This week we will witness several examples of multilateral cooperation on non-proliferation and regional security. Beginning today, it was reported that representatives from Middle East states are convening in Switzerland at a meeting organized by Finnish Ambassador Jaakko Laajava, the facilitator of the official conference to establish a zone free of nuclear and WMD in the Middle East. The official Helsinki Conference is rumoured to be set for December 2013, a year after the initial deadline set forward in the 2010 Action Plan agreed at the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The meeting in Switzerland this week is reported to be exploratory, in order to establish an agenda and scope for December. The process has been eclipsed by other developments in 2013. However, the presence and use of chemical weapons in Syria highlights the urgent need for such a zone to eradicate weapons of mass destruction in the region.
On those grounds, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague announced last Friday that London will host Foreign Ministers from eleven countries on Tuesday to discuss the Syrian crisis. These members of the Core Group of the Friends of Syria (Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, UK, and USA) will discuss follow up plans for UN General Assembly and Security Council Resolution 2118, adopted in September. The Resolution calls for an international conference to implement the 2012 Geneva Communiqué, which in turn calls for the establishment a transitional governing body in Syria.
As President of the G8 and chairman of the Global Partnership, London will also play host to the Global Partnership Working Group (GPWG) for the third and final time this year, beginning on Tuesday. The GPWG is a coordinating group for the Global Partnership (GP) on national and international counter-WMD programmes. The GP was established in 2002 as a multilateral partnership to reduce the global threat of weapons of mass destruction and prevent their proliferation and acquisition by non-state actors. The 26 nations in the partnership pledge billions of dollars to fulfil commitments to global non-proliferation.
While the activity of the Global Partnership and the Working Group will not grab the headlines, the GP has undertaken some of the most progressive and cooperative multilateral activities on non-proliferation to date. The GP has focused on the destruction and decommissioning of Russian nuclear submarines and chemical weapons under the Global Threat Reduction Programme, but also engages with scientists around the world and works to reduce nuclear security risks by removing excess nuclear material from countries.
The activities of the GP have been an important part of the process in taking us away from the Cold War mentality and legacies, and bridging gaps between former adversaries under common goals to reduce the global threat of WMD. The meeting of representatives in Switzerland to set the stage for the establishment of a WMDFZ in the Middle East needs to be framed under similar narratives; there must be a way for countries with a contentious history to be able to take cooperative steps to create a secure future without the threat of weapons of mass destruction looming in their neighborhood.