Rome '08 Workshop

The Growing Threats: Egypt’s Approach 

Ambassador Mahmoud Karem

Egyptian Ambassador to the European Union 

Ambassador Mahmoud Karem


In the past few days, the discussion has reflected the ongoing debate and the divergence of views on a standard definition of security. Globalization has indeed affected us all—the world has become smaller and intertwined, and reciprocal dependence has become greater. Most of the present-day challenges and threats are transnational. They emanate from different sources, not only from governmental and non-state actors. 


Some people have identified the threats we face today as international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems. But the threat list is longer, and includes regional and interstate conflicts, failing or failed states, energy insufficiency, diseases, migration, water security, cyber-crimes, poverty, infectious diseases, environmental dangers, and organized crime, among others; they have all impinged one way or another on our national security. The feeling of insecurity is pervasive, with 40% of the world’s population living below the poverty level of $2 a day. 

Today food security as well as speculation and conflicting biddings by major financial institutions and funds, as announced by the Saudis one morning during the workshop, impinge adversely on global markets, pushing societies and economies to the edge and causing domestic disturbances, turmoil, and ruptures. So the question is, What might happen if a strong nexus develops between soaring food prices, energy shortages, and a global water crisis? Could this become the recipe for a new war on a global scale? How will this triad affect regional and international peace and security? 


NATO’s comprehensive approach may not be synonymous with other regional or even national endeavors’ approaches. Misperceptions still remain and the historical legacy has not been forgotten. NATO speaks of transformation without telling us whether transformation will be carried out across the board or will remain applicable only to certain regions or against a selective list of sources of threat. Perhaps this is the reason for the shift in NAM movement in New York recently. 

If we agree that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, we must still agree on what constitutes the rule of law, education, training, and so on. Which is more applicable, western-style democracy or rural tribal ethics as well as Islamic values that have been in existence for centuries? On what should we base civil reconstruction? How can we avoid sectarianism? Uprooting or uplifting national values should not be the mission of NATO. In the meantime we cannot be selective or apply double standards. Take the case of drugs and opium in Afghanistan. If the nexus between crime, terrorism, small arms and light weapons, and drugs has existed for a long time, why is it today, after the coalition forces have been present for a long time, that we still argue that these social problems relate to common trade and social values and allow opium growing to worsen. International expectations were high regarding what coalition forces would bring in order to end this vicious circle. 

What this compels us to deal with is the fact that in many parts of the world and because of historical reasons and former conflicting and competing alliance policies, NATO still suffers from an image complex. We are reminded occasionally of that argument when collateral damage is caused by air raids in Afghanistan. However, a lot has been done in this regard, mainly through NATO’s public diplomacy programs. Beyond those, however, there must be additional operational/cooperation programs tailored to basic-needs projects that are destined to spill over into civilian benefits. This will demonstrate to the people around the world what NATO can do to improve their daily lives. 


 We, in Egypt, proposed one such project to NATO to detect the 17.5 million land mines that still infest our rich western desert and have been in place since the great battle of Alamein in the Second World War, a battle Egypt had nothing to do with except to suffer the consequences of having those deadly mines and unexploded ordinances placed there because of the artillery exchange between German and Allied forces. 

On the global quest to address the dangers from WMDs, we have been successful in laying down the foundations of a solid regime that incorporates and solicits support and cooperation from a variety of states. We all know the danger from failed states, non-state actors, terrorist groups, and so on. The measures we have been taking have evolved into a regime that has changed the modus operandi of military tracking in the Mediterranean to unloading containers anywhere around the world. I am pleased to announce that the port of Alexandria in Egypt has been declared a “white port” internationally, meaning that the security, loading, and verification performed by Egyptians there are not revised or repeated even in ports of entry in the United States, a matter that underscores Egypt’s full cooperation with recent international measures to combat illicit trade in and the prevention of WMDs. 

We hear, see, and smell every move. But is all that enough? As we move from general guidelines to specific measures we are moving to the microcosm of what we should do. Recently we heard a comment on the need to include forensic medicine. Are we ready to incur the financial costs of all such measures and to transplant them worldwide while leaving the most important question aside? We need to deny terrorists the benefit of the argument they use most, especially in recruiting and conducting suicide operations—namely, to solve the root cause of conflicts and to allow international legitimacy, principles, and the provisions of the U.N. Charter to succeed. There must be justice and the peaceful settlement of disputes. The proponents of this view also believe in the positive correlation between the lack of a political settlement in the Arab-Israeli conflict and the rise of terrorism, fundamentalism, and the culture of animosity and hatred. 


We all agree on the need to improve cooperation between regional organizations and the U.N. recently saw this happen in an important visit by the Assistant Secretary of NATO to the Arab League headquarters in Cairo. This was the first-ever contact of this nature at this high level. Additional cooperation is underway between NATO and the U.N. in fields such as combating international terrorism. 

We have seen how regional organizations offer not only support for coalition missions but for the raison d’être and legitimacy of conducting such missions. The Arab League in Cairo paved the way for a Security Council resolution to liberate Kuwait and later on for operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. It was also the Arab League that adopted an Arab peace plan in Lebanon that culminated in an important agreement, the election for a new president, and the diffusing of a serious problem that would have pushed Lebanon to the edge of yet another civil war. The role of Egypt in both cases was imperative if not vital. Also, the African Union agreed with NATO to hold a logistical and training mission in Darfur with no boots on the ground. To argue therefore that increasing recourse to regional organizations must not call into question the universal nature of the U.N. and its legitimacy, as we heard from one speaker before my presentation today, is not without problems, since arguments of this sort invite a restricted and limited definition of assigning a role to the U.N. 


Another challenge is how to address regional initiatives. To elucidate, take, for instance, Article VII of the NPT, which underscores the right of regions to enter into regional disarmament initiatives and arrangements. The question is, “How will NATO, as it undergoes a transformation in policy, face these challenges? Will NATO consider regional initiatives such as Tlatelolco, a NWFZ in central Asia, and a NWFZ in Africa as impediments to its operational mobility, freedom of movement, transit, and docking? Or will it turn around and take advantage of regional initiatives that underpin regional agreements and collective consensus to proceed and cooperate with such regional arrangements?” 


My final comment is on the excellent panel we just attended on the defense industry and its relationship with government. We heard excellent arguments on how to change within a new Euro-Atlantic relationship; certain explanations and recommendations on procurement, R&D, marketing, competition, and cutting-edge technology; and, finally, on the need for a code of conduct. Can we envision somewhere in this proposed code of conduct a commitment and agreement between the defense community players and actors that designates a specific role for what this community can do to reduce the impact of the present food crisis or to provide humanitarian assistance in the wake of natural disasters around the world, in the same way that NATO conducted operations in Pakistan after the earthquake and in the tsunami-stricken countries? 

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