A Middle East Helsinki conference: NGO action needed
By Rene Wadlow
On 23 July 2019, the Russian Government’s “Collective Security for the Persian Gulf Region” was presented in Moscow by the Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov.
Bogdanov stated that “The main principles are incrementalism, multilateralism, and strict observation of international law, primarily the U.N. Charter and Security Council resolutions. The looming strategic challenge outlined is creating a holistic mechanism of collective security in the region and cooperation among all the states in the region on an equal basis.”
The elimination of extremism and terrorism in the Middle East and ensuring sustainable political settlement in Syria, Yemen, other countries of the region is a priority.
He continued “Over decades, tensions in the Gulf area has persisted. This negatively impacts security, political and economic stability in the region and in the world. New hotbeds of tension are being added to the existing ones. A major centre of the transnational terrorist network has sprung up near the Gulf area.”
The Russian proposal for Collective Security for the Persian Gulf follows closely the procedures which led to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and the creation of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Bogdanov stressed multilateralism as a mechanism for all involved in the assessment of situations, the decision-making process, and the implementation of decisions. This process should begin now as tensions seem to be growing.
“Practical work to launch the security system deployment in the Gulf area can be initiated through bilateral and multilateral consultations among stakeholders, including regional and extra-regional states, the U.N. Security Council, the League of Arab States, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf. These contacts should lead to the establishment of an action group to prepare an international conference on security and cooperation in the Gulf area. The group is tasked with the geographic coverage of the future security system, its range of participants, agenda, representational level, forum venue as well as with preparing draft decisions, including identification of security, confidence-building and control measures.”
For the moment, the Russian proposal lacks three elements which had played an important part of the Helsinki process. The first lacking element is economic cooperation which was an important motive of the Helsinki Process as the early 1970s saw ever-greater economic links among European and North American states.
The second missing element was what the Helsinki Process called “the human dimension” which was a code term acceptable to the Soviets for human rights. There was throughout Europe demands for greater liberty of expression, liberty of association, and religious liberty. The Helsinki Accords gave a justification for the safeguard of these expressions of human rights. Some of the early human rights efforts took the name of “Helsinki Watch”.
The third missing element in the Gulf proposal which was important in the Helsinki Process is the idea of weaving together of civil society. The early 1970s in Europe was a time when people, especially youth, wanted to be able to met and discuss, to share their hopes as well as their frustrations. The Helsinki Process was a door opened to civil society, to meet, an important factor in breaking down the Cold War divisions which had kept people apart.
The 1975 Helsinki Final Act was the result of three years of nearly continuous negotiations among government representatives meeting for the most part in Geneva, Switzerland. There had been before the Helsinki negotiations many years of promotion of better East-West relations by non-governmental peace builders. Although there was no direct access of non-governmental organizations to the Helsinki negotiations, as the negotiations were carried out in Geneva, those of us who were NGO representative to the U.N. Geneva knew people in most of the U.N. missions who were involved in the Helsinki Process. We could provide working papers which were considered by those negotiating the Helsinki Accord.
Thus, as NGO representatives concerned with peace, stability and justice in the Gulf area, we must be ready to make proposals and to facilitate the negotiating process. As Mikhail Bogdanov concluded “Russia is ready to collaborate with all stakeholders in order to implement these and other constructive proposals with a view to ensuring durable security in the Gulf.” As Citizens of the World, we are certainly stakeholders in this process. We need to be ready to make constructive proposals.”