Cooperation between the UN and the League of Arab States
Expected Council Action
In January, the Security Council will hold a briefing on cooperation between the UN and the League of Arab States (LAS) as an initiative of Tunisia, which serves as president of the Council for the month. Secretary-General António Guterres and LAS Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit may brief.
Background and Key Recent Developments
Improving partnerships and cooperation with regional organisations has become an increasingly prominent theme for the Council and other parts of the UN system. Chapter VIII of the UN Charter envisioned cooperation and partnership between the Council and regional and sub-regional organisations. The Council has held an annual consultative meeting with the AU Peace and Security Council since 2007 and has received regular briefings from the EU. It has held debates and briefings on cooperation with several other bodies, including its first such briefing with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in January 2020.
There has been increasing consultation with the LAS, which was the first regional organisation to be granted observer status in the General Assembly. Representatives of the LAS have addressed the Council on several occasions as a result of the proliferation of regional conflicts. During Germany’s presidency in September 2012, the Council held a high-level meeting on peace and security in the Middle East focusing on the relationship between the Council and the LAS. Its outcome was a presidential statement in support of the League’s contribution to collective efforts for the peaceful settlement of conflicts in the Middle East and that also expressed the Council’s determination to take steps to enhance cooperation. In May 2016, the Council held its first consultative meeting with members of the LAS in Cairo during the Council’s visiting mission to Somalia, Kenya and Egypt.
The relationship was further developed during Kuwait’s June 2019 Council presidency through a high-level briefing on cooperation between the Council and the LAS. Secretary-General Guterres and LAS Secretary-General Aboul Gheit briefed. The briefing also noted the opening, that month, of the UN liaison office to the LAS in Cairo, which had been in the works since 2016. The office is meant to increase collaboration related to conflict prevention, mediation, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. The office is small, but it plays an important role in maintaining the relationship between the two bodies and has been welcome by the LAS, which has indicated that it would like to see the office further strengthened.
In his 13 June 2019 briefing, Aboul Gheit presented several observations that he hoped would guide future LAS and UN cooperation. He stressed that any “fruitful cooperation” must allow for a permanent way to exchange information between the organisations. He called for increased cooperation, particularly with UN special representatives and envoys to Arab conflicts and areas but also beyond addressing current conflicts, to incorporating early–warning mechanisms and preventive diplomacy.
In a presidential statement adopted at the meeting, the Council encouraged the holding of an annual briefing by the LAS Secretary-General and expressed the Council’s intention to consider further steps to promote closer cooperation between the UN and the LAS in many peace and security areas. The statement also encouraged an annual informal meeting between Security Council members and the LAS Council. Furthermore, it emphasised the importance of trilateral cooperation and coordination between the UN, the AU and the LAS on cross-regional peace and security issues.
Biannually, the Secretary-General releases a report on cooperation between the UN and regional organisations. The latest report, published on 11 September 2020, highlights several areas of cooperation with the LAS. For example, it notes that the Office of Counter-Terrorism has been working closely with the LAS member states’ Interior Ministers Council in developing a regional counter–terrorism strategy that is aligned with the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, including two high-level meetings held in September 2019 and February 2020.
Cooperation between regional groups was further discussed on 23 November 2020 during a meeting between the Secretary-General and the heads of regional organisations, where a particular focus was how regional organisations can mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19. The most recent meeting on the cooperation between the Council and a regional organisation was held on 4 December with a focus on the AU. Secretary-General António Guterres and Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the AU Commission, briefed the Council on ongoing collaboration. They also highlighted the role of Africa’s several sub-regional bodies. Presidents Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, and Kais Saied of Tunisia also participated. A presidential statement was adopted at that meeting.
Key Issues and Options
The upcoming meeting is being organised to further enhance the cooperation between the UN and the LAS in resolving conflicts, as many of the situations on the Council’s agenda are wars in Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The meeting is also seen as a way to implement calls in the Council’s September 2012 and June 2019 presidential statements regarding increased cooperation.
Both the Secretaries-General of the LAS and of the UN have called for ceasefires during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meeting participants may discuss how both calls for ceasefires complement each other and efforts to implement the ceasefires.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Several factors have, to date, limited cooperation between the Council and the LAS. The Arab-Israeli conflict and geopolitical competition in the region, demonstrated by the frequent vetoes cast by the US and Russia on Israel-Palestine and Syria, respectively, have complicated the ability of the two bodies to work together. During the last meeting in June 2019, Aboul Gheit warned against “the dangers of maintaining the status quo of the Palestinian situation” and condemned Israel’s “continued oppressive practices”. In contrast, the US reiterated its belief that Iran was “the most significant threat to regional peace and security”.
Differences among Arab League countries have also hindered the organisation from playing a greater role and have been an obstacle to coherent policy positions. The LAS has a fairly small budget of $60 million and does not benefit from the subregional organisations that represent a strength for the AU.
UN DOCUMENTS ON COOPERATION BETWEEN THE UN AND THE LAS
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|4 December 2020S/PRST/2020/11||This statement further underscored the importance of developing effective partnerships between the UN and regional organisations, in particular the African Union.|
|13 June 2019S/PRST/2019/5||This was a presidential statement encouraging the holding of an annual briefing by the Secretary-General of the LAS and the holding of an annual informal meeting between members of the Security Council and the Council of the LAS.|
|11 September 2020S/2020/898||This was the bi-annual report on cooperation between the UN and regional and other organisations.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|13 June 2019S/PV.8548||The Security Council held a briefing on cooperation between the Council and the League of Arab States.|