Cooperation between the UN and the League of Arab States
Expected Council Action
In March, the Security Council will hold a briefing on cooperation between the UN and the League of Arab States (LAS) at the initiative of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which serves as president of the Council for the month. Khalifa Shaheen Almarar, Minister of State at UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, will chair the meeting. UN Secretary-General António Guterres and LAS Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit are the expected briefers. A presidential statement is a possible outcome.
Background and Key Recent Developments
Strengthening partnerships and cooperation with regional and sub-regional organisations—as envisioned in Chapter VIII of the UN Charter—has become an increasingly prominent theme for the Security Council. The Council has held annual consultative meetings with the AU Peace and Security Council since 2007 and has received regular briefings from the EU since 2010. It has also held debates and briefings on cooperation with several other bodies, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
In the past decade, 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 and featuring briefings by the then-Secretaries-General of the UN and the Arab League, Ban Ki-moon and Nabil Elaraby. The meeting adopted a presidential statement in support of the League’s contribution to collective efforts towards the peaceful settlement of conflicts in the Middle East. The statement also expressed the Council’s determination to take steps to enhance its cooperation with the LAS.
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. Then-Council president Egypt and Bahrain, then-chair of the LAS, co-chaired the meeting. Several diplomats urged that such joint meetings be convened regularly, and some called for the establishment of a fixed consultative mechanism between the two organisations.
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 António Guterres and Aboul Gheit were the briefers. The meeting coincided with the opening of the UN Liaison Office to the LAS in Cairo, which had been planned since 2016. The office is mandated to increase collaboration related to conflict prevention, mediation, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. Despite its modest staffing levels, the office plays an important role in coordinating joint efforts to expand economic opportunity, advance respect for human rights and build political inclusion in the region.
At the June 2019 briefing, Aboul Gheit presented several observations that he hoped would guide future LAS-UN cooperation. He stressed that any “fruitful cooperation” must allow for a permanent way to exchange information between the organisations and called for increased cooperation between the LAS and UN special representatives and envoys to Arab conflicts and areas of crises “in a manner that truly results in a unified and common understanding of [root] causes”. He also emphasised that collaboration should go beyond addressing current conflicts; it should include efforts to promote joint 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 UN-LAS cooperation on matters related to peace and security. The statement also encouraged an annual informal meeting between Security Council members and the LAS Council—the League’s main decision-making body—and underscored the importance of trilateral cooperation among the UN, the AU and the LAS on cross-regional peace and security issues.
On 18 January 2021, the Council held another meeting on UN-LAS cooperation at the initiative of Tunisia. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo and Aboul Gheit briefed the Council on areas of cooperation between the two organisations. A presidential statement adopted during the briefing reiterated the Council’s intention to consider further steps to promote closer cooperation in the fields of early warning and conflict prevention, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, sustaining peace, and counter-terrorism. It again encouraged the holding of an annual informal meeting between the Security Council and members of the LAS Council and, whenever possible, informal meetings of the Security Council, the LAS Secretary-General and representatives of the Arab Summit Troika—a group of three rotating countries that monitor the implementation of resolutions and commitments adopted by the LAS Council.
In line with that recommendation, Security Council members held an informal interactive dialogue (IID) on 22 September 2021 on UN-LAS cooperation, with participation from Aboul Gheit, UN Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Khaled Khiari, and representatives from Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia—the then-Arab Summit Troika.
Pursuant to Security Council resolution 1809, adopted on 16 April 2008, the Secretary-General produces a biennial report on cooperation between the UN and regional organisations. The most recent report, published on 11 September 2020, highlighted several areas of UN cooperation with the LAS. For example, it noted that the Office of Counter-Terrorism had been working closely with the LAS member states’ Interior Ministers Council in developing a regional counter-terrorism strategy that was aligned with the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. It also highlighted joint efforts undertaken by UN Women and the LAS to support LAS member states in developing and implementing national action plans on women, peace and security.
On 30 and 31 January, LAS member states, with support from UN Women Regional Office for the Arab States, held a preparatory meeting to develop an approved regional position and identify key regional priorities ahead of the 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women scheduled for 14 to 25 March. At the late January meeting, LAS members endorsed the Arab Declaration through which the LAS committed to enhancing women’s economic empowerment and resilience in the context of climate change.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is how to strengthen cooperation between the UN and the LAS on peace and security issues facing the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Next month’s briefing will provide Council members with an opportunity to share assessments of and develop effective collaborative solutions to conflicts and crises facing the MENA region, including those in Lebanon, Libya, South Sudan, and Yemen.
A related key issue is the need to enhance trilateral coordination among the UN, the AU and the LAS on cross-regional peace and security issues. At the ninth General Cooperation Meeting between the AU Commission and the LAS, held on 1 February 2021, participants discussed the need to strengthen the Africa-Arab partnership in the context of negotiations on Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
The Council may consider adopting a presidential statement encouraging annual consultations between members of the Security Council and the LAS Council, as well as regular trilateral coordination meetings with the AU. The statement could also request the Secretary-General to report on further ways to strengthen relations and cooperation between the UN Security Council and the LAS Council.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Several factors have, to date, limited cooperation between the Council and the LAS. Difficult Council dynamics on issues 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.
Differences among Arab League countries have also been evident in recent years. For example, in late 2020, several LAS members—including Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and the UAE—signed the US-brokered Abraham Accords, which normalised diplomatic relations with Israel. LAS members’ establishment of formal ties with Israel has long been hindered by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and some viewed the signing of the Abraham Accords as being at odds with the Palestinian national movement: at the time, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki announced that the Palestinian Authority had decided to cede its turn to serve as the rotating chair of the LAS’ Council in 2021, arguing that “there is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency”.
UN DOCUMENTS ON COOPERATION BETWEEN THE UN AND THE LAS
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|29 January 2021S/PRST/2021/2||This was a presidential statement encouraging the holding of an informal meeting between Security Council members and representatives of the Arab Summit Troika and the Secretary-General of the LAS, on the margins of the General Assembly high level segment.|
|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.|
|26 September 2012S/PRST/2012/20||Welcomed the intensifying cooperation between the UN and the Arab League, reiterated the Council’s commitment to comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace and welcomed the appointment of the Joint Special Representative for Syria.|
|11 September 2020S/2020/898||This was the biennial report on cooperation between the UN and regional and other organisations.|