If Russia, the UK, and the US – as the co-conveners of the Helsinki conference on a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East – had a priority list of foreign policy agenda items, convening such a conference would likely be hidden somewhere on pages 4 or 5 of a double-sided document, printed in 11 pt. Calibri font. Even among key stakeholders, the mounting crises in the region might reduce the diplomatic impetus for convening the conference, at least within the intended deadline of “as soon as possible” and certainly before the 2015 NPT Review Conference.
Non-Proliferation and Disarmament in the Middle East
On June 24-25, representatives from Middle Eastern states, including Israel and Egypt, will meet in Geneva for the second time in the past two months to discuss the modalities and possible outcomes of the postponed 2012 Helsinki conference on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Referring to Israel’s nuclear program as a bargaining chip is not a breakthrough idea. Scholars have argued before that in lieu of having a “deterrence policy that does not deter,” Israel might perceive its nuclear arsenal as a bargaining chip to negotiate with its Arab counterparts over regional security issues, including around a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. The third blog in this series will explore, admittedly in a quite speculative fashion, another possible bargaining dimension of Israel’s nuclear program: a bargaining chip with the United States over its unconditional maintenance of Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME).
Eleven months before the 2015 NPT Review Conference is convened, there is still no sign that the Helsinki conference on the establishment of the WMD-free zone in the Middle East will be held. In what seemed to be a glimmer of hope in Geneva on May 14-15, the conference’s facilitator, co-conveners and future state parties to the zone met to discuss the conference’s modalities.
The idea of establishing a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in the Middle East was spearheaded by Iran in 1974, followed by Egyptian endorsement. In 1990, under President Hosni Mubarak’s leadership, Egypt broadened the concept of the zone to include other weapons of mass destruction and lobbied incessantly to bring discussions of the zone to the upper echelons of international relations, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the United Nations.
How will we achieve progress on the long and tortuous road of eliminating WMD from the whole of the Middle East and formalizing that in verified treaties? We clearly need to address the underlying obstacles that hinder further progress on the establishment of the WMD-free zone in the Middle East, and this was the subject of a side event at the 2014 NPT PrepCom on May 7th, co-hosted by BASIC with PAX and the Israeli Disarmament Movement.
On March 25th BASIC hosted a conference in collaboration with Cairo University and the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, in order to stimulate discussion about Egypt’s role and strategy in the regional and global non-proliferation regime over the next crucial period leading up to the 2015 NPT Review Conference and beyond, in the interests of effective impact on the disarmament debate.
WMD-free zones have already been successfully established elsewhere in the world, including in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific and South East Asia. Rich expertise exists from the establishment of those zones, both on navigating political blockages and on developing the necessary technical capacity to deliver an agreement, which could provide valuable lessons for the Middle East. This article reviews the potential utility of focusing on the technical capacity that would be needed to support a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East.