"One of the lessons of the last 15 years is that the West can't impose new solutions on these [Middle Eastern] countries. They have to find their own way forward," Sawers told the Financial Times in an interview Sunday.
The former MI6 chief also said that terrorism in the Middle East posed a serious threat to security in Europe. He warned of existing terrorism hotspots in Iraq and Syria and the emergence of new ones in Libya and Yemen.
The interview took place shortly after deadly attacks in France and amid a heightened alarm over fears of more terrorist attacks in Europe.
On January 7, radical Islamist gunmen attacked the headquarters of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris, killing 12 people and injuring 11 others. The killers reportedly trained with al-Qaeda groups in Yemen.
On January 8, a single gunman with links to the Islamic State militant group currently operating in Syria and Iraq, killed a French police officer in the Paris suburb of Montrouge. The following day, the same gunman took hostages in a kosher food shop, killing four. The attacker was later shot and killed by the police.