posted on Wed 20 Mar 2019 6:13 PM
Informal Interactive Dialogue on the Middle East and North Africa

Tomorrow morning (21 March), Security Council members will have 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 ways on how to better take into account regional dynamics, root causes of conflict in the region and common security challenges. France and Germany have organised the meeting, which will include briefings by Marie-Joëlle Zahar of Montreal University, the International Peace Institute and Folke Bernadotte Academy; Joost Hilterman, the Program Director, Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group; and Mourad Wahba, Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States at the UN Development Programme.

According to the concept note, the informal interactive dialogue seeks 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”. It further seeks to “envisage 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.”

The Security Council primarily looks at and discusses conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa through country-specific contexts. Common threats, challenges and dynamics affecting the region as a whole are much less discussed by the Council. These are issues that, according to the concept paper, require a collective response, but “regional divisions and tensions have made such a response impossible, and have, to the contrary, fuelled regional crisis and conflicts”. Briefers may thus refer to aspects of these regional dynamics, including the Sunni-Shiite divide as it has been manifested primarily between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and Iran; the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and divisions within the Arab League, including the Gulf crisis with Qatar. Issues in the region, that are highlighted in the concept note and may be raised, are refugee and migrant flows, the spread of radical ideology, and the existence of war economies, while resource scarcity could increase insecurity in the years to come.

A further common problem facing the region, as alluded to in the concept note, is issues around governance. The concept note refers to key assets that these countries possess, such as natural resources, ethnic and religious diversity, and dynamic civil societies. However, the note states that this “huge potential” has been “unexploited”, and that economic and social reforms and political integration of youth, women and minorities are necessary “to avoid radicalization…but also to build in the long term strong and lasting state institutions”.

For the meeting, Council members have been encouraged to avoid stating their national positions on each related country situation, but instead to explore how the Council can better consider cross-cutting issues and common security challenges,and identify areas of common interest in which the Council could achieve unity and contribute more effectively to regional peace and security. Additionally, members have been asked to reflect on how tools of multilateralism could contribute to regional integration. During Council meetings, Russia frequently highlights the need for an inclusive regional security architecture to promote security and cooperation in the Persian Gulf. The concept note also says that a top priority “should be to promote regional cooperation and dialogue that could progressively pave the way to the definition of a comprehensive regional security architecture”. Members may be interested in considering the ideas that exist in this regard, or may draw from their own experiences, whether through European, African or other regional mechanisms that have been developed to foster dialogue.

It seems that the co-organisers see this meeting as an opportunity to consider how the Council may better incorporate wider dynamics and issues that often affect conflicts in their country-specific discussions. Based on the type of discussion that takes place, members may then consider how to carry forward ideas that are raised. At this stage, general ideas could include exploring ways that the Secretariat can organise its work or Council briefings to take into account regional dynamics.

Last June, Russia organised a debate (S/PV.8293) 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, where some of these cross-cutting issues were raised by speakers.