As Nato, the trans-Atlantic military alliance, gets set to host signatories of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative in Kuwait to celebrate its 15th anniversary, what is it and what has it achieved over the years?
It was launched in 2004 at the Nato summit in Istanbul, where the 29-member alliance decided to upgrade its Mediterranean Dialogue.
It was created with the aim of offering Middle Eastern nations the opportunity for bilateral security cooperation with Nato, focusing on regional security in areas such as counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation. The alliance set it up based on the thought that Europe’s security is closely linked to security in the Mediterranean and, further afield, the wider Middle East.
The UAE was the first Arab nation to open an embassy at the military alliance’s headquarters in Belgium and has been a member since 2004.
Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar are also members. Oman and Saudi Arabia are yet to join but the alliance has said it would welcome them with open arms if they should choose to take the step. Both countries will attend the anniversary on Monday.
All four Gulf countries have participated in individual cooperation with Nato, particularly on military training, crisis management, as well as management of natural disasters.
Those countries have helped to play a role in several Nato missions, giving their militaries battlefield experience, particularly in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Libya. Both the UAE and Bahrain contribute militarily in Afghanistan. Both the UAE and Qatar provided air assets to the Nato operation in Libya in 2011.
As far back as 1999, the UAE joined Nato’s Kfor peacekeeping force in its only deployment in Europe.
Nato’s Strategic Dialogue, adopted in 2010 at the alliance’s Lisbon Summit, describes the initiative as one that benefits all.
“We attach great importance to peace and stability in the Gulf region, and we intend to strengthen our cooperation in the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. We will aim to develop a deeper security partnership with our Gulf partners and remain ready to welcome new partners in the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative,” it read.
The Nato-Istanbul Cooperation Initiative Regional Centre is based in Kuwait, inaugurated by alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in 2017 after the Gulf country extended the offer to serve as a hub for the initiative’s members. It is also the reason Kuwait City is the location of choice for the anniversary.