Middle East Conflict: Impact on Europe and Prospects for Peace

On Saturday 5th March 2016 Uniting for Peace held its Spring Conference. Our Chair Vijay spoke about the impact of conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region on Europe and how the European Union model can be exported to build peace in MENA. Here are some excerpts.

The consequences of NATO/US policies of invasion and occupation of Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen, to name but a few are dire. A real question now to be asked by Europeans is: Do you want to continue being part of the perpetual wars of USA and its most belligerent states of U.K. Israel, etc. and the militarisation and nuclearisation of Europe to continue? It has far reaching consequences as a result; in terrorism, racism, resurgent nationalism, migration and the refugee crisis.

All across the European Union, austerity cuts, imposed by many EU governments, are driving people into poverty. In spite of this lack of jobs and increase in poverty for many families, political leaders insist on Government policies supporting foreign wars instead of human security of EU citizens, health care, education, the environment, and so on. The British Government has implemented austerity cuts which have devastated social services and many poor families and it is currently promising the renewal of the UK nuclear trident missile (these nuclear weapons, although on European soil, are in the control of the US Government) at a cost of £31 billion of the tax payers money. This is all done in the face of millions of citizens protesting against the possession of nuclear weapons and calling for a nuclear weapons free Britain and World.

Building Peace in MENA based on the European Model

Historically, Europe has been the planet’s most violent continent: Today, this truth is almost forgotten, a testament to the remarkable change in Europe’s internal relations after 1945. Until that point, war was a perpetual fact of European life. What changed?

Put simply, European countries systematically cancelled their own motives for war.

The 10 Peace Factors have been the pacifying framework that has been proven to work in the European Union. Of the 30 most peaceful countries in the world in 2015, 20 were in Europe. The 10 factors that brought internal peace to Europe must be applied to other continents. These are: enshrined democracy and shared values; economic truce; open borders and human ties; soft power and common purpose; permanent discussion, dialogue and diplomacy; financial incentives and support; veto and consensus building; resistance to external interference; rules, rights and multiculturalism; mutual trust and peaceful coexistence. These are the factors that bind nations together in a way that preserves goodwill.

A successful example is the African Union (based on the European Union) which should be praised for its role in discouraging military coups. In the 1980s and 1990s, military coups were commonplace in Africa. Today, they’re relatively rare. The African Union deserves credit for this success in spreading democratic norms. Sixteen years ago, the 54-member bloc wisely adopted a policy that punishes governments that came to power through military coups. For instance, in September, when an army general tried to take power in Burkina Faso, the African Union called for the suspension of all economic, political, and military cooperation with the country, and asked the West African Economic and Monetary Union to deny the coup leaders access to Burkina Faso’s financial reserves. The pressure worked. Burkina Faso returned to civilian rule. The general was charged with high treason.

These 10 factors prevented inter-state conflict during the latter half of the 20th Century by defusing specific flashpoints in Western Europe. These included the territorial dispute between Spain and the UK over Gibraltar; the dispute between the UK and Ireland over the six counties of Ulster; and secessionist movements in Spain, Belgium and in Scotland.

The success of the European Union has been in establishing a ‘positive peace’. This kind of peace is established when different nations, groups of people or organisations become so vested in the interests of one another, and dependent on mutual cooperation, that the prospect of conflict becomes remote to the point of impossibility. In a remarkably short length of time – Europe has peace and cooperation where before there was conflict and cynicism. It is also worth emphasising that Britain has played a key role in all of it.

There are organisations in the Arab World, like the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which is the second largest inter-governmental organisation after United Nations. The Organisation is the collective voice of the Muslim world and ensuring to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony among various people of the world. Another one is the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), an alliance of 6 Gulf countries. The purpose of the GCC is to achieve unity among its members based on their common objectives and their similar political and cultural identities, which are rooted in Islamic beliefs. They are both capable of taking the idea of Arab Peace forward by following European Union’s practical role in securing peace.

However, countries in the Arab world can only succeed if they unite together determined to build peace in the region, for this they have to bring Israel and Iran into the fold. The most important part of this unity is to stop violence and resistance to external interference by the West and outside powers which influence enmity and wars. Ultimately, it will be the vision of the leaders in the Arab World which will bring peace, by building respect for each other and sorting out their differences with tolerance, dialogue and diplomacy.

To stop bloodshed in the region, the following steps should be taken as a matter of urgency.

a) First of all, there should be immediate cease fire (which is in operation) to end violence as all parties need to renounce continuous violence and infighting

b) Start negotiations with all parties in conflict including your sworn enemies (ISIS and Al-Nusra front) in a trusted manner for sensible solutions

c) Agreement for equitable sharing of scarce resources – oil, water food, land etc. across the MENA region

d) Strong Leaders and communities to develop trust, close and friendly relations without excluding any group. The need for integrated education for children to learn together for peaceful coexistence.

e) Genuine efforts at decommissioning of weapons and prisoner release as a starting point for peace

f) Setting up an Arab Peace Council to settle differences instead of resolving them on the battlefield

g) Need for backing of international community for the recent Syria peace talks in Geneva including funding based on common economic development of the region.

h) No rigid preconditions for achieving the objectives of political peace process.

These are some of the solutions and lessons which are not utopian, and can be applied here as gradually over time as they were applied by European Union which is working successfully. One must remember that European Union started as European Coal and Steel Community with a few members (Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) but now European Union has 28 members. Similarly, the Arab World has to make a start and govern themselves, self governance by Arab nations without outside interference.

Read Vijay’s full speech here

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