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DUBAI: In the 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, which marked the start of the post-Cold War era, there has been a lot of discussion about the role NATO should play in the world. How could it adapt to new and evolving challenges emanating from regions beyond its traditional geographic jurisdiction, in particular the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)?
Although Article 6 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, the organization’s founding document, defines its area of responsibility as “the region of the North Atlantic north of the Tropic of Cancer,” a new report from The Arab News Research & Studies unit aims to highlight why the MENA region is important to NATO, what common interests they share and how the organization could better engage in the region.
“While not strictly within its area of responsibility, NATO cannot ignore the MENA region,” writes Luke Coffey, report author and director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation. , in the introduction to the document. “Historical and recent events show that what happens there can quickly spread to Europe.”
Coffey highlights several sources of instability emanating from the region, which stretches from the eastern Atlantic Ocean to North Africa and the Middle East. These include demographic pressures, rising commodity prices, interstate and intrastate conflicts, and tribal politics.
“A decade after the start of the so-called Arab Spring, many geopolitical challenges remain in the region, from the rise of transnational terrorism to the nuclear threat and Iranian state terrorism. Many NATO members have therefore rightly decided to re-focus on working with regional partners on the alliance’s southern periphery.
Competition over water and other natural resources, religious tensions, revolutionary tendencies, terrorism, nuclear proliferation and proxy wars involving regional and global actors are an additional source of concern at NATO Headquarters .
And because the region contains some of the world’s most vital shipping lanes, energy resources, and bottlenecks, seemingly minor conflicts and disasters have proven to have major spillover effects on global trade, oil prices and remote economies.
“NATO has been through a lot of debate about its purpose,” Coffey said during a webinar in the Arab News Research and Studies Briefing Room Monday to launch the report.
“There was talk of focusing NATO on the fight against terrorism, there was a debate on China, there was a debate on whether Russia remains the great threat. Personally, I’m more of a traditionalist on this.
“I think NATO was created and designed to, if necessary, defeat Russia and deter her from aggression. However, I also understand that there are other challenges facing the Alliance. “
Yet, as Coffey points out, NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept, which was intended to serve as a guide to addressing future challenges, includes virtually no mention of the MENA region and these common challenges.
Coffey believes the document is woefully outdated in the wake of the seismic events of the past decade, including the rise of China, a more assertive Russia, the Arab Spring, the conflict with Daesh, the ongoing war in Syria, the crisis of European migrants and, more recently, the coronavirus pandemic.
As NATO prepares to draft its new Strategic Concept, Coffey argues that the time has come for the organization to build on its existing partnerships with states in the MENA region and seek new ways to cooperate.
If NATO followed Coffey’s advice, it would likely find a receptive audience. MENA governments not only share many of the security concerns of NATO member states, he said, but some of them have shown a willingness to cooperate, even to the point of providing troops to missions. NATO-led in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya.
In particular, Coffey highlights the NATO training operation in Iraq, the NATO-led Operation Ocean Shield to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa and the No-Fly Zone over Libya as part of its Operation Unified Protector in 2011.
NATO has already established links in the region under the aegis of the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. Launched in 1994, the Mediterranean Dialogue forms the basis of NATO’s relations with its Mediterranean partners, Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.
The Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, launched in 2004, currently forms the basis of NATO’s relations with the Arab Gulf countries. Although all six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council have been invited to join, only Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have done so. Saudi Arabia and Oman have shown only fleeting interest in joining.
“For me, the report highlights the novelty and fragility of the NATO-MENA relationship,” Iulia-Sabina Joja, senior researcher at Frontier Europe Initiative and assistant professor at Georgetown University, said during Monday’s webinar on Arab News Research & Studies.
Although there has been some institutional reluctance to participate, including Tunisia’s 2018 rejection of a NATO proposal to station personnel in a planned military operations center in Gabes, Joja said that several positive commitments at the practical level bode well for future cooperation.
“The reluctance or willingness of the different NATO member states, their visions for the MENA region, with different actors and increasingly shared areas of cooperation and threat assessment, show that there is no ‘It is more necessarily valid to artificially separate the issues that Europe or the transatlantic community is addressing from issues that MENA countries need to solve, ”she said. “There is a lot of commonality there.”
Joja said the relationship between NATO and the MENA region should extend beyond security and defense and revolve around “multi-level cooperation” on specific issues such as trade. , the economy and humanitarian intervention.
Coffey’s report outlines some practical steps that NATO can take to improve its relations with the region, including the appointment of a special representative for the MENA region – a step that would have weight in a part of the world “where personal relationships are paramount ”.
NATO should also push to expand membership in the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, he argues. To encourage this, the alliance should create a Regional Center for Mediterranean Dialogue, modeled on the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative Regional Center in Kuwait.
Finally, to build confidence and a sense of shared mission, NATO should emphasize the geopolitical importance of the MENA region by including high-level meetings for both groups at the next alliance summit.
Indeed, one of the main problems preventing closer ties is the persistent reluctance of some states that distrust NATO’s objectives.
“NATO is not about expanding an empire. It is not for NATO to try to plan its next military intervention anywhere, ”Coffey said during the webinar. “It is about identifying a key region for NATO’s stability and security, and finding willing and like-minded partners, ready to cooperate and work together to achieve common goals and common results. .
“As NATO goes through this process of deepening its relations with certain countries in North Africa and the Middle East, it must be aware of the sensitivities and it must only go at the pace desired by the country concerned.
“Interoperability brings trust and trust builds relationships. And that will keep us all safer. “