Many of the contradictions of our age are concentrated in the Mediterranean and the Middle East: a mind-boggling accumulation of weapons, population imbalances, outbreaks of cultural and religious intolerance, poverty in the Mediterranean belt standing in stark contrast with the wealth of the Arabian desert.

It is difficult to develop stability in a region that has not known it since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and the task will be all the more arduous once the gulf war is over.Even with the war won, the peace might still be lost. It may be even more difficult to address all the political, economic and military imbalances in the area. The most dangerous circumstance would be the emergence of a political vacuum when the shooting stops - a vacuum in which alternatives as destructive as Saddam Hussein might arise to answer the age-old demands of Arab peoples.

I think this vacuum can be best filled through a comprehensive approach, adopting the rationale that the Europeans have been following for two decades through the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The Helsinki process, as the CSCE was informally known, laid the foundation for the peaceful reuniting of a divided Europe by codifying a common standard of human rights, recognizing established borders, and promoting trade relations among ideological antagonists.

Appropriately adapted, the CSCE model can be transferred to the other shore of the Mediterranean to set up a Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Some key points:

As in the Helsinki process, all the involved parties must be invited to join, from the Western Mediterranean to Iran, thus allowing negotiations to legitimately move forward even if some countries decline the invitation.

The legal and diplomatic outline for the conference could be provided by relevant standing resolutions of the United Nations.

The aim would be to codify a set of rules and principles that would apply equally to all participants. No regional system can be imposed from outside. The primary responsibility lies with those who will belong to that system, whether sovereign states or entities recognized by the U.N.

Finally, conscious of the initial conditions, hatreds and misunderstandings that hang over the Middle East, the process must be phased in gradually. But in this connection, we should remember that, at the end of the 1960s, the tensions between the countries of Europe were no less acute, even though they did not result in the outbreak of war. It took 20 years to resolve those tensions.

We must therefore realize that the process is bound to be long, and must be implemented in stages. All the more reason to begin at once, immediately after the cessation of hostilities.

The CSCM could follow the European pattern of three distinct issue categories: security, economic cooperation, and human rights.

We could not entrust security to the permanent presence in the Middle East of Western ground forces, or any kind of special alliance between the richer countries in the area and the U.S. This would only end up inciting resentment among Arab countries.

What is needed is a regional security system, which will establish a real balance of power underpinned by a strong mutual commitment and guaranteed by international support.

As in Europe, this balance of power will require the involvement of the U.S., the Soviet Union, the European Mediterranean countries and the European Community itself, as well as a responsible policy to limit the transfer of military technologies from more advanced countries.

As Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal has argued, a CSCM-type process will have to place more emphasis than does the CSCE on the economic aspects of cooperation in order to reduce the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots." Instability stems from the unequal distribution of prosperity, which is so easily manipulated for hegemonic purposes, leading to a dramatic squandering of wealth through arms buildups and war.

It will be indispensable to implement a policy of common economic development for the whole region, with the contribution not only of the countries of Europe, but also the affluent Arab states.

In some of the wealthiest Arab countries, democratic political and social conditions are wanting. No doubt, such conditions will be very difficult to maintain or restore after such a bitter war. But at the same time, we must be careful that the loosening of old structures, as has happened in parts of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, does not give rise to a new and more violent intolerance of extremists on all sides.

That is why, in an area with such diverse cultures, agreement must be reached on rules of mutual tolerance and coexistence.

A CSCM would increase the probability of a successful outcome to such crises as Lebanon, Cyprus, or the Arab-Israeli conflict. (The latter should be put at the top of the diplomatic agenda.)

The level of participation that we have envisioned should produce concrete results from the very outset. Access to the CSCM would be open to all parties willing to comply with a set of principles that would be a kind of "entry ticket" to the new club. These principles might be summed up as follows: respect for the territorial integrity of states; the inviolability of national borders; rejection of the use of force to settle conflicts; limiting the arms race by undertaking to dismantle existing stockpiles and a commitment to nonproliferation; acceptance of minimum levels of mutual tolerance in political and cultural spheres; and willingness to jointly marshal resources to foster the development of less affluent countries.

If we want the post-war period to be a genuinely new phase in world politics, we should be working now toward these goals, so that the new order that emerges will not be built on sand.

1991, New Perspectives Quarterly

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