From 29 November to 6 December, Egypt will host the US-Russian talks on the prospects of the “New START”, one of the primary treaties that safeguard world security and the sole remaining nuclear arms control treaty between the United States and Russia.
In essence, New START provides for capping the number of nuclear warheads possessed by both countries, exchanging of data on nuclear weapons, and establishing a reciprocal control mechanism. New START is a five-year treaty that became effective in February 2011. In February 2021, it was renewed for another five years in February but is now fraught with a major problem against the background of the Russo-Ukrainian war. The collapse of the New START treaty will open the door for a nuclear race, which becomes more critical in view of the ongoing crisis between Washington and Moscow.
Does Egypt’s hosting of these talks have specific connotations? Some may argue that Egypt’s role does not go beyond being a venue for talks and coordinating the logistical aspects. Even if this is true, it is associated with considerable implications that go beyond the logistical dimension.
The first of these implications stems from the significance of this treaty to global security. Ergo, the involvement of Cairo in renewing the treaty or working towards a new one makes Egypt part of a momentous event or a meaningful interaction coming at a historical moment of the development of the global system, which is dominated by conflicts and tensions that escalated to the point that the nuclear weapons use was re-visited. This isn’t the first time Cairo gets involved in such pivotal events, critical to the development of international relations. For instance, the Cairo Declaration, signed in December 1943, is still being regarded as one of the main stations on the way to ending World War II and restoring the situation in Southeast Asia to the pre-Japanese expansion during the First and Second World Wars. Until today, the Cairo Declaration is still part of the rhetoric of the international powers in this regard.
Second, the United States and Russia agreeing to conduct these talks in Cairo speaks volumes of their recognition of Egypt’s balanced foreign policy on the United States and Russia and the Russo-Ukrainian war (the latter currently represents a central issue in the relations between the two countries). Such balance holds true for other issues, including the Sino-US relations and international peace and security issues. Indeed, “the issue of striking balance has become one of the most important criteria governing the decisions of the United States and Russia at the current stage.
Third, the selection of Cairo as a host country for these talks lends considerable credibility to Egypt’s rhetoric on world peace and security issues, a historic rhetoric that has roots in the geographical and geopolitical reality of the Egyptian state, but has been highlighted during the recent period against the backdrop of the predominance of conflicts within the global system, portending a third world war. Perhaps Egypt’s adherence to the “One China” principle and President Al-Sisi’s calls to end the war in Ukraine (the latest of which was made during COP27) could be understood in view of such rhetoric. Currently, Egypt adopts a global rhetoric that goes beyond issues of international peace and security, to include Egypt’s interaction with the greater part of the agenda of the global system, especially energy issues, climate change, and interests of developing countries, among others. This Egyptian engagement with global issues has gained significant credibility given Egypt’s special expertise and experiences in these fields.
Fourth, holding these talks in Cairo gives Egyptian diplomacy added weight. Such a weight is not new; it has accumulated over successive decades of regional and international engagement, but it has taken on a new dimension following Egypt’s success in hosting COP27, not only in terms of organization and logistical aspects, but in terms of content, particularly with the success of Egyptian diplomacy in facilitating the necessary conditions that allowed COP27 to achieve a historic breakthrough, as countries agreed to establish a special fund to finance climate change-related losses and damages, amid heightened polarization between developed and developing countries. In effect, hosting international conferences and events has become a subject of international competition, revealing the discrepancy in distribution of international capabilities, depending on several criteria, including availability of adequate infrastructure, diplomatic capabilities, and organizational capacities (physical and human factors).
In short, Egypt’s hosting of New START talks is revealing of the standing Egypt is enjoying within the global system, which Cairo shall utilize to consolidate its position, towards affirming its status as a middle power within the global system.
This article was originally published in Al-Ahram newspaper on Wednesday, 23 November 2022.