posted on Wed 12 Jun 2019 9:18 PM
Briefing on Cooperation between the Security Council and the League of Arab States

Tomorrow (13 June), the Security Council will hold a briefing on cooperation between the Council and the League of Arab States (LAS). According to the concept note for the briefing, Kuwait is organising the session to encourage an institutional dialogue between the UN and the LAS, and between the Security Council and the LAS. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah will chair the meeting. Secretary-General António Guterres and LAS Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit will brief the Council. The Council will adopt a presidential statement, which passed a silence procedure this evening.

Chapter VIII of the UN Charter envisioned cooperation and partnership between the Council and regional and sub-regional organisations. Council members have held an annual meeting with members of the AU Peace and Security Council since 2007, and the Council has convened annual briefings on the work on the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and on UN-EU cooperation since 2001 and 2010 respectively. The concept note describes how regional organisations have shown that they can be the UN’s front line of defense for conflict prevention and resolution. They have the advantage of greater familiarity with cultural and political dynamics, and can be the least costly and most effective frameworks to identify root causes and remedies of conflict.

Relations between the Council and the LAS, which was established several months before the UN’s founding, are much less developed, however, despite the large number of conflict situations in Arab countries on the Council’s agenda.

The Council and the LAS sought to increase cooperation during the “Arab Spring” uprisings and the subsequent proliferation of conflicts. LAS representatives addressed the Council on several occasions, especially regarding Syria, where the LAS was involved in the initial mediation efforts. The position of Joint Special Envoy for Syria on behalf of the UN and the LAS was created, filled first by Kofi Annan and then by Lakhdar Brahimi. In September 2012, during Germany’s presidency, 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.

At this meeting, the Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2012/20) in support of the LAS contribution to collective efforts for the peaceful settlement of conflicts in the Middle East. The statement recognized the importance of strengthening cooperation on capacity building with the LAS in the maintenance of international peace and security and expressed the Council’s determination to take effective steps to further enhance cooperation between the two organisations. In May 2016, the Council held a consultative meeting with members of the LAS in Cairo during the Council’s visiting mission to Somalia, Kenya and Egypt. “Nonetheless that cooperation is still below the level of ambition and the desired expectations”, according to Kuwait’s concept note.

The Secretary-General’s August 2018 report on cooperation between the UN and regional organisations outlines forms of cooperation between the secretariats of the two bodies, which include a meeting every two years, along with their specialised agencies, that alternates between Geneva and Cairo. The UN has helped the LAS build its capacity with regard to conflict prevention and resolution, and peacekeeping. It has maintained contact on country situations including Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and the question of Palestine. The two bodies have also sought to cooperate on issues relating to human rights, sexual violence in conflict, water, the refugee and asylum crisis, and counter-terrorism.

In 2016, the UN and the LAS agreed to establish a UN liaison office in Cairo. The protocol of amendment that updated the 1989 cooperation agreement between the UN and LAS says that the establishment of the office is for more effective collaboration in the area of peace and security in particular, including conflict prevention, mediation, peacemaking, peacekeeping and building peace. At tomorrow’s meeting, Secretary-General Guterres is likely to announce the opening later this month of the liaison office, following the recent appointment of its director.

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, respectively, on Israel-Palestine and Syria, have complicated the ability to work together. Differences among Arab League countries have also hindered the organisation from playing a greater role and have limited coherent policy positions. The LAS has a fairly small budget of $60 million. It also does not benefit from the subregional organisations that represent a strength for the AU. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is currently divided, demonstrated by the Qatar crisis, while the Arab Maghreb Union has been largely dormant. Meanwhile, Eastern Arab states, such as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, lack sub-regional coordination.

Kuwait has provided a list of guiding questions in its concept note for the briefers and Council members for tomorrow’s session:

  • What steps should the Security Council take to enhance the efficacy of the existing cooperation between the UN (Security Council) and the LAS in maintaining regional and international peace and security? How can institutional relations between the LAS and the United Nations be strengthened?
  • What approach should the Security Council follow in order to activate cooperation and effective partnership between the United Nations and the League of Arab States in conflict and post-conflict situations, in particular in peacebuilding, peacekeeping and sustaining peace?
  • Should cooperation between the United Nations and the LAS be regularly assessed? Should similar approaches [that the Council maintains with other regional organisations] be followed, such as annual meetings between the Security Council and the League of Arab States?

On Tuesday (11 June), Kuwait circulated to Council members a draft presidential statement on Council-LAS cooperation. Members had until 10 a.m. today to submit comments. The draft statement encourages the holding of an annual briefing by the Secretary-General of the LAS and expresses the Council’s intention to consider further steps to promote closer cooperation between the UN and the LAS in conflict early warning, prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and sustaining peace.

Additionally, the draft statement encourages the holding of an annual informal meeting between members of the Security Council and the Council of the LAS. It also emphasises the importance of intensifying the coordination between the LAS and the UN special envoys, as appropriate, in addressing the current crises in the Arab region. The draft statement welcomes the upcoming opening of the UN liaison office in June 2019.

It seems negotiations went smoothly, with comments submitted bilaterally. Some members sought to clarify a reference to a LAS Council of Ministers’ proposal to establish a consultative framework between the LAS and the UN to enhance collaboration in maintaining peace and security in the Arab region, which it seems is meant to be similar to the Joint AU-UN framework for Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security of April 2017. The draft statement encourages consideration of the proposal. An amendment added language to the draft statement that emphasises the importance of trilateral cooperation and coordination between the UN, the AU and the LAS on cross-regional peace and security issues, as well as with other regional organisations on situations of common interest.

Some Council members are wary of regional organisations seeking increased interaction to influence Council decisions, but overall there is wide recognition of the value of communication and cooperation. Among other ideas to strengthen institutional relations, tomorrow’s speakers may suggest joint visits of the organisations’ secretary-generals, which could be similar to joint visits that have been undertaken with officials of other organisations, such as former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s November 2013 visit to the Sahel with representatives of the AU, EU, World Bank and African Development Bank. Speakers may also mention the need for regional approaches to address common problems and causes of conflict situations in the region, an issue that Council members have explored recently.