August 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 July 2019
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Debate on “Maintenance of international peace and security: Challenges to peace and security in the Middle East”

Expected Council Action 

The August Council presidency, Poland, is organising a debate on “Maintenance of international peace and security: Challenges to peace and security in the Middle East”. Briefers from the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) are expected to participate. It is also likely that countries from the region and some regional organisations will be invited.

The debate is aimed at taking a holistic view of conflict in the region, focusing especially on their humanitarian and human rights aspects.

 Key Recent Developments

Middle East issues are a consistent presence on the Council’s programme of work. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict continues to be discussed every month at the Council under the agenda item “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, with a quarterly open debate.  For several years now, the Council has received monthly briefings on three aspects—political, humanitarian and chemical weapons-related—of the conflict in Syria under the agenda item “The situation in the Middle East”. Under the same item, the Council has received frequent briefings on the political and humanitarian situation in Yemen. Other situations in the region that are a focus of considerable Council attention, including at times outside of the regular reporting schedule, include Iraq, with regular briefings on UNAMI and on the UN Investigative Team for Accountability of Da’esh, and Iran, with semi-annual meetings held under the agenda item “non-proliferation”. The Council visited Iraq in June, to show support for and gain a better understanding of the difficult recovery process, especially after retaking its territory from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. With respect to Iran, tensions have recently escalated around the Strait of Hormuz and additional meetings have been held, usually in consultations.

The Council primarily considers conflicts in the Middle East through country-specific contexts. It rarely discusses common threats, challenges and dynamics affecting the region as a whole. However, some Council members have recently begun exploring ideas and approaches to the Middle East with a view to changing the status quo of current conflicts. The August debate follows in the footsteps of these approaches.

On 21 March, France and Germany organised an informal interactive dialogue on “Fostering dialogue and cooperation as a response to conflicts and common challenges in the Middle East and North Africa” to explore better ways to take into account regional dynamics, root causes of conflict in the region, and common security challenges. Speakers included representatives of the International Peace Institute, International Crisis Group, and the UN Development Programme. In their concept note, the organisers said that the informal interactive dialogue sought to “provide space for cross-cutting discussions on the common threats and challenges in the Middle East and North Africa and have Council members reiterate their support to international law, multilateralism and peaceful settlement of conflicts, particularly through the UN’s mediation role”. France and Germany also wanted to brainstorm “ways for the Council to overcome divisions and tackle collectively regional challenges, through promoting regional dialogue and cooperation, and, in each country of the region, strong state institutions that are respectful of human rights and the rule of law”.

In Council meetings over the past months, Russia has called for an inclusive regional security architecture to promote security and cooperation in the Persian Gulf and beyond. In June 2018, Russia organised a debate during its Council presidency to focus on the root causes of the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa and ways to address them. Russia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Vershinin, chaired the debate; in addition to Council members, 23 countries and regional organisations participated.

Key Issues and Options

The participants are expected to address a wide range of issues, given the broad geographical and thematic scope of the meeting. At press time, it seemed that the meeting would be focused on the Middle East and would not include discussion of North Africa. While previous Council meetings have explored the root causes and symptoms of conflict, Poland is expected to suggest a different approach. It would like to see this debate consider the opportunities created by initiatives on the ground—essentially, the openings made possible by people-to-people interactions and developing local businesses to increase economic activity. Instead of conflict, Poland would like to highlight the contributions of the Middle East through the centuries and focus on how the Council and the international community can assist in changing the current situations. In this regard, one issue for this meeting is how the Council can promote inter-communal and inter-societal exchanges to foster dialogue and understanding in the region. For this, Poland may consider having civil society briefers that are involved in such initiatives.

Another issue is how the Council can develop a holistic, consensus-driven approach to addressing the challenges of the region. Some members, in particular Russia in its concept note for the June 2018 meeting, have expressed the wish for similar discussions to lead to the development of “a common, unifying, non-confrontational agenda for the Security Council”. It suggested many options, such as “a genuinely global front against terrorism and all its manifestations” and the launching of a new regional dialogue initiative similar to the Helsinki Process in the 1970s.

At press time, Poland had not yet decided whether there would be an outcome. If creating a Council product proves too difficult–which given Council members’ varied positions on these issues it might be—Poland could consider a presidential summary of the meeting to put views on the record. This has been used in other meetings, such as open debates on working methods. An additional possibility may be a visiting mission to the region. Kuwait and Russia have suggested in the past a visit to Israel-Palestine; it could be expanded to include other Middle East countries. The Israel-Palestine visit suggestion has been met with heavy opposition, however.

Council and Wider Dynamics

The differences between Council members on individual files will come up again at this meeting. However, Poland is likely to seek to encourage Council members to move beyond their differences and explore in their statements how the Council can better consider cross-cutting issues and common security challenges. It is possible members could identify areas of common interest in which the Council could achieve unity and contribute more effectively to regional peace and security.

Some members may share their views on how military and political interference in the internal affairs of states contributes to destabilisation, and the importance of reaffirming commitment to the supremacy of state sovereignty and rejecting military approaches to resolving crises. They may also criticise unilateral action and call for coordinated approaches approved by the Security Council. Some may also raise the need to respect cultural diversity and the historical context of particular situations.

Other members may highlight respect for human rights, adherence to international humanitarian law, and accountability as effective means of addressing potential and unfolding crises. These members may further emphasise the role of women and youth in preventing and resolving conflicts and underscore the need to address social and economic inequalities that can serve as triggers of conflict. Some members may also underscore the role of mediation, including the importance of the Secretary-General’s good offices.

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Security Council Letters
4 June 2018S/2018/524 Transmission of Russia’s concept note for its debate on the Middle East and North Africa held 25 June 2018.
Security Council Meeting Records
25 June 2019S/PV.8293 Thematic debate on “Maintaining international peace and security: comprehensive review of the situation in the Middle East and North Africa”.

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