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Working Paper no. 45 -Regional and Global Axes of Conflict -

NOTHING BUT FAILURE? THE ARAB LEAGUE AND THE GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL AS MEDIATORS IN MIDDLE EASTERN CONFLICTS Marco Pinfari London School of Economics and Political Science

March 2009

Crisis States Working Papers Series No.2
ISSN 1749-1797 (print) ISSN 1749-1800 (online)
Copyright © M. Pinfari, 2009

Crisis States Research Centre

Nothing but Failure? The Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council as Mediators in Middle Eastern Conflicts Marco Pinfari International Relations Department London School of Economics and Political Science

Introduction In April 1945 the founding members of the United Nations met in San Francisco to draft the UN Charter and discuss the foundations of the new world order. While the framework of the Charter is primarily global in character, a series of articles included in Chapter VIII encourage the development of ‘regional arrangements’, one of whose major tasks is to ‘achieve pacific settlements of local disputes’ (Article 52). In March 1945, one month before the San Francisco conference was convened, one such ‘regional arrangement’ received the final endorsement from a group of six founding states (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt). The Arab League, the oldest functioning regional organisation, has been conceived since its foundation as part of a broad and ambitious political project that could have led, at least in the intentions of some of its supporters, to the creation of a single Arab state in the Middle East. As a first step towards this final goal, the member states rejected the ‘recourse of force for the settlement of disputes’ between them. The Council of the League was from its inception designated as the provider of ‘good offices’ for mediating disputes that could have led to the use of force, and as the forum in which acts of ‘aggressions’ should be addressed. Yet, since 1945 the Middle East has surely not been immune from war and violence. Interstate and colonial wars from the 1948-49 first Arab-Israeli War to the 1990-91 Gulf War have caused at least 1.5 million casualties (Sarkees 2000). Being one of the most ethnically fragmented regions in the world (Peck 1998: 28), the Middle East has also been plagued by a series of protracted civil wars and ethnic struggles, which have led to the death of at least two million and the displacement of millions more, in particular in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen (Sarkees 2000). Some authors have suggested that the League represents at least a ‘bleak’ experience of regional cooperation (Lindholm Schulz and Schulz 2005: 187), or possibly even a ‘failed’ one. The ‘failure’ of the League not only to prevent and manage regional conflicts, but also to generate cooperation in the political, military and economic spheres, contributed to the creation in 1981 of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) by the dynastic monarchies of the Gulf (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman). After the GCC was associated with some limited yet ‘surprising’ results in mediating local conflicts and in generating joint defence projects, the performance of the League was judged even more severely (Barnett and Solingen 2007). Today the academic discussion on the League is no longer centred on whether or not the League can be considered as a ‘failed’ organisation, but rather on establishing what accounts for its failure – a ‘failure of design’ as opposed to having been ‘designed to fail’ (Barnett and Solingen 2007: 180-1). 1

This paper suggests that, while the record of the Arab League in mediating regional conflicts is indeed a bleak one, claiming that the Arab League is a ‘failed’ organisation might overshadow what is, in fact, a more complex picture than the one suggested by the empirical studies of Joseph Nye (1971), Mark Zacher (1979) or Ibrahim Awad (1994). In order to review the empirical base of most contemporary studies on the...
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