Sustaining peace in Ukraine: the Sinai model

The timing and nature of a negotiated peace, or truce, in Ukraine are the subject of uncertainty and speculation. Adding to the uncertainty is the question of how to sustain peace if it were achieved. Traditional logic would look to the United Nations, whose 71 missions over 75 years has drawn more than two million peacekeepers from 125 countries with the aim of enabling peace, supporting political and diplomatic processes, preventing human suffering and guaranteeing ceasefires.

Despite some commendable actions by UN-affiliated organisations and leaders, Russia’s veto has prevented the UN Security Council from passing a single resolution on the Ukraine war. This is not likely to change when Russia’s representative on the Security Council sardonically asks, ‘Does the council seriously expect Russia to consider and support … a draft resolution that condemns one of the members of the council?’ Russia has used the veto 30 times in the past 15 years. The US has used its veto four times. China is the only other permanent member to apply a veto in this period—it has voted with Russia 43% of the time and never independent of a Russian veto.

The UN isn’t the only peace- or truce-monitoring model. Regional entities such as NATO, the EU and the African Union; missions such as those mounted by Russia; and Nonviolent Peaceforce operations have all served this function in partnership with, or in the absence of, the UN. The Nonviolent Peaceforce is unlikely to be able scale sufficiently to meet the scope and nature of this crisis, and the most relevant regional entities, the EU and NATO, have already been dismissed as ‘reckless and extremely dangerous’ by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said: ‘This [international peace mission] will be the direct clash between the Russian and NATO armed forces that everyone has not only tried to avoid but said should not take place in principle.’

Another proven model is the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) established to supervise the implementation of the security provisions of the 1979 Treaty of Peace between Egypt and Israel. As an independent multinational coalition, it’s a very compelling template for Ukraine. The situation was similar in that a Security Council resolution authorising the envisioned UN force was unachievable and led to an alternative design that began operations in 1982. After more than 40 years, the MFO has demonstrated remarkable resilience and commitment, especially in view of the complex dynamics in the region and the many forms of global turbulence over these past four decades.

The model’s resilience derives from the nature of its design and the stalwart support received from its many contributing nations. At its core, the MFO is a trusted, transparent and impartial entity explicitly governed by an agreed treaty protocol signed on in 1981. The protocol forms a multilevel architecture led by a director-general headquartered in Rome. Subordinate to the director-general is the force commander, who is of a different nationality to the director. The force commander is based in and oversees the MFO’s operations in defined zones in the Sinai. The director-general has offices in the capital cities of Egypt and Israel. The protocol clearly articulates the expectations for responsive communication, dispute resolution, reporting and accountability. In addition to donor nations, this peacekeeping mission is equally funded by Egypt, Israel and the United States. The US is the treaty guarantor and was an instrumental actor in its formation.

The protocol says the treaty parties must unanimously agree on which nations contribute forces. With this year’s introduction of Albania and Serbia, the coalition sits at 15 nations, 10 of which were original 1982 contributors. The reasons for their longstanding commitment to the MFO are as diverse as the nations themselves, which hail from most regions of the world. All convey sincere intent to contribute to peace between Israel and Egypt, most affiliate their support to a broader foreign-policy strategy of positive engagement within the region and globally, and some note the value the experience provides their armed forces.

The diverse composition of military air, sea and land capabilities assigned to the MFO highlights the multiple domains in which monitoring activities take place and how the military must organise in a complex geopolitical environment to provide support to the civilian observer unit. The civilian unit provides the mission’s main effort and is the lead for observing, verifying and reporting, a distinction within this unique international peacekeeping organisation that is likely to feature in any Ukraine mandate as well.

The many governments intent on contributing to peace between Ukraine and Russia can look to Israel, Egypt and those involved in the ongoing success of the MFO mission in the Sinai as highly relevant voices on how peace can be sustained in the most tumultuous of circumstances—including the current Israel–Hamas war. Overcoming the functional challenges to an MFO-like model in Ukraine requires their perspective.

Notably, Russia won’t support a US-led initiative, and yet the model is strengthened greatly by the existence of a powerful third-party arbiter with the means to serve as a guarantor. Russia also is likely to exclude US and NATO force contributors, and yet the model also requires committed nations with the same resolve and experience demonstrated by Australia, New Zealand, Colombia, Fiji, Italy, Uruguay, Norway, France, Japan, Canada, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Albania, the UK and the US. If Russia doesn’t dismiss this model on principle, it could provide a framework that may prevent the Ukraine–Russia border from becoming yet another infamous contested line of control with the constant risk of reignited hostilities.