Against the background of
recent failed international gatherings the first Arab-EU summit appears to have
been an outstanding success. The mutual recognition of acute common threats
along with shared strategic interests, and opportunities seem to have found new
utterance during the gathering in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Both sides announced that the summit had been fruitful. The EU’s president Donald Tusk said that the EU and the LAS ‘face common challenges and shared interests. We need to cooperate and not leave it to global powers far from our region.’ This was echoed by Egypt’s president al-Sisi who heralded ‘a new milestone for the deepening of historical relations between European and Arab regions.’
Perhaps even more significant than these mellifluous and lofty statements were the comments of Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs when she said that ‘Whatever happens in the Arab world affects Europeans and whatever happens in Europe affects the Arab World.’ Furthermore, Mogherini narrowed the focus by stating that ‘We have the responsibility of joining forces to find common solutions to common challenges.’
Reading the nuances of the statements coming out of the first Arab-EU summit is not difficult. Both the LAS and the EU have been profoundly affected by the wars in Iraq and Syria, with ensuing refugees feeling from the chaos and bloodshed. Morgherini’s statements are an acknowledgement that Europe and the Middle East are far more intertwined than many on both sides have often thought.
For instance, in terms of trade and commerce it is well worth remembering that the EU is the biggest trading partner for the LAS. It is also the biggest investor in the LAS. Wherever there is trade there is a need to defend the channels and flow of it. The Arab-EU Summit served to articulate the sense of mutual dependence. The implicit message is that security arrangements will of necessity need to be bolstered between the two blocs.
This has been given a fresh perspective by the realization among the EU and LAS that the US is growing increasingly hesitant to act on the terms of a blank check. President Trump’s defense strategy continues to call for greater financial and active participation from its key allies. In part the Arab-EU Summit is part of a new realism; namely that they must find ways to answer the challenges posed by a multi polar world, where there are some very dangerous forces arrayed against rules-based nations.
Accordingly the Arab-EU Summit produced declarations to work together in security matters as part of an ‘advanced relationship,’ with ‘annual meetings between EU Political and Security Committee and LAS Permanent Representatives.’ More tellingly the declaration was further fleshed in terms of ‘The EU and the LAS have also launched...a strategic dialogue to develop Euro-Arab operational cooperation on security issues.’
For many this can mean only one thing – which the EU is working towards assisting the LAS in the creation of an Arab version of NATO. This will take much goodwill, military harmonization and pooling of sovereignty among Arab states. It is worth remembering that the single key aspect of NATO is the concept of mutual defense. If a NATO country invokes article five of the Washington Treaty all members must rally to the defense of that country without hesitation.
Nevertheless and even given the hard practicalities of meshing LAS members into such a tight obligatory pact, the need for an Arab version of NATO grows ever more acute. Speaking for the Arab-EU summit President Tusk said ‘The global rules-based order is under threat. Multilateral solutions remain the best way to address threats of to international peace and security.’
A look across the region from which LAS are drawn shows that the threat of Iran looms greater than all others. It is crucial that both the EU and the LAS work together to stem Iranian terror. Also, the LAS must back up solemn words of intent with a readiness to act together to roll back Iran’s continued expansion. The killing fields of Syria, Iraq and Yemen show just how bad the situation becomes when states stand by and give Iran a free hand in which to pursue its hegemonic agenda.