By Nikos Christodoulides *
Developments in recent years at the international level, including the economic crisis, immigration, the rise of xenophobia, terrorism and the effects of climate change, tend to challenge the well-established principles of the international system in the form those have been, to a large extent, accepted by all international actors, especially post-Cold War. These challenges have pushed a number of states, among others, towards a strong political introversion, the activation of self-defense reflexes and the choice of lonely paths to address the above. The global outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 has unfortunately exacerbated this trend, leading even more states to seek national solutions and follow lonely paths.
Although it seems that these approaches are being adopted by an increasing number of countries, the fact remains that such recipes appear unfit to offer permanent solutions, rendering therefore their effectiveness questionable. As an alternative to addressing multiple international and regional challenges, the majority of countries in the wider Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East region follow a different model that focuses on consolidating a culture of cooperation and multilateralism.
Developments in the region in 2020 confirm the aforementioned finding, as they undoubtedly prove the states’ in the region strong belief in this approach and that, against the general trend of strengthening isolation detected at international level, they choose the path of cooperation. Indicatively, I mention a number of developments in the last year which prove that, despite the international and regional challenges, most of the countries in the region approach the developments differently and adopt alternative practices to address them:
-The 22 September signing of the Statute established by the Energy Forum in Cairo in which Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Italy participate as members.
-The continuation, strengthening and expansion of the Tripartite Cooperations in the region expanding to include other countries on an ad hoc and thematic basis. I recall in this regard the meeting in Cairo between the Foreign Ministers of Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, France and Italy and the multilateral virtual meeting amid a pandemic with the participation of Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, France and the United Arab Emirates.
-The decision adopted for the establishment of a Permanent Secretariat of the Tripartite Partnerships in Nicosia and its operation within 2021.
– The signing of the Transnational Agreement for the EastMed pipeline in Athens between Greece, Cyprus and Israel.
-The recent agreement between the Republic of Cyprus and the USA on the establishment of a Regional Training Center (CYCLOPS) in Cyprus for the security of land, offshore and ports.
– The normalization of Israel’s relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
– The commencement of negotiations between Israel and Lebanon to demarcate their maritime borders, in order to remove obstacles to the exploitation of hydrocarbons in a potentially rich marine area.
-The multinational aeronautical exercise “MEDUSA 2020” in the context of the tripartite cooperation between Cyprus, Greece and Egypt, with the participation of France and the United Arab Emirates in 2020.
The abovementioned constitute just a few regional examples epitomizing the philosophy of the states in the wider region and their views towards the most effective way of addressing the current challenges, but also better exploiting the existing prospects. At the same time, developments that have already bilaterally and multilaterally taken place will strengthen in the immediate future -within 2021- the approach in favor of regional cooperation and synergies. A parallel indicative development of particular importance lies in the fact that, in addition to regional cooperation at transnational level, there can also be detected a strengthening of relevant regional cooperation by non-state actors, such as the private sector, universities and others that utilize developing transnational partnerships as infrastructure, foundation and a driving force.
Undoubtedly, developments in the wider region with the enhanced cooperation of the states, always on the basis of a positive approach, create the infrastructure for all the states in the region to institutionalize their cooperation once political conditions allow, by establishing a Regional Security and Cooperation Agency, without exclusions nor exceptions, on the basis of a positive approach and with minimum conditions of respect for International Law, the commitment to good neighborly relations and the respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each country.
The establishment of such a Regional Cooperation Forum as a long-term goal and once political developments and realities allow it, will not only fill a gap -since the wider Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East region is perhaps the only region in the world where there is no such formation- but moreover it can also act auxiliarly in addressing issues and challenges threatening and negatively affecting all of us, while it will additionally enhance the prospects for better and more effective use of the opportunities that arise in our region. Parallelly, such a development could convey a positive message internationally at a time when the importance and added value of partnerships and multilateralism are being challenged, thus offering an alternative to the growing global isolationist trend.
Undoubtedly, at a time when states are turning their backs on multilateralism and are choosing lonely paths due to the pandemic, the homonymous countries of the region are taking a different road, creating a common narrative with a positive approach, and are working together to promote a vision of cooperation, peace, stability and prosperity in the wider region. In this context, they also convey a clear message to those countries in the region -which represent the minority- which elect confrontation and a gunboat diplomacy of a bygone era, that such practices cannot offer permanent solutions or long-term service to national objectives. At the same time, by highlighting the positive approach and good neighborly relations on the basis of international law as minimum prerequisites for their cooperation, the states of the region express their readiness to work with all countries, without any exclusions. /ibna
* Nikos Christodoulides is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus