Security in the Middle East: New Challenges for NATO and the EUUS-Senator John McCain

Posted in NATO , United States , UN | 12-Feb-05 | Author: John McCain

Senator John McCain
Since we met last year, the people of Afghanistan, the Palestinian Authority and Iraq have chosen new leaders in democratic elections, an "Orange Revolution" has brought a new dawn of freedom in Ukraine, and Israeli and Palestinian leaders have declared an end to four years of conflict. As we, the Atlantic community, sketch out our vision for the future, we should reflect on these events and consider how much more we can do - together - to build a freer and more secure world.

The Iraq question continues to darken relations among transatlantic friends, but the shadow lightens with each passing month. Many challenges remain, and the road ahead is arduous. But we are beginning to put the past divisiveness behind us, and starting again to identify shared challenges as collaborative opportunities.

These new events unfold as our fundamental understanding of international security evolves. For many years we believed that bonds of friendship among governments led to peace, irrespective of their domestic nature, and that a despotic ally was preferable to an unfriendly democracy. The events of September 11 showed most painfully that this form of statecraft can be a recipe for complacency and danger.

We have learned that, where repression rules, the lack of political participation and economic opportunity engenders despair and even extremism. Nowhere is this problem more acute today than in the broader Middle East, and the stagnating status quo there demands attention. The promotion of democracy and freedom are simply inseparable from long-term security in this region, and security in the broader Middle East is fundamentally linked to security elsewhere - includmg in Europe and North America. When the security of New York or Madrid or Munich depends in part on the degree of freedom in Riyadh or Baghdad or Cairo, then we must promote democracy, the rule of law, and social modernization just as we promote the sophistication of our weapons and the modernization of our militaries.

This is not merely an American view or a temporary whim. Last year before this conference, the German Foreign Minister said that "Following 11 September 2001, neither the U.S. nor Europe and the Middle East itself can tolerate the status quo in the Middle East any longer." Mr. Fischer was absolutely right, as was his observation that we must respond to jihadist terrorism with all of the instruments available - military, when absolutely necessary, but not military alone. The power of attraction can be as powerful as the ability to destroy evil. In recognition of this new reality, the G-8 launched the Broader Middle East/North Africa initiative at Sea Island, and NATO launched its Istanbul Cooperation Initiative - both of which are building blocks on which we can do more - much more - to engage the broader Middle East. Working in partnership with willing reformers, the U.S. and Europe must deepen their long-term commitment to use economic, political, and diplomatic resources to promote positive change in the region.

Nowhere is this more critical today than in Iraq. The outcome there will affect Europe as much as, if not more than, the United States. None of us can afford failure, with all of the implications that a failed state - in the heart of the Middle East - would have for our homelands. The recent elections may be a turning point, but we still face a long, difficult, and expensive road ahead. The battle, once between insurgents and the coalition, is now waged between the insurgents and the Iraqi people. Today they need our help, and we must not remain unmoved. I fully understand that there exists in some European countries lingering, and significant, domestic opposition to the coalition military operation in Iraq. But I cannot believe most of those who opposed the war also oppose providing any assistance to the Iraqi people today. Even if that were opposed, as political leaders, faced with a serious issue whose outcome affects us all, we must make decisions based on what is right, not merely what is popular. The leaders of the world's great powers cannot stand idle during the most significant political transformation of our time. Given the catastrophic implications of failure in Iraq, we should all look at the situation there as an emergency that requires immediate attention.

Security is the preeminent requirement. Iraqis can sort out their own politics, but they cannot do it in the absence of order. Our alliance should be doing much more to help provide it. Last year there was much talk about a NATO brigade that would train Iraqi troops, but today there are fewer than 500 NATO representatives in Iraq. Without well-trained, well-equipped Iraqi forces that can provide real security throughout the country, it will be very difficult to make progress on the economic and political fronts. So I urge every member of NATO to be as generous as possible when examining their potential security contributions.

At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi troops, however skillful, will be of little use unless the people of Iraq believe that the new government truly represents their interests. The parliament, free and fairly elected, is now the source of Iraq's democratic legitimacy. As it begins its work, its list of requirements will be long - from computers to staff, from technical assistance to security - and significant resources will be required to properly represent the people. In the ministries too, the Iraqis need help to build institutions that can govern effectively. The scope for assistance is limited only by the creativity of the donors.

As the newly elected government takes shape, the transatlantic partners will be in a position to influence, but not to determine, its decisions. In order to ensure a democratic system in which all Iraqis feel represented, it will be critical to bring the Sunnis into the political process. The Sunnis made a major mistake in boycotting the elections, but it is not a fatal error. There is wide scope for their participation in the constitutional drafting process, and there will be two further elections this year - the referendum on the constitution and the election of a permanent government. I am encouraged by strong signs that the Shiites and Kurds wish to reach out to the Sunnis, and we should urge Sunni leaders to join in the democratic process.

In the Middle East many issues, both related and unrelated, are viewed through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Achieving peace between these two peoples would have positive reverberations throughout the region and the world, and today I believe that the potential for a permanent peace is closer than it has been in years. In Mahmoud Abbas, Israel finally has a real interlocutor with whom to talk. But the Palestinian economy and political system are shattered, and to return to the Roadmap, the Palestinians will require international help. We can assist the Palestinians as they build the institutions of an independent state and reject the pernicious role of terrorism in their society. Here too, NATO may have a key role. While I believe a peacekeeping role would serve only to prolong the necessary peacemaking, and should be avoided, there are other options for NATO participation, including training of security forces, enhancing border security, and monitoring the implementation of Roadmap commitments.

As we work to enhance security in the broader region, we will inevitably confront Iran's nuclear weapons program, the pursuit of which should alarm us all. A longstanding sponsor of international terrorism, the radical Iranian regime defines itself by hostility to the United States and Israel. The United States needs to vigorously support European leadership on this issue, but our European friends must also realize that no deal will be worthwhile unless it includes a verifiable monitoring regime. And the mullahs running Iran's repressive regime should hear one unified message from all of us: continued nuclear weapons development will be punished by multilateral sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. At the same time, the reformers and the millions of Iranians who aspire to self-determination must know that we support their longing for freedom and democracy.

Just as the desire for freedom is universal, so must be its promotion. It is not America's mission alone, nor Europe's - the people of the Middle East must seek freedom and democracy of their own accord. And as we look to nations like Iran, we see those eager for assistance and change. And governments like those in Iraq, Bahrain, Morocco, and Jordan hear their people and pursue reform. But we also see other governments, including longstanding friends, who invoke the specter of social chaos and undue foreign influence when faced with the most basic reform proposals. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, in many ways the pillars of the Arab world, could lead the Middle East into a new era, but they prefer to couple repression with a blind eye to the radicalism growing in their own societies.

In Egypt today, a degree of economic reform has taken hold, taxes are being cut, and growth is up. Yet President Mubarak has reigned as a dictator for almost 24 years, and he seeks yet another term, while grooming his son for what one newspaper described as a "Pharonic succession." To be clear, Egypt's support for Middle East peace is welcome, and critical. And yet when multiparty elections are doomed, opposition party leaders are jailed, and emergency laws remain in place for decades, we can no longer ignore its dangerous domestic environment. Egypt's reform plans, while clearly insufficient, are leagues ahead of Saudi Arabia, where elections will soon be held to fill municipal counsel seats. This is a welcome change to the absolute rule of the House of Saud, but repression remains the norm in that land. I single out Egypt and Saudi Arabia because these two proud countries should be the Middle East's natural leaders, but I could make similar remarks about other nations. If these governments are willing to reform, we should help them. If they refuse, and continue in their dangerous ways, we should reassess our relationships - including the billions of dollars in bilateral aid that flows to them.

U.S.-European cooperation on this issue is vital, and we have seen its success elsewhere. Afghanistan is a prime example. Ruled by the Taliban just four years ago, we have brought increasing stability, seen the return of over two million refugees, and witnessed a quiet democratic revolution in a land previously known only for its poverty, misrule, and violence. To further deepen our transatlantic cooperation there, we should combine the two separate operations - ISAF, under NATO command, and Operation Enduring Freedom, under U.S. command. By merging these under one NATO umbrella, we can enhance our alliance's sense of collective action and common purpose.

Ultimately, what we may need in the Middle East is a regional security structure, perhaps an institutionalized forum at which security issues can be addressed and rules of behavior hammered out. One model for such a grouping might be the ASEAN association of Southeast Asian countries. Over time, such a grouping might engage in arms control, develop norms for regional behavior, and exchange information on borders and transnational security threats, including terrorist groups. Given the deep political fissures in the Middle East today, we should not hope for too much too fast from such a structure, nor formalize it quickly as another talk shop. Yet some basic security architecture could help stabilize a region still feeling reverberations from various conflicts of years past.

While this talk pertains to security in the broader Middle East, I would like to touch briefly on events in the wider European neighborhood. The Rose Revolution in Georgia, progress in the western Balkans, and the recent events in Ukraine all suggest that democracy and freedom are marching forward. Yet under President Vladimir Putin, Russia is actually moving backward. Mr. Putin has moved to eliminate the popular election of Russia's 89 regional governors, has cracked down on independent media, continued his repression of business executives who oppose his government, and is reasserting the Kremlin's old-style central control. Most recently, Russia embraced electoral fraud in Ukraine and is now refusing to renew the mandate for the OSCE's border monitoring operation in Georgia - while at the same time complaining about alleged terrorist infiltration from Georgian territory. NATO can play a role here too, by taking over the border monitoring operation and ensuring that all observers are impartial, not subject to a Russian "nyet." The Atlantic democracies should commit to resolve Europe's frozen conflicts, which persist with Russian support, and together we should work with the people of Belarus to help end a dictatorship whose very existence offends Europe's values.

I have outlined a number of ways that NATO, the U.S. and the EU can use their power to enhance the security of the broader Middle East. In doing so, we should not overlook Europe's "soft power," which was on proud display during Ukraine's Orange Revolution. By attracting nations to its club of prosperous democracies, the EU has prompted change all along its ever expanding border. Perhaps it is time for the EU to consider a new mechanism for a close long-term partnership with Middle East democracies, beyond the Barcelona Process and the G-8 initiatives, as they arise. While it may be unrealistic to think that the European Union itself will stretch throughout the broader Middle East, some form of economic and security association would likely prompt more countries to make necessary reforms.

Europe and the United States are natural and vital partners, and so we cannot treat our relations today as merely a good faith effort to make the best of a bad situation, The opportunities we face are too numerous, and the challenges too grave, to limit our potential cooperation. President Harry Truman observed that, "Men make history, not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better." In this room today we have many of these skillful leaders, and the opportunity for change now presents itself. When the United States and the countries of Europe stand together, it creates a moral and political force that gives no ground to the enemies of freedom. The world needs us together, and we need each other.