This week, BASIC is in Istanbul hosting our second conference on Nuclear Non-Proliferation in the Gulf. Decision shapers–including officials and experts–from the Gulf region, Iran, the UK, and the US are meeting to discuss the current state of global nuclear diplomacy and collective security in the region, the potential for nuclear proliferation in the Gulf and Middle East, the prospects of the establishment of a nuclear and WMD-free zone in the Middle East, and the utility of nuclear weapons and choices that states face between nuclear deterrence and non-proliferation. Questions around the evolution of military threats in the region, the reliability of extended nuclear deterrence and the value and liability of nuclear weapons possession have been discussed alongside proposals to strengthen non-proliferation instruments, deepen regional and sub-regional dialogues on security arrangements and establish cross-Gulf technical cooperation.
BASIC’s roundtable conference is coinciding with the Arab Summit in Doha this week. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary General, Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, has emphasized the importance of the summit in mobilizing Arab leadership for addressing regional security issues, issues such as nuclear proliferation.
Iran’s nuclear program and the Helsinki Process to establish a zone free of nuclear weapons and other WMD in the Middle East have raised the profile of nuclear issues in the region. However, the issue has been dominated by external powers and the broader global community operating through the IAEA, the United Nations and the E3+3. The nature of diplomacy and democracy is evolving in the Persian Gulf and the wider Middle East, and the profile of nuclear proliferation is being raised more publicly in the media and amongst civil society, albeit in an erratic and sometimes uninformed manner. New global initiatives to de-legitimize nuclear weapons (such as the recent meeting in Oslo on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons) are starting to reshape the traditional arguments about nuclear weapons and these arguments are beginning to be heard in the region. Some at the Istanbul meeting have been proposing moves to re-address nuclear proliferation and the security concerns of Gulf states in terms of collective security for all.
This week’s meetings are happening just a few weeks before the states parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty meet in Geneva for the Preparatory Committee (NPT PrepCom) beginning on April 22. Some have described a waning in the political will backing up the NPT, especially amongst Arab states. Patience appears to be growing thin. Whilst the NPT has been marked by challenge throughout its history, the next few years in the lead up to the 2015 NPT Review Conference hold much uncertainty for the future of the regime. There appear to be several crucial factors at the heart of the issue, three of which at least center on the Middle East: the future of Iran’s nuclear program; the involvement of Israel in non-proliferation initiatives; and the process that begins the long road to establishing a zone free of nuclear weapons and other WMD in the region. The GCC states have an important role to play in all three.
These are the views of the author.