President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s decree to establish an Egyptian diplomatic mission to NATO has attracted considerable interest among research centres and journalistic circles concerned with the horizons of Egypt’s multilateral and bilateral relations with NATO members. Perhaps the most logical place to start in an attempt to understand the nature of the current interplay with the transatlantic security organisation is to examine the factors of continuity or discontinuity in the relationship with that organisation since the NATO Mediterranean Dialogue was launched in 1994 as a means to build on the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference and the 1993 Oslo Accords. Of particular concern, here, is the extent to which Egypt has abided by the principles of its relations with the alliance.
I will start by establishing a conceptual framework for understanding the Egyptian approach to NATO. Egypt’s strategic outlook is informed by a variety of concepts and principles, among which are balance and equilibrium, and an openness to security-related organisations such as NATO that is calibrated to ensure that Egypt does not forfeit high level channels of communication with similar organisations in the Eastern/Asiatic spheres, which is crucial given that a portion of our territory is situated in the Asian continent. In this framework, NATO has attached considerable importance to stimulating a level of dialogue and consultation with Egypt in its capacity as a regional actor that constitutes a cornerstone of stability and security in the Middle East, and an indispensable influence noted for its historic role in shaping the region’s conscience.
Although I have used the term “Middle East” here, with respect to NATO’s relationship to this region, this does not refute Egypt’s continued commitment to prioritising the Arab regional order, which Egypt regards as the first line of defence in safeguarding the interests of Arab states in the framework of Egypt’s determination to honour its contractual commitments in the region. Egyptian foreign policy discourse has consistently made it clear that our priorities reside in the Arab sphere and, at its centre, the security of the Gulf which is intimately connected to the security of the Middle East. Indeed, this is precisely what inspired Cairo to propose the creation of an Arab peacekeeping force to address current and potential threats to this region.
So as to avoid an excessively involved discussion of the frameworks governing the Egyptian strategic outlook, it will suffice here to underscore the fact that Egypt has never compromised on its belief that its political and military autonomy and independence can never be subordinated to any security organisation or alliance. This said, Cairo does appreciate the value of building on its deep relations with NATO members in a manner that can contribute to reinforcing our vision on developments in this region and, simultaneously, forestall designs on the part of other countries to take advantage of our absence from that organisation in order to jeopardise our immediate interests by circulating false claims that contradict and conflict with our established positions. In this regard, I would like to address the factors that have given impetus to Egypt’s current drive to interact more closely with NATO, as epitomised by the meeting between Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and the NATO secretary-general, as well as the visits to Cairo of two of the secretary-general’s assistants, one for security and political affairs and the other for emerging security challenges.
Egypt is one of the founding fathers of the UN and, as such, it fully understands the ramifications of NATO’s new strategic doctrine and “comprehensive approach” to security as adopted by the Lisbon Summit in 2010. Egypt accordingly affirms that the principles of international legitimacy must remain the governing framework for the collective security order and it does not sanction any outlooks that might mistakingly think it possible for any other security organisation to undertake the primary responsibility of the Security Council to safeguard international peace and stability. This is why Egypt, which, together with other Arab countries, approved the UN Security Council resolution pertaining to the protection of the Libyan people, did did not agree when NATO, subsequently, exceeded the mandate granted to it in Libya. NATO eventually realised how correctly Egypt had assessed the detrimental repercussions of the security vacuum in Libya, which prompted Egypt to intensify its efforts to reach out to all Libyan forces in order to promote a comprehensive and viable solution to the crisis in that country.
When the NATO secretary-general unveiled that organisation’s report with regard to “projecting stability behind the borders of NATO”, Egypt sought an explanation of the nature and horizons of this strategy and, simultaneously, noted that the aim of realising stability in this region would remain out of reach as long as the organisation clung to its rigid stance with regard to the Palestinian cause. As this indicates, Egypt takes advantage of all international forums to remind world powers that the avenue to stability in the Middle East must pass through a just and comprehensive settlement to the Palestinian cause in accordance with the standards and criteria of international legitimacy. Some NATO countries reiterate the Israeli argument that holds that the severity and complexity of other crises in the region have demoted the priority of the Palestinian question and other Arab countries may have begun to reiterate this notion. This, too, makes it important for Egypt, with its extensive relations with security and political circles, to sustain a prominent international profile in order to continually drive home the essential point that there can be no alternative to a just solution to the Palestinian cause.
Another reason why Egypt is keen to sustain such a presence is so it can continue to use all its diplomatic capacities to encourage NATO members to appreciate the need to give greater support to efforts in support of the Egyptian initiative to rid the Middle East of nuclear arms and all other weapons of mass destruction. This is an essential key to ensuring the security of all countries in the region and to alleviating tensions that have been mounting at an unprecedented rate. It is crucial, here, to underscore the factors that are disrupting conflict management in the region, especially in view of the attrition on the concept of the nation state due to the rise of sectarianism and disintegrative trends in the region. Egypt, as the first model of the concept of the nation state since the dawn of history, has managed to draw the attention of many powers in the NATO alliance to the need to work together in concert in the fight against terrorism, a threat that now looms more and more ominously over Europe and NATO countries, and which is of a nature that cannot be handled by that organisation’s nuclear umbrella.
Egypt realises how important it is to benefit from the cooperative projects proposed by NATO which is why it has agreed to take part in NATO’s Individual and Partnership Cooperation Programme (IPCP) that is basically tailored to the priorities of the individual partner countries. For Egypt, this has taken concrete form in the the projects undertaken in the framework of the Science for Peace and Security Programme (SPS) and which focus on mine detection in the Western Desert, counterterrorism and IEDs.
In conclusion, Egypt’s foreign policy actions are guided by the spirit of balanced openness to all international powers in the framework of a set of national and regional priorities informed by an awareness of the need to avert becoming embroiled in the types of interplay reminiscent of the Cold War era. I would like to register, here, my confidence in our national institutions that are coordinating closely in order to convey a harmonious Egyptian message on NATO at the official and popular levels. In this context, the meetings of the Egyptian press and the parliamentary delegations at NATO headquarters reflected the excellent preparations undertaken on the part of the Foreign Ministry and, in particular, the briefings that Ambassador Hisham Badr, assistant to the foreign minister for multilateral affairs and international security, provided to the two delegations in advance of their trip to Brussels. Another manifestation of the cohesiveness of our message vis-à-vis NATO is to be found in the consultations between foreign ministry officials and senior Ministry of Defence officials with regard to talks with NATO officials on the bilateral and regional levels.