Split: A Tale of Two Alliances

NATO & the Arab League

NATO is currently hosting its annual conference on WMD Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-proliferation in Split, Croatia. Participants have been considering how best to tighten the verification mechanisms and strengthen commitments states make in demonstrating they will not deploy WMD. The meeting is considering issues such as WMD terrorism, regional proliferation threats (particularly in the Middle East) and NATO’s contributions to non-proliferation and disarmament.

It has also been considering the implications of the recent Israeli attacks on Syria, ostensibly to break the supply chains from Iran to Hezbollah. Syria has boldly stated that these attacks are tantamount to a declaration of war, but it is not clear how they will respond. The broader set of questions around Iran’s role in the region, and Israel’s strategy of preventive first strike with minimal regard for state sovereignty are what have been attracting the most comment. Is this an inevitable response to the threat of proliferation of missiles, and possibly WMD? Is it a precursor to an Israeli attack on Iran? And how does this relate to the talk of chemical weapons use by both sides in the civil war? The reports must bring into question the security of the chemical weapons, and the possibility that they may yet leak outside of Syria.

The NATO conference has also been discussing the health of regional and global non-proliferation regimes, coming immediately afternato wmd conference the conclusion of the two-week 2013 NPT PrepCom in Geneva, where again, the nuclear weapon states, and those in close alliance with them within NATO, came under sustained criticism for not doing enough to move away from their dependence upon nuclear deterrence strategies. Having recently recommitted to its current nuclear posture and deployments, and with plans that could end up modernizing nuclear forces with stealthy, longer-range F-35 aircrafts carrying smart B61-12 bombs, NATO was not in a strong position to defend its record at the PrepCom. It seems unlikely, however, that criticism voiced in Geneva will have got to Split this week. The focus will mostly be on other states’ responsibilities to contribute to non-proliferation, and there will be no appetite quite yet to re-open the debate post Chicago.

This shows a tendency to focus on strong-arming states into sticking with a regime that in some people’s eyes has become more about maintaining the status quo by coercion than by a cooperative venture to build security for all. This approach has been one of the key obstacles to the further and essential development of the NPT, as has been what many have seen as an inconsistent standard applied to regional states. Whilst the first week at the PrepCom was dominated by criticism over the lack of progress in disarmament, the second was overshadowed by the walk out by the Egyptians, a signal of the frustration widely shared and expressed by a majority of states attending over the cancellation of the Helsinki Conference on a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, in what currently looks like a completely stalled process. Egypt had not consulted with its Arab League allies, and will no doubt this week be looking to ensure that any lingering annoyance towards Egypt for this is short-lived, and that the League stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Egypt in pressing the United States to shift its position on the Helsinki Conference. The Arab League itself has this weekend been preoccupied with the events in Syria.

It would be a mistake for the Americans to assume the Arabs are divided and in a weak position right now over the WMD-free zone and move onto other issues. This may not currently be the most pressing issue, but if it is not dealt with, it could badly undermine confidence in the essential non-proliferation regimes affecting the Middle East and even globally. Conversely, on the positive side, it could breathe some much-needed oxygen into regional relationships. In fact, now–shortly following the Egyptian walk-out–is the time for the Americans and Egyptians to quietly sit down together to come up with a credible plan involving effective consultations on the agenda and modalities for the Helsinki Conference, before the atmosphere deteriorates further and more unpredictable shocks start to rock the NPT regime.

These are the views of the author.

Image: The 8th Annual NATO Conference on Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-proliferation in Hungary, June 14, 2012. Credit: NATO, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/news_88345.htm

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