.
T

he international organizations designed to promote peace and stability around the world are failing to uphold these values in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). A lack of leadership at the international and regional level has harmed cooperation while traditional leaders like the United States have traded multilateralism for “America First” nationalism. The unfortunate reality for the region is that an extended and worsened period of internal conflict and humanitarian disaster appears likely in the coming years. Without a drastic shift in attitude, the current state of gridlock will remain.

A recent statement from United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres make it bluntly clear: he has described the state of the current UN Security Council as “dysfunctional,” solemnly outlining its inability to make any “meaningful” decisions regarding today’s most pressing issues. This statement is a result of the worsening U.S.-China relations and continued U.S.-Russia competition in conflict zones such as Syria.

In the case of Syria, the world has witnessed Russia veto 16 different resolutions since the civil conflict began in 2011. This includes the recent decision by Russia to veto a German and Belgian resolution to extend cross-border aid flow locations from Turkey to Syria, which garnered Chinese support as well.

Even with the diplomatic spats between Russia and the U.S., the deterioration of the U.S.-China relationship in recent years has complicated the organization’s dynamics. A recent example includes the deadlock in the Council for a uniformed declaration on COVID-19, in which both nations attacked each other over their handling of the pandemic and the role of the UNSC during such a crisis. Ultimately, a weak resolution was agreed upon in July that not only failed to address the concerns of either nation, but directly harmed the language required to ensure effectiveness of the document.

The resolution agreed upon, rather than outlining an adequate response similar to that of the 2014 Ebola crisis, does not reflect a coherent strategy to address the global pandemic. It falls short of declaring the pandemic a threat to global peace and security—a crucial component of the impressive response to the Ebola crisis. This language provided teeth to the resolution in 2014, allowing for a coordinated response that addressed hunger and public health weaknesses compounded by the disease. Similar language would have provided a necessary backdrop for the global ceasefire approach in the recent resolution passed this year and marks a drastic failure on the part of the Security Council.

Incompetence within the UNSC has moved the issue to regional organizations and individual states, which has not proved to be a better alternative. While some groups, such as the European Union, cooperated to develop support mechanisms for humanitarian initiatives in places like Yemen, dysfunction among power players in the MENA region continues. For instance, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), arguably the most powerful forum for fostering diplomatic and economic cooperation in the region, has been rendered inoperable since 2017 by an ongoing rivalry between the “Gang of Four” coalition led by Saudi Arabia against Qatar.

The resulting dysfunction has created a state of gridlock within these organizations and between MENA states, which is being further exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is also highlighting the impacts of gridlock on the weaker MENA states, ultimately destabilizing a region that already struggles with conflict, weak governance, and poor public health systems.

Worsening hunger in Yemen and increased institutional degradation in Lebanon, resulting in the massive explosion in Beirut, highlight the consequences of international and regional dysfunction. The blast in Lebanon comes at a time of economic and political upheaval that is being exacerbated by COVID-19. The failure of the international community to properly engage in and cooperate with the country to address its needs is prompting further destabilization that cannot be addressed by the Lebanese government alone. A cooperative effort by the international community is needed to avoid increased unrest in response to the blast before unrest evolves into violence.

Engagement is needed to resolve these complex problems. At the moment, there is a lack of engagement by the UNSC on some of the region’s most pressing issues, as the situation in Yemen shows. The Security Council only holds monthly reviews with its Special Envoy, neglecting to invite other actors with expertise in the country. The exclusion of such voices limits the ability of the UNSC to fully understand the situation on the ground.

Increased engagement must be accompanied by a return of U.S. leadership. If the United States were to take a definitive stance its allies might follow suit. However, the current administration is disinterested in multilateralism, which has contributed to conflict and the dysfunction witnessed today in the UNSC. While the United States has a rough track record in the MENA region, its leadership under prior administrations has been able to build coalitions to resolve issues and provide aid to those in need.

Even with these considerations, the UNSC will not operate as the appropriate forum for addressing all of these issues. U.S. leadership will not return under the current administration, and this reality ultimately includes decreased engagement by the UNSC on crucial issues. Geopolitical interests and nationalism perpetuated by the U.S., Russia, and other states within the region, as reflected by Washington’s politicization of aid flows to Yemen and Lebanon, will continue. A lack of cooperation in the Security Council will unfortunately follow suit, requiring individual states and organizations to act. As COVID-19 is proving, individual states may choose to look inward, leaving MENA states to address their own issues.

The consequences of an ineffective Security Council are drastic for a world facing upticks in violence, disease, and economic hardship. This reality is particularly true for that of the Middle East and North Africa and will send shockwaves through the region that will have implications for years, if not decades. If gridlock and nationalism continue to plague the UNSC, years of progress in many MENA states will be lost, resulting in further destabilization and conflict.

About
Alexander J. Langlois
:
Alexander Langlois has years of experience working for NGOs on policy analysis, research, and program management related to governance, conflict, and stabilization. Today, he works as a researcher in the U.S.-Sudan Initiative to promote peace in Sudan.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

a global affairs media network

www.diplomaticourier.com

Gridlock and the Failure of Multilateralism in MENA

A wide view of the Security Council meeting to hear a briefing on the Council's mission to the Sahel (21 to 25 March 2019). United Nations, New York. UN Photo by Eskinder Debebe.

August 12, 2020

T

he international organizations designed to promote peace and stability around the world are failing to uphold these values in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). A lack of leadership at the international and regional level has harmed cooperation while traditional leaders like the United States have traded multilateralism for “America First” nationalism. The unfortunate reality for the region is that an extended and worsened period of internal conflict and humanitarian disaster appears likely in the coming years. Without a drastic shift in attitude, the current state of gridlock will remain.

A recent statement from United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres make it bluntly clear: he has described the state of the current UN Security Council as “dysfunctional,” solemnly outlining its inability to make any “meaningful” decisions regarding today’s most pressing issues. This statement is a result of the worsening U.S.-China relations and continued U.S.-Russia competition in conflict zones such as Syria.

In the case of Syria, the world has witnessed Russia veto 16 different resolutions since the civil conflict began in 2011. This includes the recent decision by Russia to veto a German and Belgian resolution to extend cross-border aid flow locations from Turkey to Syria, which garnered Chinese support as well.

Even with the diplomatic spats between Russia and the U.S., the deterioration of the U.S.-China relationship in recent years has complicated the organization’s dynamics. A recent example includes the deadlock in the Council for a uniformed declaration on COVID-19, in which both nations attacked each other over their handling of the pandemic and the role of the UNSC during such a crisis. Ultimately, a weak resolution was agreed upon in July that not only failed to address the concerns of either nation, but directly harmed the language required to ensure effectiveness of the document.

The resolution agreed upon, rather than outlining an adequate response similar to that of the 2014 Ebola crisis, does not reflect a coherent strategy to address the global pandemic. It falls short of declaring the pandemic a threat to global peace and security—a crucial component of the impressive response to the Ebola crisis. This language provided teeth to the resolution in 2014, allowing for a coordinated response that addressed hunger and public health weaknesses compounded by the disease. Similar language would have provided a necessary backdrop for the global ceasefire approach in the recent resolution passed this year and marks a drastic failure on the part of the Security Council.

Incompetence within the UNSC has moved the issue to regional organizations and individual states, which has not proved to be a better alternative. While some groups, such as the European Union, cooperated to develop support mechanisms for humanitarian initiatives in places like Yemen, dysfunction among power players in the MENA region continues. For instance, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), arguably the most powerful forum for fostering diplomatic and economic cooperation in the region, has been rendered inoperable since 2017 by an ongoing rivalry between the “Gang of Four” coalition led by Saudi Arabia against Qatar.

The resulting dysfunction has created a state of gridlock within these organizations and between MENA states, which is being further exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is also highlighting the impacts of gridlock on the weaker MENA states, ultimately destabilizing a region that already struggles with conflict, weak governance, and poor public health systems.

Worsening hunger in Yemen and increased institutional degradation in Lebanon, resulting in the massive explosion in Beirut, highlight the consequences of international and regional dysfunction. The blast in Lebanon comes at a time of economic and political upheaval that is being exacerbated by COVID-19. The failure of the international community to properly engage in and cooperate with the country to address its needs is prompting further destabilization that cannot be addressed by the Lebanese government alone. A cooperative effort by the international community is needed to avoid increased unrest in response to the blast before unrest evolves into violence.

Engagement is needed to resolve these complex problems. At the moment, there is a lack of engagement by the UNSC on some of the region’s most pressing issues, as the situation in Yemen shows. The Security Council only holds monthly reviews with its Special Envoy, neglecting to invite other actors with expertise in the country. The exclusion of such voices limits the ability of the UNSC to fully understand the situation on the ground.

Increased engagement must be accompanied by a return of U.S. leadership. If the United States were to take a definitive stance its allies might follow suit. However, the current administration is disinterested in multilateralism, which has contributed to conflict and the dysfunction witnessed today in the UNSC. While the United States has a rough track record in the MENA region, its leadership under prior administrations has been able to build coalitions to resolve issues and provide aid to those in need.

Even with these considerations, the UNSC will not operate as the appropriate forum for addressing all of these issues. U.S. leadership will not return under the current administration, and this reality ultimately includes decreased engagement by the UNSC on crucial issues. Geopolitical interests and nationalism perpetuated by the U.S., Russia, and other states within the region, as reflected by Washington’s politicization of aid flows to Yemen and Lebanon, will continue. A lack of cooperation in the Security Council will unfortunately follow suit, requiring individual states and organizations to act. As COVID-19 is proving, individual states may choose to look inward, leaving MENA states to address their own issues.

The consequences of an ineffective Security Council are drastic for a world facing upticks in violence, disease, and economic hardship. This reality is particularly true for that of the Middle East and North Africa and will send shockwaves through the region that will have implications for years, if not decades. If gridlock and nationalism continue to plague the UNSC, years of progress in many MENA states will be lost, resulting in further destabilization and conflict.

About
Alexander J. Langlois
:
Alexander Langlois has years of experience working for NGOs on policy analysis, research, and program management related to governance, conflict, and stabilization. Today, he works as a researcher in the U.S.-Sudan Initiative to promote peace in Sudan.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.