Dr Mason is often asked to contribute to policy discussions and briefings on the Middle East.
Evaluating Russian Policy and its Impact in the Middle East
Dr Mason has conducted research in New York and Moscow on Russian intervention in Syria and built on his research concerning the Iranian intervention in the Syria conflict and international politics of/in the Middle East. The aim of the research was to investigate the background to Russian intervention in Syria, Russian – NATO relations, (specifically the main driving factors for Russian intervention in Syria), and assess the prospects for (re)building more durable bilateral relations with other states in the Middle East. The research drove issue specific insights, especially on energy interests, and updated the literature on Russia’s relations with Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, the GCC States, Iran and Israel.
The research determined that western-led interventions in Iraq (2003) and Libya (2011) as well as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed in 2015, (including more recent arms control issues) have played a role in shaping Russian policy. Moscow believes that liberal interventionism undermines its political legitimacy: it has been defined in western capitals, it is perceived to be a threat to international security, and it might eventually be used as a justification for regime change in Russia. Moscow’s return to the Middle East can be justified initially through the prism of national security and then along expanding lines of economic, energy, security and defence relations, whereby President Putin is attempting to return Russia to back to its position as an global power, initially by establishing a presence in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Dr Mason published his findings in Middle East Policy, arguing that ‘Putin’s securitization agenda stems from the second Chechen War and is far more pragmatic concerning Russian engagement in the Middle East than former Soviet policies. The Kremlin is intent on regaining leverage in its bilateral relationships with the United States and the European Union. Furthermore, in an era of economic hardship, Moscow is seeking out new regional relationships based on securing future liquefied natural gas (LNG) supply networks, nuclear energy contracts and defense cooperation.’ His expertise led him to contribute to a policy workshop “The role of Russia in the MENA region”, organised by Instituto per gli studi di politica internationale (ISPI) in the framework of the EuroMeSCo project, Milan, in October 2018. A further series of impact was created through an interview with Deutsche Welle on the topic of Russia in the Middle East and a blog about a Saudi – Russian military cooperation.
Further research on the war in Ukraine has been disseminated in the United States via a blog for the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington about the Gulf State positions on the war in Ukraine. The findings draw attention to aspects such as food security in the Middle East, Iranian drone exports to Russia, an exacerbating factor to the cost of living crisis and currency depreciation in some cases, the normative impact from annexation and the struggle for territorial control, clarification of the new world order and the enduring features of authoritarianism. He has made presentations to public audiences via academic institutions in Indonesia and Texas. A further op-ed analyzes an emergent military relationship between Iran and Russia.
Connecting Asia and the Middle East
Dr Mason continues to engage in a broad research agenda covering Asian relations with the MENA region and beyond, including:
- “China and Regional Stability in the Middle East: Economics, Engagement and Great Power Competition”, in Yahia Zoubir (ed.) Routledge Companion to China and the Middle East and North Africa, 2023.
He also organises and participates in major academic conferences, policy and public events as below:
- In 2022, Dr Mason presented at the Institute for Global and Strategic Studies, Universitas Islam Indonesia
- In July 2019 Dr Mason presented at the first Area Studies Conference, Tsinghua University, Beijing. At the same time, he was invited to present and discuss MENA related topics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
- In February 2019, Dr Mason co-organised the symposium “Egypt – Japan Cooperation in the Evolving Strategic Context of Middle East and Asia” with the Embassy of Japan in Cairo.
- In January 2019 Dr Mason was discussant at an AUC ‘Tahrir dialogue’ event titled “From Crisis to Peace-Making in Korea” with Professor Chung-in Moon, Special Adviser to the Republic of Korea President for Unification and National Security Affairs.
- In January 2018 Dr Mason presented a lecture on the Arab – Israeli conflict to visiting undergraduate students from Tsinghua University as part of an AUC Continuing and Executive Education special program
- In 2017 Dr Mason was invited to co-host, on behalf of AUC, the 14th Korea – Middle East Cooperation Forum in Seoul. Sponsored by the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the event served to contribute to track 1.5 debates and add insights on important themes concerning the MENA region and a series of bilateral relationships.
Helping Forge Closer Links and Understanding Between the EU, the League of Arab States and the wider Middle East
The aim of this ongoing research agenda has been to assess European foreign policy comparatively with other actors such as the US, Russia, India and China, in the context of specific Middle East challenges such as the Arab Uprisings, conflict in Syria, and the Mediterranean refugee crisis. Research completed so far shows the EU response has become complicated by the nature of the threats (domestic as well as transnational), the difficulty in balancing affinities with states such as Israel and the US with for example, upholding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, and maintaining effective relations with the US during an unconventional presidency and during a period of transition to a multi-polar system. Additional research underpinning the impact stemmed primarily from a funding award 2017 to 2019 (EU grant ENI/2017/389-834). The aim of this research component was to better understand Mediterranean security and transnational security cooperation, covering aspects such as threats, migration, energy, counter-terrorism cooperation and relations with Turkey. It resulted in a number of activities, including a a series of workshops, student conference and working with other European studies scholars to deliver a public lecture series. The research findings were published as Transnational Security Cooperation in the Mediterranean.
In February 2019, Dr Mason was invited to write an op-ed on EU – Egyptian relations for Spot On, a publication of the Euromesco network. The findings were disseminated across the network and to subscribers, including the European policymaking community in Brussels and in other European capitals.
In May 2019, Dr Mason convened an EU – Middle East policy round table event in Cairo. As Ambassador James Moran, former Principle Adviser on the Middle East and North Africa at the EU’s External Action Service in Brussels states: