Peace and Security in the Middle East
Expected Council Action
On 26 September, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle will preside over a high-level meeting of the Security Council on peace and security in the Middle East. The meeting will have a particular focus on the institutional relationship between the Security Council and the League of Arab States, with the UN and Arab League Secretaries-General expected to address the Council.
At press time it was unclear if there would be an outcome.
This meeting will be the key substantive event of Germany’s presidency of the Council in September. Its time on the Council has largely coincided with the Arab Spring and a period of unprecedented interactions between the Security Council and the Arab League, concerning both Libya and Syria. Germany hopes for this meeting to be a first step towards turning this experience into practical modalities for future cooperation.
In the case of Libya, the Arab League’s support was pivotal to the Council’s adoption of resolutions 1970 and 1973 on 26 February and 17 March 2011, respectively, and securing approval for concrete action against the regime of Muammar Qaddafi.
In the case of Syria, however, Arab League condemnation of the Bashar al-Assad regime no longer had the same impact. This was due—in addition to the fact that the Arab League itself was divided—to a more hardened constellation of positions in the Council vis-à-vis Syria compounded by the severe fallout over the Libya intervention.
Nevertheless, cooperation continued, and on 31 January 2012, Nabil al-Araby, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, addressed the Council for the first time, speaking about its efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis and urging the Council towards what in the Arab League’s view was effective action. (The briefing came in the lead-up to the 4 February veto of a Council draft resolution [S/2012/77] condemning the violence in Syria and supporting the 22 January Arab League decision to facilitate a Syrian-led political transition.)
The UN and Arab League have also cooperated by appointing Joint Special Envoy for Syria Kofi Annan (who was appointed on 23 February and resigned on 2 August) and more recently a Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.
A key issue is whether Council members see the cooperation with the Arab League as a promising tool for addressing challenges at hand.
Furthermore, given that political developments are in flux in the Arab world, a key issue for the Council would be how to strengthen existing cooperation to jointly emphasise conflict prevention and resolution in the region.
It is likely that divisive political issues will emerge, reflecting the disagreements over how the Council has handled the Libyan and Syrian situations. However, Germany is keen that the Security Council focus its attention and consider how strategic cooperation between the Security Council and the Arab League could positively affect ongoing political transitions in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen and help to staunch the spread of severe violence in Syria, which threatens regional security.
One option for the Council is to simply hold the discussion.
Another option is for members to also explore Council practice regarding conflict prevention and mediation and their positions on developing a more robust Council role in the Middle East.
A further option is to establish a regular mechanism for contacts between the two bodies, perhaps along the lines of the practice the Council has forged with the AU’s Peace and Security Council of holding regular meetings in each other’s headquarters.