Iraq War anniversary and regional non-proliferation

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. On 19th March, 2003, U.S., U.K., Australian and Polish forces sent forces into Iraq on the grounds of ridding the country of—and preventing their further development of—weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

It is widely understood now that the claims of Iraqi capabilities on which the war was based were built on shaky information. And furthermore, while the war arguably raised awareness of the dangers associated with the spread of weapons of mass destruction, many have argued that it, in fact, undercut the political capabilities of third countries to engage in counter-proliferation activities.

As new states continue to edge closer towards nuclear weapons capabilities – whether this is their end goal or not – the challenge of how the international community can manage the situation is becoming increasingly complex. Questions of security and legality frame the debate. But the broad-based coalitions which are required to effectively and sustainably address proliferation – and to drive the essential disarmament that goes hand in hand – also require a greater sense of legitimacy, equality and trust between the partner states.

In recent years, much of the proliferation debate has been focused around North Korea and Iran. Indeed, P5+1 technical experts have been meeting this week with their Iranian counterparts in Istanbul in an attempt to move negotiations forward on the Iranian nuclear program. These talks follow the top level political meeting held at the end of February in Almaty, Kazakhstan—deemed the most constructive for the group yet. This week’s discussions in Istanbul will consider the technical details and timelines of the revised proposal set forth in Almaty. Political talks will resume again in the first week of April.

While these discussions are certainly central, they can tend to overshadow the broader proliferation debate. In particular, considering stability in the Middle East beyond direct negotiations with Iran, and engaging with other states in the region on nuclear issues now rather than later, will be critical to preventing further proliferation and increased instability.

In this vein, BASIC will be hosting its second conference on “Nuclear Non-Proliferation in the Gulf”, also in Istanbul next week. This will be an opportunity for decision makers from states surrounding the Persian Gulf, and others with a stake, to discuss questions around nuclear non-proliferation, regional stability and shared security concerns. More will follow on the outcomes of those discussions next week.

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