Steps towards a NWFZ in the Middle East

13 Sep

The idea for a Middle East nuclear weapon free zone (NWFZ) is nothing new. Discussion through the 1960s led to a joint declaration in by Egypt and Iran in 1974 which resulted in a General Assembly resolution (and broadened in 1990 to cover weapons of mass destruction). These proposals were motivated by a number of factors from confidence building for the benefit of regional stability to suspicion over Israel building up its nuclear arsenal (and their status of being outside of the NPT). Along with Iran’s suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons (and earlier suspected attempts by Libya, Iraq and Syria), a NWFZ in the region is long overdue.

But how would you create a such a zone when two of its powers (Israel and Iran) are in denial over its weapons programs. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been working on it for over a decade. IAEA Head Yukiya Amano has initiated a forum for 21-22 November, and is confident that it will create the necessary steps forward – and will lead to a successful conference on the proposal in 2012.

A few obstacles remain.

  • Iran, who rigerously opposes Israel’s suspected nuclear arsenal and condemns the “nuclear imbalace” in the region, has indicated that it will not attend the forum.
  • Israel (with the US and other western countries) is increasingly alarmed by Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program (a program which it denies).
  • Israel is wary of Arab states’ bringing forward a resolution during September’s IAEA meeting calling for it to ratify the NPT; Israel has indicated that this will derail the NWFZ pursuit.
  • Some Arab states want certain conditions attached to the forum, rather than it being a general round-table discussion.
  • Other factors identified include ongoing instability in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and threats posed by extremist groups.

So is the time right to persuit negotiations? And how? One author (see Boutwell below) raised the point that during the 1995 NPT Review, Arab states insisted on indefinite extension of their commitment to the NPT in return for progress towards a NWFZ. Alongside the progress with the CTBT, these confidence building gestures could lead to Israel openly declaring its nuclear status – which may also find itself under increased pressure from the United States. Iran could follow. This development may thus lead to Israel ratifying the NPT, and will therefore be engaged with the disarmamant process acting in a more open and transparent manner. In this new “structure of accountability”, steps could lead towards a NWFZ in the Middle East through further confidence building, trust and nuclear oversight by the IAEA. This could also mean a lesser role for P5 nations as Middle Eastern nations work alongside each other in pursuit of nuclear disarmament.

Sources:

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/iaea-chief-optimistic-about-making -middle-east-nuclear-free-zone-1.379589 http://www.globalsecuritynewswire.org/gsn/nw_20110906_2481.php http://www.acronym.org.uk/dd/dd86/86nwfzme.htm (Rethinking Security Interests for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Middle East) http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/pressreleases/2011/prn201112.html http://jboutwell.com/images/BAS.January2011.pdf

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