Cooperation for security and democratic development in the Middle East: Some CSCE lessons

Posted in Broader Middle East | 12-Mar-04 | Author: Klaus Becher

The Arab League is under pressure to define its own transformation vision
With the strategic paralysis of the East-West conflict gone, and with Western nations strongly determined after 9/11 to protect their values and future through active, sustained engagement for security, development, justice and democracy, there is today a window of opportunity for Middle Eastern countries to move forward economically, socially and politically in a joint effort.

While terrorism, religious extremism, economic stagnation and political radicalization may leave little time for success, it is also clear that positive change can only come gradually, and only in an environment of peace, stability and cooperation. In some countries of the region, reforms are already making progress, driven by a spirit of ownership, not foreign imposition. Successful transformation in the Middle East as a whole will not be brought about by force and intervention. It will have to be achieved principally from within, while drawing liberally on the international flow of ideas and the benefits of economic and cultural interaction.

For Europeans and North Americans, it is a major historic step to engage in such a process of structured, strategic dialogue with all the countries of the wider Middle East, dialogue not for its own sake but for finding practical responses to urgent problems. The decision to undertake this effort stems from the realization that peace, security, dignity and prosperity cannot be preserved otherwise, not just in the region but .in the world as a whole.

The parallel often drawn to the European experience with detente and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) is a relevant one. Clearly its bipolar nature distinguished it from today’s efforts in the Middle East. However, it contains important lessons, some perhaps unexpected.

From the first signals sent in 1965, it took ten years until the Helsinki agreement was finalized that committed all participating governments to a set of agreed principles and a wide range of practical cooperative measures. Over these ten years, the world had changed in many important, unexpected ways, including the US defeat in Vietnam, the Warsaw Pact invasion in Prague, the collapse of the international monetary system, China’s return to the international system, Middle East wars and the oil boycott of 1973.

The lesson for today is that strategies for transforming the wider Middle East must be designed for the long term. they must take the inevitable fact of unexpected change into account. They are the more likely to succeed the more they will help to create a perception of the evolving future as a shared challenge and opportunity for cooperative responses in an open, rule-based process.

Another lesson concerns the way to deal with specific issues and conflicts in relation to the whole endeavor. The CSCE process, in a wider sense, involved a host of difficult issues, some of bilateral nature between Washington and Moscow, some concerning the two alliances and others certain specific responsibilities, notably the German question, dealt with by the four victorious powers and the two German states. For all of these issues, special negotiation forums were established that were formally outside CSCE but politically tied to it.

The Israel-Palestine issue and other contentious regional issues will have to be addressed in the political framework of the wider Middle East transformation process, and they should become easier to resolve in this context. It would lead nowhere, however, to demand that they be fixed before the overarching process can begin. It would also not be helpful to approach such issues in wide, multilateral forums, but negotiations among those directly concerned will benefit from the sense of direction conveyed by the wider process of cooperation.

CSCE also demonstrates the advantages of making the process as inclusive as possible. After some debate, this forum of European nations eventually included the US and Canada, Turkey and the Vatican. It even managed to accommodate states whose existence was not recognized by other participants, as in the relationship between West and East Germany.

Some leaders in the region are scared by the CSCE analogy, quoting the fact that the Soviet Union did not survive it. If you ask Russians, you will hear a different interpretation. It was only through the confidence established in the CSCE process that Moscow was able to engineer its transformation from failing empire to respected and successful partner in accordance with its own national interest and the interest of the people.

As in the early days of what became the CSCE, it is important for governments to lay out their objectives and essential requirements while, at the same time, committing themselves to the common goal of a new level of cooperation and good governance, living up to the high expectations and ambitions of the people of their nations. Europe’s slow but steady transformation over four decades from Cold War to partnership and integration under the aegis of CSCE proves that all is possible.

This issue of the WSN newsletter looks at the impressive range of sensible, creative thinking that evolves on the shared task of transforming the Middle East. We offer an exclusive contribution by the European Union’s Special Representative to the Middle East Peace Process, Ambassador Marc Otte, on the European strategy for change in the Middle East. We present the US discussion document on Greater Middle East Partnership circulated to G-8 countries in February, along with a critical analysis by Zbigniew Brzezinski. Finally, Steve Forbes draws attention to exciting economic reform approaches in Egypt based recommendations by Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto.