posted on Tue 29 Sep 2015 1:41 PM
Open Debate on the Root Causes of Terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa

Tomorrow (30 September), the Security Council is expected to hold an open debate on the settlement of conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa and countering the terrorist threat in the region. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to preside over the debate, with most Council members attending at ministerial level, and the Secretary-General will brief. Although Russia originally intended to adopt a presidential statement at the meeting, the US expressed fundamental disagreements with the draft, which has ensured that it will not be adopted.

A concept note circulated by Russia on 1 September highlighted how the Middle East and North Africa region has entered a period of instability and conflict marked by the lack of settlement of existing conflicts and the rise of new crises. The note stresses how the lack of a genuine negotiation process and the long-standing status quo in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict contribute to radical narratives, and how the conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen have constituted a breeding ground for terrorism and violent extremism.

Russia circulated a draft presidential statement earlier this month. Among other things, it urged member states to provide robust military support and enhance combat capacities of the member states in the region actively involved in counter-terrorism activities. In addition, the statement covered the political dimensions of issues where there is little agreement in the Council (Israel/Palestine, Syria and Yemen).

Two rounds of negotiations and several discussions among the permanent members of the Council were unable to resolve the US’s fundamental disagreements with the draft text. It seems the US believed that adoption of the draft text would be perceived as approval from the Security Council of the Russian military build-up in Syria, and encouragement of cooperation with the Syrian government in fighting ISIS. These divisions were publicly emphasised on 28 September at the General Assembly when US President Barack Obama rejected the idea of cooperating with “tyrants like Bashar al-Assad” and Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that it was an “enormous mistake” to not work with Assad.

There were other Council members who had some reservations over the draft text but were willing to engage in negotiations. However, negotiations were brought to a halt by the position of the US, given that presidential statements need to have the agreement of all members of the Council in order to be adopted.

Counter-terrorism is one of the issues where there is some unity among Council members, with Russia, the UK and the US at different times having been the “penholder” on counter-terrorism drafts. However, there are clear differences in how Council members assess the root causes of the terrorist threat in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as on the political dimension of these conflicts, and Russia’s focus on these aspects appears to have made it difficult to get agreement.

For more information on this debate, please see the brief in our September Forecast.