The United Nations Security Council is not living up to its responsibilities in the maintenance of international peace and security, according to Amre Moussa, former foreign minister of Egypt and former Secretary-General of the Arab League.
“Big powers and permanent members are really undermining the Security Council and, as a result, the credibility of the United Nations because of their own self-interests,” Mr. Moussa said.
For example, conferences in Vienna on the Syrian conflict have taken on the initiative of deciding on ceasefires and observation missions—issues that should have been decided by the Security Council, he argued.
Mr. Moussa led the Arab League, a regional organization of Arab countries, from 2001 to 2011. The revolutions that grappled the region marked the first time the Arab League took a position regarding attacks against civilians by Arab regimes, he noted.
“It was a major shift,” he said. “The Arab League crossed a very important line and said human rights must be respected.”
Although the serious and quick developments in the region may have outpaced its policies, Mr. Moussa argued that the League must be a part of the debate around the new order of the region and has a role to play in the major strategic changes in the Middle East.
“It has done a good job bringing together the Arab countries,” he said.
This interview was conducted by Nadia Mughal of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism, on the margins of ICM’s ninth retreat, on the relationship between the UN and regional organizations, civil society, the private sector, and NGOs, held on November 20-21.
You’ve argued earlier that the main problem with the UN is centered around the paralysis in the Security Council. Can you expand on that?
The Security Council is the main organ of the United Nations in the maintenance of international peace and security. Therefore the Security Council should be present and should be heard when a situation threatens peace and security around the world.
We have noticed—all of us—that the Security Council is not living up to its responsibilities, and the maintenance of international peace and security is not really the council’s job anymore. Now we see the conference in Vienna on the Syrian issue, taking the initiative, deciding on ceasefires and observation missions and elections, etc.—issues that should have been decided by the Security Council.
Big powers and permanent members—either in their collectivity or individually—are really undermining the Security Council and, as a result, the credibility of the United Nations because of their own self-interests.
With more actors and institutions at play in multilateral affairs today, what are some of the key challenges that the UN is facing in engaging with partners, particularly regional organizations, to address peace and security issues?
That was a very solid paper that we received from the ICM about strengthening the United Nations and its relationship with the regional organizations. I agree with the direction of the paper—that there are three components of what you may call “the other UN.” It is regional organizations, civil society and NGOs, and the private sector.
The international economic system depends on the private sector and the wealth the private sector is generating. The amount of money that the private sector is earmarking to help in humanitarian and other issues is of great concern to humanity in general. There is indeed a role for the private sector and its money.
One problem is concerning civil society, which is by and large the NGOs; and there are a lot of reasons to criticize at least some of the NGOs. Because it is by nature of things that NGOs be formed and people get together to help on social or economic development, whatever it is. But of late, certain developing nations have noticed that despite their agreement and their support for the notion, the presence, and the role played by the NGOs, some of them play as a cover for other reasons. That raised a lot of concern about “why are they doing so, and who is behind whom?” and so on.
Those who can influence things should bear in mind that this kind of action, or even the perception that this is happening, has to raise concern, and they should deal with that problem in order to eliminate any reason or perception that some NGOs are not really proper NGOs.
It is only normal to have NGOs in all societies, and there are certain international NGOs that are doing absolutely fine on economic, social, and political matters and so on.
I was struck by the example mentioned about the military companies that are now “en vogue,” as they say; that many governments, and even big powers, commission them to act militarily in certain spots. This is a development that you cannot stop, but you have to raise concerns; what are the guarantees that accountability will be respected? Otherwise, they can do a lot of havoc if they are left without parameters, frameworks, certain laws, guarantees, and instructions and so on.
How responsive and engaging has the Arab League, a regional organization that you led from 2001 to 2011, been in addressing the challenges facing the Arab world today?
The Arab League is the oldest regional organization in that part of the world, and its charter talks about economic and social cooperation and cooperation in the field of security and sovereignty—all the principles that were talked about after World War II.
It has done a good job bringing together the Arab countries, discussing the problems of the era. Now the Arab League discusses the issues of environment and climate change—this is a very important thing.
In the cooperation in economic affairs and developmental matters, I believe that the Arab system was very successful on this point. The exchange of population and teachers, doctors, engineers, workers—it’s a very active process in this respect.
They also formulated one position on the Palestinian question vis-à-vis the Israeli occupation. And by and large, the Arab League stood by the changes in the Arab world that started in 2011. The first one was a protest against the bad economic conditions and the way Egypt was portrayed in its regional foreign policy; the line of policy followed by the government at that time, that it would rather close the doors and stay within its borders, not to participate in the big upheaval that was going on in the region. And in the opinion of so many, that was a wrong decision because the upheaval was in part encouraged by the absence of Egypt. Egypt must have an opinion on the serious developments that are taking place in the region.
The Arab League for the first time took a position regarding the attacks against civilians by Arab regimes—so it was a major shift. The Arab League crossed a very important line and said human rights must be respected, and to bombard, to shoot, or to kill civilian populations is a sin. You would be punished by the Arab system—and it happened.
Of late, of course, the serious and very quick developments that are taking place perhaps outpaced the Arab League, but the Arab League is a must, especially at this juncture where a new order in the region is being debated. The Arab League should be part of that and should not be left out. It should be developed perhaps, upgraded. But it has a role in the age of major strategic change in the Middle East.