governing from Aden, severed ties in 2015 with Iran over charges that the Iranians were backing the Houthi rebellion in Yemen. As a result of Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shi’a cleric Nimr al-Nimr and 46 other Shi’as on January 2, 2016, Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran and set it on fire. Although Iran arrested the perpetrators and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned the attack on the embassy, Saudi Arabia was not mollified.
Riyadh not only severed diplomatic relations with Iran but, using its financial clout, convinced other nations to do the same. The nations cutting off all ties with Iran overt the Tehran embassy incident included Bahrain and Sudan. Stopping short of cutting diplomatic ties, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates recalled their diplomatic envoys from Tehran. The severance in relations with Iran increased the plight of Bahrain’s Shi’a majority, which had been abused by the Sunni monarchy, which was aided and abetted by occupation troops from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Closure of Saudi diplomatic facilities in Iran also made it difficult for Iranians to obtain visas to perform the hajj in Mecca.
Saudi Arabia’s influence in forcing other nations, especially those in Africa, to cut ties with Iran has been significant. Djibouti severed ties with Iran over the storming of the Saudi Arabia in Tehran. In 2010, the former regime of Yahya Jammeh in Gambia, a predominantly Sunni nation, severed ties with Iran. A year before, Morocco severed relations with Iran over charges that Iran was spreading Shi’a beliefs to predominantly Sunni Morocco. Quietly, the Saudis supported the Moroccan move.
In an almost mirror image of the Saudi diplomatic temper tantrum with Iran, Israel «reduced» relations with twelve members of the United Nations Security Council after they voted to condemn as a «flagrant violation of international law» illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank of Palestine. The council vote was 14-0, with the United States casting a surprising abstention. The Israeli freeze on relations with the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Japan, Ukraine, Angola, Egypt, Uruguay, Spain, Senegal, and New Zealand included a stipulation that the foreign ministers of those nations would not be received by Israeli government officials and that official contact between Israeli officials and the Tel Aviv embassies of the twelve countries would remain suspended. One of the countries voting for the Security Council resolution, Venezuela, had previously severed relations with Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.
Turkey is another problematic diplomatic player in the Middle East. In preparation for an April 16, 2017 referendum in Turkey that would grant President Recep Tayyip Erdogan almost unlimited powers, Erdogan instructed his ministers to fly to Europe to seek «yes» votes among Turkey’s expatriate community, including 1.4 million eligible voters in Germany. When Germany and the Netherlands balked at the notion of Turkish government officials campaigning for a referendum that would construct a virtual Islamist dictatorship in Turkey, Erdogan flew off the handle. He accused Germany of adopting «Nazi practices» in blocking his ministers from campaigning before crowds of Turks in Germany.
After the Netherlands refused permission for Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to speak at a Turkish rally in Rotterdam, Erdogan accused the Dutch of being a «Nazi remnant.» Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, engaged in a Dutch election campaign in which his opponent Geert Wilders of the far-right Freedom Party (PVV) was running on a platform of closing mosques and expelling Muslims, stood firm against the Turks. He ordered Turkish Family Affairs Minister Fatma Kaya, who entered the Netherlands by car from the German border to be barred from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam and be returned to the German border. Austria and Switzerland also barred Turkish ministers from holding public rallies in their countries. Erdogan threatened sanctions against the Netherlands and what transpired was the worst breakdown in relations between two NATO «allies» since the Turkish-Greek confrontation over Cyprus in 1974.
Another diplomatic flashpoint in the world is in the Balkans. Befitting its lending the term «balkanization» to the fracturing of international relations, the region represents a powder keg for diplomatic relations. The government of Macedonia’s relations with Albania and Kosovo are frayed over reports that both nations have stirred up political opposition to the government in Skopje via pressure being exerted on Macedonia’s sizable Albanian minority. A break in relations between Macedonia and Albania and Kosovo is a distinct possibility. Grievances by the Srpska Republic with the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, of which it is a member, may lead to a rupture in relations between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia over the Srpska Republic’s legitimate grievances of autonomy infringement by Sarajevo.
A breakdown in diplomatic relations among the former Yugoslav states is a bellwether event that would have a cascading effect far beyond the Balkans, especially to the east, where Bulgarian relations with Turkey souring over Bulgarian complaints of Turkish interference in its upcoming election. The Bulgarian government recently complained to Ankara that a Turkish minister campaigned at a rally of DOST, a Bulgarian-Turkish party, in Istanbul. Bulgaria recalled its ambassador to Ankara in protest, although some Bulgarians would have preferred a suspension in diplomatic relations. Some 400,000 Bulgarian Turks reside in Turkey and they are eligible to vote in the Bulgarian parliamentary election. Opinion polls favor a victory for the Bulgarian United Patriots coalition, a nationalist movement opposed to Muslim migration into Bulgaria and the rest of the European Union.
Diplomatic ties remain severed between nations that have had no history of enmity. Ties between Hungary and Armenia remain broken over the 2012 release by Hungary to Azerbaijan of an Azeri army officer convicted of axing to death an Armenian army officer in Budapest in 2004. Both were attending a NATO military academy in Budapest at the time a fight ensued. The assassination using a bio-weapon nerve agent of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Kuala Lumpur International Airport led to a rupture of ties between North Korea. North Korea prevented Malaysian diplomats in Pyongyang from leaving North Korea as relations, which had included a visa waiver for North Koreans to enter Malaysia, broke down. Last October, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte had to explain himself after he suggested he might cut ties with the United States, the country’s former colonial ruler. Duterte said he was calling for a separation from U.S. policies, not a cut in diplomatic relations.
Even the world’s two smallest sovereign entities, Vatican City and the 900-year old Roman Catholic Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM) had a recent diplomatic falling out. SMOM, which maintains diplomatic relations with 106 nations around the world and maintains its sovereign headquarters, saw its «government» overthrown in a Vatican-sponsored coup in December 2016. It turns out that American Cardinal Raymond Burke, a fanatic right-winger who has links to President Donald Trump’s adviser Stephen Bannon, prevailed on Pope Francis to order ousted from his office «Grand Chancellor» of the SMOM, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, the de facto prime minister. Boeselager was accused by Burke of permitting SMOM funding the distribution of condoms in Malaysia. The firing was carried out by the chief of the SMOM, Matthew Festing. The ensuing problems between the Vatican and the SMOM represented virtual breakdown in relations between two micro-states. After the Pope was informed of Burke’s involvement in the fracture of relations with SMOM, he nullified the order to oust von Boeselager, choosing instead to reinstate him, recognize the sovereignty of the SMOM, and fire Festing, known to be a Burke ally. As for Burke, the Pope sent him packing to Guam to supervise the Vatican trial of the Archbishop of Guam, accused of sexually molesting altar boys.
Add all these diplomatic fractures, large and small, to the fraying of relations between the United States on one hand and the United Kingdom, Mexico, Germany, and Australia on the other and one might wonder about ominous war clouds looming over the horizon.