The United States, still the world's sole superpower, is now being challenged by a new set of aspiring powers. Chief among these are China and Russia. The former is primarily an economic power, the latter has tremendous political influence.
The nature of the relationship between the three powers, though, is anything but confrontational. It is in this context that the tour of Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Middle East -- he visits Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan this week -- is of great significance.
At the 43rd Munich Conference on Security, which took place last Saturday, Putin warned Washington against behaving as if it is the only superpower in a unipolar world. Today, Russia supplies 25 per cent of Europe's energy needs. Moreover, Moscow is the second largest net exporter of oil after Saudi Arabia, and Russia has the world's largest gas reserves.
Russia is a major world player, primarily because of its vast natural resources, industrial base and agricultural potential. It is a nuclear power and has a relatively sophisticated war machine.
On the diplomatic front, Russia can play a pivotal role as mediator in both the Iranian nuclear deadlock and the Arab- Israeli conflict. Arab countries expect Moscow to play a greater role in resolving the Middle East crisis. Russia has excellent working relations with both the Arabs and Israelis.
Egypt and other Arab countries have long argued that greater Russian participation in the Arab-Israeli peace process is one way to achieve a qualitative shift in the Middle East peace process, which currently has come to a dead end.
And, it is not just Russia that needs to participate more effectively in the Middle East peace process. The active participation of the major European Union players is sorely needed. This is the time for the countries of the region, including non-Arab states such as Iran, Israel and Turkey to double their efforts and ensure that peace reigns. This volatile region has suffered severe shock waves in the past couple of years. The transition from dictatorship to democratisation has not been smooth. US military intervention and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan has had a detrimental impact on the entire region.
Political instability in Lebanon and civil war in Sudan and Somalia have also taken their toll. These crises indicate the absolute necessity of coordinating activities and strengthening regional cooperation. The support of EU countries, China and Russia among others, is also vitally important at this historical juncture.