Regional Security
The Failure of Multilateralism in Syria 20 Feb 2014

In an exclusive interview with the ECSSR Website, His Excellency Dr. Javier Solana, Former Secretary General of the Council of the EU, High Representative for Security and Foreign Policy of the European Union and Former Secretary General of NATO, expresses his views on a range of subjects including the conflict in Syria, the Middle East Peace Process and the EU’s role in global affairs. The interview was conducted on the sidelines of Dr. Solana’s lecture at the ECSSR – 2014: A European View. Following are the excerpts from the interview:

Your Excellency, you have chosen the UAE to address a very important subject – 2014: A European View. In Europe’s vision of world affairs, where do the UAE and the Gulf region stand?

A: The European Union looks at Gulf countries with a lot of interest. We look at the Gulf region’s history, its present and I very much hope its future as well. This region is part of the Arab world, which has resources and technology. It has a very important strategic view and a strategic role to play. Therefore we want to have, with the region at large, as close as possible economic and political relations. We have good cooperation with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). We are yet to finalize the free trade agreement but we are working on it. In particular we have privileged relationship with this country [the United Arab Emirates]. This is a very young and very open country. It has very good infrastructure. It also has a lot of concern about international affairs. So I am very happy that I come here very regularly and I wish this country all the best.

Do you agree with the contention that a prolonged financial crisis has considerably eroded the European Union’s political capital? What can the EU do to have a greater say in world affairs?

A: The European Union faced a crisis like anybody else. It is true that since the European Union is a monetary area, the impact was a little more and probably lasted a little longer. But the situation is getting better. The European Union is growing at around 1.3 or 1.4 percent. It is not immense but it is beginning to grow and that has positively contributed to the global economy. As we look at 2014, we see that economies of some emerging countries may face difficulties. Probably their rates of growth will not be as much as they were before. The United States, the European Union and Japan are beginning to grow. So the global growth will be maintained and will increase, which will benefit everybody.

For several years, you have witnessed the ‘Road Map for Peace’ in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. How can the two sides be brought back to the negotiating table?

A: I have been one of those from the European Union who has been engaged in the Middle East peace process. I started before the Madrid Conference. I was a member of the Mitchell Commission, which didn’t last long enough but did a good job with the roadmap etc. Then I inaugurated the Quartet with Kofi Annan. My relation with the peace process has been frustrating. Any sensible person will probably have the same feeling. There is too much process and too little peace. We want less process and more peace. The situation today is we have the United States Secretary of State [John Kerry] who is very engaged. In fact he has traveled to the region more than anybody else. But I don’t know what is going to happen. They are very discreet about the elements of a potential deal but I very much hope that it will be a fruitful outcome.

But what, according to you, is the biggest hindrance?

A: There are many things but probably the most important thing is the occupation. That also relates to the settlements and the attitude that Israeli soldier or citizen is worth more than any Palestinian. With that attitude it is very difficult to launch a real process which ensures that people live together on equal terms. The situation today is unequal. There is occupation and when you have occupation, it is not equality. But will this be resolved? I hope that is the case. But there are difficulties related to occupation. The Arab initiative is very much there and it should help in the resolution of the conflict. Let me add that the Arab initiative says that given the peace is achieved the security of different countries will be guaranteed through a comparative scheme. So everything is on the table and it is just a question of how we get there.

There has been a lot of unease in this part of the world because of Iran’s nuclear program, and it has not necessarily subsided following the recent agreement. Do you see Iran complying with the requirements of this agreement?

A: Let me start by saying that I have been engaged in Iran since 2002. I was the first negotiator with today’s President [Hassan] Rouhani. At that time he was Secretary of the National Security Council of Iran. I have known him and [Ali] Larijani and [Saeed] Jalili for many many years. I think the electoral process last year gave a positive result. President Rouhani has adopted a different attitude, which is much more open and constructive. The same goes for foreign minister [Javad] Zarif. I was with him [Rouhani] the day he took office. I spent three days there and everything he told me is coming true. So I don’t have reason to doubt his intentions until now. The interim agreement has been signed. It is not over though. Negotiations are going on in Vienna. There hasn’t been a breakthrough but it is a step indeed. I hope an agreement will be reached on the terms that everybody agrees to.

With Geneva-2 going nowhere and neither side in a position to make decisive gains in Syria, what should be the focus of the international community in trying to resolve the crisis? How do you look at the situation as it stands?

A: It is a very difficult situation but let me start by saying that the worst thing that happened was the indecision within the Security Council. That should have been dealt with at the very beginning, in trying to find compromises within the Security Council. That would have stopped massacres. The second thing is Geneva has been a failure not only because of a lack of political solution but also because there hasn’t even been an agreement on the humanitarian truce. We are not able to even get steps in the right direction. If you cannot make breakthrough on a humanitarian crisis, it is much more difficult to find a peaceful agreement. So there is frustration but we have to keep trying. It is difficult to be in a position with extremist opposition elements and a sectarian divide. In any case it is the regime is the most responsible and they are the ones who have to take the most important steps.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos you criticized the United Nations for its handling of the Syrian crisis. Is the UN losing its relevance as far as resolution of political and inter-state conflicts are concerned?

A: When we talk about United Nations, we have to remember that the Security Council is an inter-governmental body and the Secretary General of the United Nations is not in command of the Security Council. There is only little he can do if the member states do not get to an agreement. So when we talk about the United Nations we talk about these countries in the context of the United Nations. But yes this has been a failure of multilateralism as far as Syria is concerned.

You have been a votary of multilateralism over the years but you also called 2013 as year of the end of multilateralism. As a statesman how do you look at multilateralism in an increasingly multipolar world?

A: When I contributed to the security strategy of the European Union I used the term ‘effective multilateralism’. Multilateralism cannot be theoretical and used only to gain time and not to resolve problems. A multilateral institution has to be effective, which means it tries to resolve the problem instead of just talking. That is the effective part of multilateralism, which is failing. The multilateral institution, the United Nations, is there but it doesn’t solve the problem. It is frustrating but I continue to be optimistic. However, time is the essence. History is moving at such a speed today that resolution of the problems have to be done at the same pace. Otherwise the problems will get dragged and never resolve.

Are you in favor of maintaining limited NATO presence in Afghanistan, beyond 2014?

A: No, I don’t think NATO should continue in Afghanistan. There has to be a graceful outcome. I think the Americans do have more responsibility on trying to obtain an agreement of security with the government of Kabul. President Karzai, as you know, is not a very easy personality. But I think it will be stupid on his part not to get an agreement on security.

What would be your message to the ECSSR in its 20th anniversary year?

A: I look at centers like the ECSSR with great interest. In a globalized world we need inputs from all sources, from all countries and from all walks of life. In a country which is so important strategically, such a center can provide important input to the government. We need centers that are free and give freedom of expression and research. The more centers we have like these the better it will be.

The content herein does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the ECSSR