Russia’s proposal for Gulf security fails to win support

Russia’s proposal for Gulf security fails to win support

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 9, 2018. (Reuters)

Russia last week convened a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss Gulf security. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov presided over the virtual meeting, which took place during Russia’s month-long UNSC presidency. The hearing’s main objective appeared to be the promotion of an old idea to establish a collective security system in the Gulf, in which Russia could play a greater role.
In addition to the UNSC’s 15 members, the meeting was attended by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Arab League, as well as Iran and Iraq, but not Yemen. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the meeting with a thoughtful call for the prioritization of confidence-building measures.
Lavrov spoke next, laying down the rationale for an “effective system of collective security” and indicating that the US was largely to blame for the region’s troubles. He reiterated the idea of convening a summit for the leaders of the five UNSC permanent members, plus Germany, to discuss security in the region. It was a curious suggestion, especially singling out Germany to join this proposed gathering of the P5.
There was scant support at the meeting for the setting up of a new collective security system in the Gulf. Most speakers implied that the idea was premature because of a lack of trust between the key players in the region. Instead, they called for confidence-building measures to take place first.
China, Russia’s closest ally on the UNSC, suggested a more pragmatic approach. Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed an incremental method, starting with dialogue on less sensitive topics such as energy, shipping and trade. Wang said: “No matter how long the journey might be, step by step we’ll eventually reach the destination. The first step for dialogue, even a small one, will be one giant step toward peace.”
There are serious reasons behind the reluctance to endorse Russia’s idea of establishing a new collective security system. These include its timing and a failure to recognize the main threats to security in the Gulf. It also ignores previous attempts at dialogue between Iran and its neighbors, including the most recent GCC efforts, led by the late emir of Kuwait. Those attempts failed mainly because of Iran’s refusal to commit to universally accepted norms, such as respect for borders and the political independence of its neighbors, or renounce the use of force or threats to resolve disputes.
It is difficult to take dialogue with Iran seriously when its forces and those of its assorted proxies and allies are busy destabilizing the region in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere. Tehran has also launched repeated attacks, directly by its own forces in the Gulf and indirectly in the Red Sea, threatening maritime security and international shipping. And Iran has recruited, trained and equipped terrorists to carry out attacks in countries such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Last year, Iran attacked ships in the Gulf and launched an attack on major Saudi oil installations. The Houthi militia — a key Iranian proxy — has launched hundreds of ballistic missile and drone attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia over the past few years. Its escalations are usually choreographed with Iran’s moves elsewhere.
US Ambassador Kelly Craft did not see any need for new collective security architecture for the Gulf. Instead, she pointed out that the UNSC has all the tools it needs to deal with Gulf security, saying: “Respectfully, I think the solution is much easier: This council must simply muster the courage to hold Iran accountable to its existing international obligations. Iran is the single greatest threat to peace and security in the Middle East.” She cited Tehran’s development of ballistic missiles and support for proxies in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Craft added that the US was “unafraid to stand up for what is right,” and that “the United States will continue to hold Iran accountable, even if it means we must act alone.”
However, the US was far from alone at the meeting in terms of holding Iran responsible. Several speakers raised questions about Iran’s conduct. The UK said Iran has continued to transfer arms to regional groups and told the council it would work “to find a suitable solution to Iranian proliferation.” The German ambassador criticized human rights violations and religious persecution in Iran, where, he said, “civilian and political rights are violated every day” in prisons that are the “most abhorrent in the whole region.”
The GCC and Arab League, representing the countries most affected by Iran’s aggression, also pointed out Tehran’s malign activities in the region and said that Gulf security would be ensured if Iran were to adhere to the UN Charter and refrain from violating its neighbors’ territories and respect their political independence.

Most speakers implied that the idea was premature because of a lack of trust between the key players in the region.

Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

Any hopes that Moscow’s collective security proposal would be accepted were dashed by the belligerent remarks made by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. He blamed the US and its partners in the Gulf and absolved Iran of any responsibility. Typically, he played the victim role by recalling the Iran-Iraq War, despite the fact that Saddam Hussein is long gone and Iraq is now dominated by Tehran.
The GCC called on Iran to accept a UAE proposal to submit their territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice, which would be a great measure for building confidence. The Iranian representative’s intemperate negative response was telling: It demonstrated that Iran is not interested in the rule of law or any role for international bodies, including the ICJ.
It is unfortunate that Moscow has not used its UNSC role, plus the goodwill in the region toward Russia and its influence with Iran, to urge Tehran to adhere to UN principles and cease its destabilizing activities in the region. Moscow could encourage Iran to make a clear and unambiguous commitment to the principles of the UN Charter, along the lines of the Cold War-era Helsinki Accords, which Lavrov and others invoked. The Helsinki process started with a commitment to those guiding principles and progressed from there.

  • Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the GCC Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs & Negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not necessarily represent GCC views. Twitter: @abuhamad1
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