posted on Mon 19 Aug 2019 4:25 PM
Debate on “Maintenance of international peace and security: Challenges to peace and security in the Middle East”

Tomorrow (20 August), the Security Council is scheduled to hold one of Poland’s signature events of its presidency, a debate entitled “Maintenance of international peace and security: Challenges to peace and security in the Middle East”. The sole briefer is Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, Chef de Cabinet to the Secretary‑General. The meeting will be presided over by Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jacek Czaputowicz. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior officials from other member states may be present. Several countries from the region and some regional organisations will also participate under rules 37 and 39 of the provisional rules of procedure. Rule 37 allows those members whose interests are specially affected by the issue under discussion to participate, while Rule 39 permits Secretariat members or “other persons” to provide the Council with “information or…other assistance in examining matters within its competence”. A formal outcome from the meeting is not anticipated.

On 6 August, Poland circulated a concept note for the meeting, which states that “the aim of the debate is to reflect upon ways of easing tensions, caused by the recent developments in the Persian Gulf and other events, and to contribute constructively to conflict resolution in the region.” Poland maintains that severe humanitarian crises in the region can only be addressed through international cooperation and the adherence of parties to their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.

According to the concept note, Poland would like the debate to focus on practical solutions to challenges in the region and has called for an emphasis on:

  • the importance of respecting international law, in particular, international humanitarian and human rights law, as a means to protect civilians;
  • the importance of maintaining social peace and economic growth to promote stability;
  • ensuring access to education in order to improve social and economic opportunities;
  • preserving cultural heritage in order to cultivate identities and promote peaceful coexistence; and
  • addressing threats posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction among non-state and state actors.

Poland also lists a series of questions to help guide the discussion. Among them are:

  • What are the root causes of tensions in the Middle East, and how can they be addressed by the United Nations?
  • How can confidence-building measures in the Middle East be expanded and reinforced, and in this respect, what should be the role of the Security Council and other actors from outside the region?
  • How can there be an effective response to global challenges such as climate change, which fuel local tensions and thus represent a security risk?
  • What practical aspects of development policies and technical cooperation could foster the overall stabilisation of the Middle East and find solutions to the region’s key challenges?
  • How can concerns over the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery in the region be addressed?
  • How can cyber threats, including threats to energy infrastructure, be counteracted in terms of promoting cooperative mechanisms for deterring and responding to significant cyber incidents in the Middle East?
  • What are the ways to gain greater support for the United Nations to ensure comprehensive humanitarian aid in post-conflict areas and in areas still affected by armed conflicts, as well as how to coordinate collective measures with individual efforts made by member states?

While divergent views prevail on the many crises in the Middle East–and usually dominate any discussion—the debate offers an opportunity for members to move beyond their differences and consider how the Council can address cross-cutting issues and common security challenges. Some Council members are apparently planning on keeping their statements general, focusing on the overall need to have dialogue and de-escalate tensions. However, other members may focus on specific crises, such as tensions with Iran. In February, Poland hosted a US-led meeting on Middle East security, which focused unofficially on Iran. However, this debate is not seen by most members as its follow-up, and the concept note does not mention Iran by name.

Some members may share their opinion on how military and political interference in the internal affairs of states contribute to destabilisation, reaffirm their commitment to the supremacy of state sovereignty, and reject military approaches to resolving crises. They may also criticise unilateral action and call for coordinated approaches approved by the Security Council. Other members may highlight respect for human rights, adherence to international humanitarian law, and accountability as an effective means of addressing potential and unfolding crises.

This meeting follows in the footsteps of other Council discussions of particular regions as a whole, including the Middle East. On 21 March, France and Germany organised 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 better ways to take into account regional dynamics, as well as root causes of conflict and common security challenges in the region. Additionally, Russia has spoken in several Council meetings over the past months to what it sees as the need for an inclusive regional security architecture to promote security and cooperation in the Persian Gulf and beyond. In June 2018, Russia organised a debate 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.