NATO Security and the Arab World

On 17 January 2017, Fanack held its MENA conference at The Hague Institute. The conference on NATO Security and the Arab World shed light on the role of NATO in the Middle East, and the challenges it faces there. The introduction to the conference was provided by Herman van Campenhout, Director of the Fanack Foundation International, and Max Christern, Deputy Managing Editor at Fanack and former NRC correspondent, who also moderated the expert panel following the keynote presentation. Beatrice Maneshi gave an overview of Fanack’s different programs, which include the Chronicle, an Academy, and development projects. Jamie Shea, NATO’s Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges, was the keynote speaker.

Mr Shea explained that, whereas the East poses a traditional security challenge, “a classical type of threat” which NATO can draw on Cold War experiences to address, the Global South has a distinct character that is marked by on-going instability and fragmentation, especially in the Arab world.

A number of recent challenges must be addressed in order to create more stability and security in the region. As long as conflicts continue, they will continue to exacerbate radicalization, violence and poverty. A decline in good governance allows for increased corruption and criminal activity. Climate change and its consequences for resources and water availability, as well as the migration flows it generates, put further pressure on existing tensions in the Global South. Terrorism hinders development and affects human security gravely.

From a security point of view, specifically, it must be considered how terrorist groups utilize technological developments. NATO and international partners must be aware of the ever-changing circumstances in which they operate. ISIL’s outreach and recruitment of foreign fighters, for example, is unprecedented, and international cooperation is needed to prevent or limit terrorist groups’ exploitation of new technologies.

Relating to the role of NATO, this difficult mix of interconnected challenges from the South will be hard to resolve. Mr. Shea stated that the Arab world cannot be framed as a “soft security” issue only, as the security risks that emanate from the Middle East and North Africa can also take the form of classic threats. Additionally, a new headquarters in the region could improve upon the command structure in the South, as well as build upon NATO’s situational awareness which has already been enhanced e.g. by the utilization of drone technology.

Mr. Shea also emphasized the important role of local actors. Local action is more effective, politically sustainable, and cheaper than continued NATO intervention.

“When you’re dealing with the challenges of the south, you’re only as good as your ability to leverage the cooperation of other actors.”

– Jamie Shea

Following the keynote presentation, a panel of experts further discussed the points Mr. Shea raised. Anna Borshchevskaya, Ira Weiner Fellow at the Washington Institute, focused on Russia’s policy towards the Middle East. According to Ms. Borshchevskaya, Russia is not genuinely interested in ending the conflict in Syria, but is asserting its influence in the region and trying to undermine the position of the U.S. and the EU. “What will be important going forward is that western institutions are brought back to the forefront… Western presence is a source for stability and peace.”


Robert Serry, until recently the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and the UN Secretary-General’s Personal Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, remarked on NATO’s previous cooperation with the EU. “For an institution like NATO, success always means that others will have to complement in terms of nation building.” NATO should reconsider its emphasis on military successes, because those are not enough to “bring democracy to the Arab world.”

Nikolaos van Dam, former Dutch ambassador in Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Germany, Indonesia, Azerbaijan and Special Envoy for Syria, stated that in some cases, doing nothing is better than doing the wrong thing. Yet politicians in western democracies have to do something – “they have other priorities.” He said that military interventions have created many problems rather than solving them, and, following Ms Borshchevskaya’s and Mr Serry’s points about creating sustainable stability, posited that “if you have the principle of the responsibility to protect, then you also have to have aftercare.”

The keynote speech, the panelists’ presentations, and the Q&A session with the audience can be listened to below.

Fanack is a platform that is dedicated to objective news and balanced reporting on the MENA region, in order to contribute to a greater understanding of the Middle East. With over 80 correspondents in 5 offices throughout the region, Fanack Chronicle publishes news articles and country reports in both Arabic and English. By offering information in both languages, Fanack aims to target audiences throughout the Middle East and works to make the Middle East accessible to western populations.

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