Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Middle East
by Rene Wadlow
In a 26 June 2018 address to the United Nations Security Council, Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General, reviewed the
conflict situations in the Middle East - its profound divisions, troubling currents and the tragic shredding of its
diverse religious, ethnic and cultural fabric. As he noted "In Syria, civilians have borne a litany of atrocities or more than seven years of conflict: sieges, starvation,
indiscriminate attacks, the use of chemical weapons, exile and forced displacement, sexual violence, torture, detention
and enforced disappearances." He called for renewed support for his Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, on the Syrian conflict and possible Geneva
Likewise, he called for support for the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths. What was new in the
Secreatary-General's presentation was to highlight the Helsinki process as a possible for the Middle East. He said "During the Cold War, ideological rivals found ways to talk and cooperate despite their deep divides, for example through
the Helsinki process. I do not see why countries of the region cannot find a similar platform to come together, drawing
experience from one another and enhancing opportunities for possible political, environmental, socio-economic or
The Association of World Citizens has for a good number of years proposed a Conference for Security and Cooperation in
the Middle East with full recognition of all States in the region with steps toward a Middle East Common Market and
cooperation on water issues. Such a Middle East Conference is based on the Helsinki Conference of 1973 -1975.
When the first phase of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe concluded in Helsinki in July 1973, some
saw that seeds to end the Cold War had been planted, but that these seeds would have to be watered and carefully
protected. The Helsinki Final Act was still unwritten and even the issues to be discussed had not yet been set out
beyond a rather general and vague sentiment that military security and military confidence-building steps were
The negotiators moved to Geneva, Switzerland and discussed from 18 September until the eve of the Summit to be again
held in Helsinki on 1 August 1975. As midnight of the deadline for agreeing on the text of the Helsinki Final Act was
approaching, the clock in the meeting room was stopped so that the text could be finalized in the agreed time.
There were diplomats from three groups of States: the Western States, the Soviet Union and its allies, the four neutral
States and Yugoslavia as "non-aligned". The contribution of the neutral States and of non-governmental organizations is
what is lacking in the Middle East case.
The four neutrals: Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Austria were all "Western" by their value system and had
multi-party forms of government, but they were not part of one of the two military alliances. Moreover, all four neutral
States had a well-trained diplomatic corps which had participated in difficult negotiations before. They played a
mediating role but also championed their own causes. Thus Switzerland pushed the concept of a OSCE Court that could deal
with the judicial settlement of disputes. The Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, though little used, is now located
Geneva also had a good number of representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who had consultative status
with the United Nations and were concerned with arms control, human rights, conflict resolution and international trade
agreements. While there was no formal structure for NGO contributions, through the U.N. there was access to diplomats of
the countries involved. Two teaching colleagues of mine at the Graduate Institute of International and Development
Studies in Geneva, Jean Siotis and Victor-Yves Ghebali have written good accounts of the Geneva negotiations drawn
largely from interviews and the vast number of working papers that were exchanged.(1)
Some seeds for a Middle East version of the Helsinki process were planted but have not yet sprouted. The 1975 Helsinki
Final Act ha a chapter entitled "Questions relating to security and cooperation in the Mediterranean."
The link between security in Europe and the Mediterranean has been formalized starting in 1994 with the Mediterranean
Partners for Co-operation: Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel. It is theoretically possible for leadership
from these six States to propose an enlargement. Libya and Lebanon can also be considered "Mediterranean". One could
also start with a totally new process - inspired by the example of the Helsinki process but with no organic link.
The neutrals and Yugoslavia, in different ways, played important roles in the Helsinki process. There may be hidden
visionaries in the Middle East who could give a start to such a process. Alas, for the moment their voices are mute.
1) See Victor-Yves Ghebali. La diplomatie de la détente. La CSCE d'Helsinki à Vienne (1973-1989) (Bruxelles; Bruylant Editors, 1989)