For centuries the Middle East has been the great gateway not just to the East but also to the West. Its location, its resources, and its people all represent tremendous potential. This potential is particularly evident in the Gulf countries today. The Gulf Cooperation Council has an important role in spearheading economic growth and jobs for the young people in the region. The potential of the region is also evident in the numbers of innovation initiatives, with the inspiration of establishing Silicon Valley branches in the Gulf, with the university clusters followed with seed capital, venture capital, and tech businesses.
Developments in this region affect us directly. The free-trade agreements between EFTA, where Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland, and Lichtenstein are the four countries – I usually say it’s one of the few places where Norway is a superpower – but together these four states is the eleventh largest economy in the world. We have now a free-trade agreement with the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council and it has been ratified by all countries. This is opening up new opportunities for growth also in this region and in and among the EFTA states.
Closer cooperation on economic development and security within the wider region is essential if it is to realise its full potential. Unfortunately discussion of the Middle East tends to focus on its challenges rather than on its opportunities. Historical experience shows that serious and lengthy armed conflicts cost a developing country roughly 30 years of GDP growth. Syria, a former middle-income country, is now plunging back into poverty. The terrible cost of war in human, economic, and social terms reminds us of the enormous benefits of peace. The states and societies of the Middle East and North Africa are going through a period of major change. No one feels confident to predict where the process will end.
I would like, Mr Chairman, to make three main points about the challenges and opportunities that we face.
First, regional stability is primarily a regional responsibility. Political leaders of the region have a particular responsibility for finding solutions to regional problems through dialogues and negotiations. Regional cooperation is necessary when dealing with common concerns. Cooperation is the key to security and stability. The international community must be prepared to support and contribute to regional efforts – as the chairman mentioned, something that Norway has been willing to do for many years when we’re asked to do so. But without strong regional leadership and commitment, the efforts of the international community will never be enough. And I think the last two decades has taught us this indeed. The devastating civil war in Syria is a case in point. It is in the interest of this region as a whole that this crisis be resolved without delay. Yet we are no closer to a solution. The parties need incentives to choose negotiations over violence. There is no military solution to the conflict in Syria. Leaders within and outside the region must make it clear that a negotiated solution is now the only viable option.
My second point is that there is no such thing as a purely regional security crisis. The security crises are global in their consequences. This region is experiencing numerous security challenges ranging from armed conflict and weapons of mass destruction to radical terrorist groups. Time and again desperate refugees in leaking boats attempt to cross the Mediterranean in search of safety. These crises and challenges may play out in the region and be largely regional in origin, but their consequences reach far beyond regional borders. Continued instability in the region is a potential threat to international peace and security. A peaceful, stable, and prosperous Middle East is in our common interest. In many ways we are not talking about distinct regions any more, we are all in this together. This is why my government was quick to offer substantial funding for the implementation of the Security Council Resolution 2118 on the destruction of the chemical weapons of Syria. So we are now sending a frigate and a civilian ship for the transportation of these chemical weapons that need to be out of Syria by the end of this year, according to the security resolution. The situation in Syria shows us that we have a common interest in promoting a stable, peaceful, and economically prosperous Middle East.
My third and final point is that our approach must be comprehensive. Mediation and negotiation are key tools for resolving conflicts. They prevent the use of force in the first place. They can also be employed after the use of force once the conditions for negotiation and mediation have improved. All too often they may be introduced only when force has failed. There have been occasions when the international community has had no other viable option but to protect the lives of civilians by military means. We may be faced with such difficult decisions again, but the use of force should always be our last resort. All other options must be tried before we consider military intervention. And if military intervention is considered, we must remember that sustainable solutions to the underlying causes of conflict cannot be achieved by military means alone. The underlying causes of conflicts are to be found in political and economic structures. Their solutions require inclusive political processes. Stimulating economic development in order to provide the basis for growth and prosperity is also essential. One of the crucial issues of this century will be inclusive growth. The Gini coefficient is here to stay, and if you have growth it has to be inclusive. This can clearly be seen also in the Middle East. According to the World Bank, 40 million new jobs have to be created until 2020, and when we talk about jobs we are really talking about people’s future. And we know the demography of this region, more than 50% of the population is under the age of 20. So they are a major challenge with the jobs. This is why a robust and competitive private sector is essential, and it is an important reminder that soft power creates stability.
An example of a consolidated and comprehensive approach in a broader context is the successful effort of the international community to end piracy off the Horn of Africa. Piracy off the coast of Somalia has been brought under control through a combination of justice-sector capacity-building in the region, an efficient military presence by a coalition of countries, and the shipping industry’s own preventive measures. Another important element of our strategy has been projects to create alternative livelihoods in Somalia. Norway was happy to contribute one of our frigates to this operation and also be head of the operations for some time. This has been a very successful operation in dealing with the challenge that looked very tough and also difficult to deal with only a couple of years ago.
A comprehensive approach must also be an inclusive approach. Women must be involved in efforts to promote security, not only because they constitute half the population in a country but also because they bring to the table questions that are of importance to the entire population. Stability also requires good governance and respect for human rights.
As the chairman also mentioned, I would like to add a few words about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. It is the twentieth anniversary of the Oslo peace accord, as was mentioned, and Norway has played a role as a door opener and a supporter of the political process. Currently our main role is heading the donor coordination group, the AHLC group, where we make sure that institutions on the West Bank and in Palestine will have the necessary resources to continue its government but also build the necessary institutions when we embark on the two-state solution. In this respect, I would also commend Secretary Kerry for his leadership in the quest for a political solution. The coming months will be crucial. I also would like to thank Gulf countries for your support, generous support, to the work of the AHLC and also for building strong institutions in Palestine.
From the viewpoint of regional growth and development, a resolution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict would trigger significant economic growth and prosperity for the wider Middle East to the benefit for all.
Royal Highnesses, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, we cannot close our eyes to the real danger of further destabilisation, conflict, and human suffering in the region. We need to intensify our efforts as partners working towards a common goal. In the end it’s all about making the right political decisions. The leaders of this region have the power to choose cooperation over conflict and to engage in dialogue rather than permitting escalation. The eyes of the world are on the region; what happens in the Middle East impacts everyone. Providing greater regional security will pave the way for regional growth and prosperity while promoting international peace and stability. And following my meetings with key regional leaders here in the course of the two days, I’m more optimistic. I see a lot of leadership. I see a lot of visionary politicians and leaders. And I think such a conference like this gets people together, and we can embark on a prosperous and inclusive growth for this region with a lot of opportunities between the East and West.