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Disarmament Diplomacy No. 86, Cover design by Calvert's Press, Photo by Rebecca JohnsonDisarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 86, Autumn 2007

Building Blocks for a WMD Disarmament Regime in the Middle East

Merav Datan

The goal of a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has been repeatedly affirmed by all states in the region, as well as the international community at the highest political levels. Yet instead of movement towards this goal, the actual potential trend continues to be towards proliferation of WMD in the Middle East.

Israel's nuclear arsenal, calculated by sources originating outside of Israel to be some 70-200 nuclear weapons, is castigated in annual United Nations (UN) General Assembly and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolutions and provides a focus for dissent and criticism by various states parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Israel has never joined. Iran, which has been an NPT party since 1970, is now the focus of international headlines because of concerns that its uranium enrichment programme could lay the foundation for development of nuclear weapons. Recently, several Arab countries have announced plans to explore and develop nuclear energy programmes for peaceful purposes, but many analysts outside the region and in Israel suspect that these announcements are linked to security concerns related to perceptions of nuclear proliferation in the region.

In addition, the Middle East remains the region with the greatest concentration of states that are not party to one or more of the international treaties dealing with WMD: the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and the NPT, as well as the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).[1] The overwhelming majority of countries in the region have some form of WMD-related research, development or weaponization programme.[2] Moreover and more ominously, WMD, specifically chemical weapons, have in the past been used in the Middle East. [3] Having already crossed the WMD taboo threshold, and in light of deep-rooted political tensions and a frequent resort to the use of force, the potential for nuclear conflict in the Middle East is all too real.

Elsewhere in the world, nuclear weapon free zones (NWFZ) have been successfully negotiated and adopted, and additional such zones are still being pursued. But in the Middle East the goal of a NWFZ came to be linked with a WMD free zone (WMDFZ) in the NPT Review Process and relevant Security Council resolutions, for example. This is because of the de facto link that states in the region have made among WMD,[4] notwithstanding the significant difference in scale of mass destruction between nuclear weapons and biological or chemical weapons.

Rhetoric vs. Reality

The goal of a WMD free zone in the Middle East has been affirmed by the Security Council,[5] member states of the NPT,[6] and by Israel.[7] It has been a topic of discussion at countless conferences and seminars. But such rhetoric is far from the reality.

While acknowledging that this goal has been used as a "political football"[8] with each side holding the others responsible for the lack of meaningful progress towards the objective, it should also be assumed that each side sees this goal as consistent with its long-term security interests and that if any one of the sides indicates a willingness to relax its current entrenched position and explore practical steps towards achieving the goal, others will relax their current positions as well. If so, then a show of flexibility on the part of one or more sides would create a real political opening for exploration of steps towards a WMDFZ and would also serve to increase external political pressure on other sides.

The reality of WMD programmes in the Middle East and the number of states outside of WMD-related treaties pose an enormous challenge. The risks associated with these programmes are the main reason why the Middle East receives the most international attention as a region that needs to work towards a WMDFZ.

The current deadlock on progress towards the stated goal of a WMD free zone in the Middle East and the huge gap between rhetoric and reality reflect how key states in the region have vastly different, even incompatible starting points. These in turn reflect different perceptions of the tensions, as well as the causes and effects of conflict, in the region.

The Arab states' position is essentially that addressing security concerns in the region requires dealing with Israel's nuclear weapons first. This view, that Israel's nuclear capabilities are destabilizing and must be addressed as a precondition to peace and security in the region, is reflected in NPT review process documents and the annual General Assembly resolution "The risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East" (sponsored by a number of Arab States), as well as annual requests for inclusion of an item on "Israeli Nuclear Capabilities and Threat" in the IAEA's General Conference agenda.

Israel's position is that peace and stability must prevail in the region before nuclear issues can be addressed: "the establishment of peaceful relations, reconciliation, mutual recognition and good neighbourliness, and complemented by conventional and non-conventional arms control measures"[9] is a precondition for achieving the vision of a WMDFZ or establishing a NWFZ in the Middle East.

These diametrically opposed starting positions are at the heart of the impasse, and were also the basis of the breakdown within the Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) working group that had been established in 1991-2 as part of the Middle East peace process. In order to reverse the current trend towards proliferation and to make concrete progress towards disarmament, the prevailing concerns of each of the relevant players must be addressed. Once the parties involved are confident that their security concerns can be addressed through the political process, negotiations on the concrete building blocks of a WMD disarmament regime can have some prospect of moving forward constructively.

Conditions for Progress

The only way to address and overcome these contradictory starting positions - nuclear weapons first vs. normalisation first - is to tackle them in parallel. As discussed by Rebecca Johnson in this issue, building the prerequisites for progress will require the leadership of the key countries in the region to change their perceptions of what is in their real security interests.[10] Here, I will focus on some disarmament building blocks that could be negotiated and agreed as the political changes necessary to break the deadlock are being constructed. In turn, the exploration of such building blocks could feed into the process of establishing the conditions for progress by illustrating the feasibility and value of a WMD disarmament regime in the Middle East.

At the same time, it is essential that the process of establishing the conditions for a disarmament regime address "soft security" issues such as development and human rights throughout the region and within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as these are a frequent and recurring source of insecurity and conflict. Addressing these issues would entail not only identifying mechanisms for the promotion of sustainable development and human rights, but also agreeing on a forum for the airing of past injustices along the lines of - but not necessarily following the form of - truth and reconciliation commissions.

Such a process will be necessary because of the important role that history and historical identity play in the current conflict and because of the enormous significance that all Middle Easterners ascribe to their intertwined histories. Recent attempts to address the present and the future have repeatedly broken down over disagreements regarding the past, including whose version of history is "right" and who was the cause of whose suffering. Without a mechanism for airing grievances about the past, attempts to establish a security dialogue and explore arms control and disarmament options are destined to fail (and have failed). As with truth and reconciliation commissions, the process of giving voice to past injustices, the opportunity to be heard, and the requirement that the other side listen are in reality a form of redress, and often more important than material redress or physical compensation (which might not always be feasible).

Assuming, therefore, that the need for parallel or prior fora for addressing human and historical as well as security concerns is recognized, and that these have facilitated in principle agreement to negotiate, the following analysis explores the building blocks of a WMD disarmament regime for the Middle East.

Even assuming a breakthrough in the current deadlock and a willingness to explore and negotiate the elements of a Middle East WMD disarmament regime, the process of political negotiation and implementation will need to be constantly checked against underlying security concerns and threat perceptions in order to prevent a breakdown, as has so often occurred in the past.

The trust required to place the WMD free zone on the agenda in the first place will likely be fragile and can be strengthened or broken depending on whether the developing process is able to reinforce and build on this trust or not. Therefore, the concrete and quantitatively measurable elements proposed here for pursuing a WMD disarmament regime must be part of an iterative process, supplemented by an ongoing qualitative assessment of the underlying security perspectives and concerns that would emerge from a truth and reconciliation type process. This assessment must constantly take into account each state's threat perceptions and seek to develop confidence and security building measures tailored to those specific perceptions.

In addition, energy security for the region is an essential underlying factor with a direct bearing on the feasibility of non-proliferation and disarmament efforts because of both the involvement of outside players (and their interest in regional energy sources) and the needs of the region itself, particularly the proliferation risks associated with any nuclear programme whether designated for peaceful purposes (energy) or not. Thus a WMD disarmament regime can only succeed if it accommodates energy needs and related security concerns.

Elements of a Middle East WMD Disarmament Regime

The initial elements of a WMD disarmament regime for the Middle East need to include the following:

  • Ratification of the CTBT by Egypt, Iran and Israel;
  • Consideration of a Middle East No First Use of WMD agreement as a step towards a WMD Free Zone;
  • Freezing and prohibiting "sensitive" nuclear fuel cycle activities; and
  • An informed public debate within each of the states of the region that has or is considering a nuclear programme, addressing the full range of implications, including national and regional security, environmental and health impact, and alternatives, particularly renewable, sustainable energy.

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

The significance of CTBT ratification by all states in the Middle East has been recognized by international authorities and identified as an interim measure in pursuit of a zone free of WMD. Of the 44 states whose signature and ratification are needed for entry into force of the CTBT, four are in the Middle East: Algeria, Egypt, Iran and Israel. Of these, all have signed the CTBT but to date only Algeria has ratified it. The other three have repeatedly expressed their support for the CTBT but continue to voice concerns about its value as a real security and disarmament measure and to link it with the policies and behaviour of other states in the region. As the Report of the International WMD Commission, chaired by Hans Blix, made clear in 2006, "Egypt, Iran and Israel should join the other states in the Middle East in ratifying the CTBT."[11] What, then are the reasons why these three states continue to hold out against ratifying the treaty?

In its statements in various international fora, such as the UN General Assembly and meetings of the NPT and CTBT, Egypt frequently links its ratification to the nuclear policies of Israel, making clear that it sees the CTBT in a regional context in which all aspects of non-proliferation must be addressed. At the 2005 Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the CTBT, for example, Egypt reaffirmed this view: "[W]hile Egypt supports the principles and objectives of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, we cannot regard the treaty as a secluded legal instrument apart from our common objectives to achieve nuclear disarmament and the universality of non-proliferation. Hence Egypt calls for the achievement of the universality of both the NPT and the CTBT together."[12]

This position was underlined by Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, who, according to the Egyptian state news agency MENA, explicitly said "that Egyptian ratification of the treaty was linked to the extent of developments that may occur in regional and international circumstances, including the possibility that Israel may join the NPT."[13] Such concerns are consistent with Egypt's overall position on nuclear issues in the region and Israeli policy. The "all or nothing" approach implicit in this position - that Israel must join both the CTBT and the NPT before Egypt ratifies the CTBT - could be relaxed if Egypt is reassured that regional non-proliferation concerns and disarmament objectives are being pursued in a context that involves Israel and is geared towards disarmament. In this context, it is therefore important for Israel to take the first step of ratifying the CTBT.

Israel participates fully in CTBT activities, particularly in relation to verification of the treaty, and has constructed two auxiliary seismic stations as part of the International Monitoring System of the CTBT. On the matter of ratification, however, Israel continues to express reservations. As expressed in its statement to the 2007 CTBT Conference, for example, "Israel's ratification of the CTBT will be influenced by ... the readiness of the verification regime of the Treaty, especially that of the [on-site inspections] and its immunity to abuse; Israel's sovereign equality status in the Policy Making Organs of the Treaty, including those related to the geographical region of the Middle East and South Asia (MESA) and in the Executive Council of the future CTBTO, and the adherence to and compliance with the ???? by states in the Middle East."[14]

Israel's position as expressed here is consistent with its general security concerns and reflects its mistrust of other states. Concerns over the readiness of the verification regime suggest a belief that a completely foolproof verification system is a precondition for joining the treaty, a position that is impossible to satisfy and ignores the reality that even a less-than-perfect verification system can be a better guarantor of security than no verification system at all. The "sovereign equality" concern reflects Israel's strong interest, apparent in other fora as well, in being recognized and treated as a legitimate and equal state. In the context of the CTBT, this has practical implications, particularly for a country that actively contributes to and participates in the treaty's verification. Questions about compliance with the treaty again reflect Israel's mistrust of other states, specifically in the regional nuclear context.

Notwithstanding these concerns, the fact is that Israel has more to gain and risks little or nothing by ratifying the CTBT. Ratification could enhance Israel's security situation and standing as a responsible state worthy of "sovereign equality"; it would put pressure on Egypt and Iran to ratify the treaty, and would reassure its neighbours and the international community that Israel is willing to engage in multilateral nuclear disarmament.

Moreover, Israel's expressed concerns about the abuse of on-site inspection provisions ring hollow if one considers the requirements that trigger such inspections. Unless Israel actually plans to test nuclear weapons, it need not fear challenge inspections, which are a tool designed to address suspected violations of the treaty.

As the only country in the region and one of the very few in the world not party to the NPT, Israel is in a unique position with respect to the value of CTBT ratification and the message such a positive act would send to the region and the world. Given its unique and deliberately vague policy of "ambiguity" regarding its nuclear capability, Israel has more to gain than anyone by ratifying the CTBT. Ratification of the CTBT would signal a legally binding commitment to the goals of non-proliferation and disarmament, as expressed in the preamble of the Treaty. Unlike Israel, most other states have made such a commitment through NPT membership. Though important, Israel's active participation in the CTBT Organization and its verification system does not have the same symbolic and political value that CTBT ratification would have. In addition, ratifying the CTBT would lay to rest the widespread rumours that Israel has delayed ratifying the treaty because the Bush Administration, with its own reasons for opposing the CTBT, does not want it to do so. Sovereign equality, after all, presupposes sovereign independence.

If Israel were to ratify the CTBT it would become much harder for Egypt to resist ratification, and if Egypt were to follow suit, the pressure for Iran to ratify would intensify. Like the others, Iran expresses support for the CTBT and also participates in its activities, including the hosting of five monitoring stations. Iran implicitly justifies its non-ratification by pointing to the policies of the nuclear weapon states (especially the United States) and Israel, and saying that "states cannot decide in isolation".[15] Iran has also castigated what it calls the "selective approach" used in establishing the verification system.[16] Most recently, Iran listed as one of the negative developments that have jeopardized CTBT entry into force and elimination of nuclear weapons: "Acknowledgment of the possession of nuclear weapons by Israeli regime as a clear violation of the spirit and letter of the CTBT, which faced with the condemnation by a majority of the countries which are Non-Aligned Movement [sic], and regretfully, the silence of the western countries. This is again a clear example of the double standard policy by the West towards nuclear disarmament and non proliferation regime."[17]

For Iran, as for Israel, there is much to gain through the symbolic and political value of ratification. Iran needs to recognize the value of CTBT ratification as a way of demonstrating the peaceful intentions of its controversial nuclear programme. In addition, the policies of the United States and other nuclear weapon states could be more effectively challenged by non nuclear weapon states if these demonstrate their own commitment to disarmament measures such as the CTBT. Ratification of the CTBT sends a signal that the stated position of a country is reflected in its actual policies and actions. Non-ratification undermines the credibility of a stated policy of support for multilateral treaties and measures. Iran, as the focus of international suspicion surrounding its nuclear programme, could claim the moral high ground and counter some of the suspicions by ratifying the CTBT.

Middle East No-First-Use of WMD Agreement

The policy of "No First Use" (NFU) of nuclear weapons refers to the renunciation of any use of nuclear weapons by a state possessing such weapons except in response to the use of nuclear weapons by another state. Over the course of recent decades, NFU policies have been issued by some of the nuclear weapons states (although in some cases these were undermined by actual security policy), while others, including the NATO nuclear states, refused on grounds that NFU would undermine their postures of deterrence. Meanwhile, non-nuclear weapon states have persisted with their calls for the universal adoption of legally binding NFU commitments. Since in the Middle East, nuclear weapons have been linked de facto with the other two categories of WMD, a no-first-use of WMD in the Middle East could be a more feasible confidence and security building measure than the nuclear no first use proposal that has been a long-standing demand made of the other nuclear weapon possessors.[18]

A no-first-use of WMD agreement in the Middle East would be an important practical and substantive step towards WMD disarmament in the region. Given the high level of mistrust among regional players and the relative lack of commitment to WMD-related treaties, combined with the existence of WMD-related programmes, a formal NFU treaty may be unrealistic as a first step. Lack of progress towards any kind of multilateral, legally binding agreement on NFU in the international arena, despite persistent calls from the Movement of Nonaligned States (NAM) reinforces this conclusion. However, individual but parallel NFU commitments by states in the region could pave the way for a legally binding regional commitment, avoiding the problems that insisting on a formal agreement at the outset would undoubtedly provoke. The process of making unilateral but coordinated pledges (and later, if necessary, negotiating a treaty) would be a useful and important confidence and security building measure that would help to devalue all WMD in the region.

In order to assess the feasibility of achieving such NFU pledges within the Middle East, it is necessary to consider the positions of the relevant states. None of the Arab states currently has a nuclear weapons programme and all are members of the NPT, where their standing is not in question. For them, a nuclear NFU pledge would be a practical formality, which would be accomplished through confirmation of their non-nuclear weapon status and their commitment (as affirmed in the NPT) not to acquire nuclear weapons.

With respect to biological weapons, the BWC prohibits the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition or retention of these weapons. It does not explicitly prohibit their use (and therefore first use) but "there is no doubt among the [states parties] that any use of biological or toxin weapons in armed conflict or for hostile purposes would be a breach of the convention".[19] The Arab states that are not party to the BWC are Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt (signed but not ratified), Mauritania, Somalia (signed but not ratified), Syria (signed but not ratified), and the United Arab Emirates (signed but not ratified).

According to international law, states that have signed but not yet ratified a treaty are legally prohibited from taking action that would violate the affirmative provisions of the treaty. Thus states that have signed but not yet ratified the BWC would be legally prohibited from using biological weapons according to the prevailing interpretations of both the treaty and of international law. A no-first-use pledge would be consistent with their current legal obligations even if they have not ratified the BWC. Those Arab states that have neither signed nor ratified the BWC do not actually have biological weapons programmes and are not directly involved in the WMD tensions in the Middle East. They could probably be persuaded to join no-first-use pledges by their fellow Arab League members if the states that play a leading role with respect to WMD issues decide to do so and emphasize the political and symbolic importance of these pledges for regional objectives and security.

The CWC explicitly prohibits any use of chemical weapons. The Arab states not party to this treaty are Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia, and Syria. These states - and the Arab League as a group - are on the record as linking refusal to join the CWC with Israel's refusal to join the NPT.[20] Egypt has explicitly stated that it would not sign the CWC "because a country in the region has a nuclear programme that is not subject to international guarantees and this country rejects the international efforts to make the Middle East a nuclear free region."[21]

Iran is party to the NPT, the BWC and the CWC and has argued before the International Court of Justice that the existing body of international law indicates a prohibition on the use of nuclear weapons[22] and, more generally, that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is illegal.[23] Its legal commitments are already consistent with a no-first- use pledge. It appears therefore that any reservations Iran would have to such regional pledges covering all WMD would be linked with the CWC reservations of several Arab states and the nuclear policy of Israel, which are inter-related.

Taken at face value, Israel's stated position that it "will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East" is essentially a no-first-use policy. Israel is not party to either the BWC or the CWC, although it has signed the latter. If all states in the region were to make no first use pledges relating to all WMD in parallel, their arguments and counter-arguments regarding one another's WMD capabilities would be cast in a different light.

Even without a strategic and security environment that would allow all the parties to negotiate and verify a collective agreement, no-first-use pledges would have political value as confidence and security building measures. They would raise the threshold of potential WMD use and provide an important political deterrent against any state using such weapons or maintaining policies based on potential WMD use. If the political environment were to improve in conjunction with such pledges as well as prior or parallel security and disarmament oriented efforts discussed here and elsewhere, a collective legally binding commitment could be considered and negotiated.

Nuclear Fuel Cycle Activities

The main sources of proliferation concerns in the Middle East are nuclear materials and technology and the suspicions they generate. Recommendation 12 of the WMD Commission identified the importance of addressing nuclear fuel cycle activities in the context of pursuit of a WMD free zone in the Middle East: "All states should support continued efforts to establish a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East as a part of the overall peace process. Steps can be taken even now. As a confidence-building measure, all states in the region, including Iran and Israel, should for a prolonged period of time commit themselves to a verified arrangement not to have any enrichment, reprocessing or other sensitive fuel-cycle activities on their territories."[24]

Such a commitment would need to be coupled with reliable assurances about fuel-cycle services required for peaceful nuclear activities.[25] Nuclear technology was originally developed for weapons purposes, making nuclear programmes of any sort inherently capable of being diverted to weapons purposes and therefore capable of rousing proliferation concerns. The case of Iran illustrates this point, and the reactions to Egypt's announcement in September 2006 regarding the revival of its nuclear energy further support it.[26] Several Arab countries later announced their intention to pursue nuclear energy, including Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Some of these states have turned to the IAEA for assistance in developing their nuclear energy programmes.

Their stated interest is for peaceful purposes, but observers challenge this claim: "The Middle Eastern states say they only want atomic power. Some probably do. But US government and private analysts say they believe that the rush of activity is also intended to counter the threat of a nuclear Iran. By nature, the underlying technologies of nuclear power can make electricity or, with more effort, warheads, as nations have demonstrated over the decades by turning ostensibly civilian programmes into sources of bomb fuel. The uneasy neighbours of Iran, analysts say, may be positioning themselves to do the same."[27]

Although many analysts link the Arab states' recent interest in nuclear programmes more to Iran's nuclear capability than Israel's, the frequent references to Israel's nuclear policy and capability in a range of international fora cannot be ignored.

The military potential inherent in all nuclear programmes must be addressed, and the key to allaying such suspicions lies in addressing the concerns over nuclear materials and technology. Discussions leading to a Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) are a step in the right direction but they do not go far enough because the current proposals would not address existing stocks or the capability to produce weapons-usable material in the future. For this reason, Greenpeace has recently proposed a model Comprehensive Fissile Materials Treaty (CFMT), which it is circulating among members of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.[28]

The proposed CFMT would prohibit the separation or processing of weapons-usable plutonium as well as the production or processing of highly enriched uranium, and would therefore go farther towards addressing proliferation concerns than any of the official proposals currently circulating. Pursuing this more comprehensive approach internationally could cut across the current deadlock on WMDFZ negotiations in the Middle East, since in principle each state in the region could independently engage with this proposal. This kind of comprehensive approach to fissile materials recognizes that achieving a secure, sustainable zone free of WMD in the Middle East will depend on developing better energy options and renewable energy sources, thereby contributing to the vision of a Nuclear Free Middle East.

Energy and Security

National security concerns, including threat perceptions, and domestic energy needs are important drivers underlying the nuclear and WMD policies of Middle Eastern states. There needs to be a deeper understanding of how external energy and security interests affect the Middle East and fuel instability and conflict. This will require an informed debate at the domestic level on how best to address energy needs and options, including renewable energy. In particular, demonstrating the attractiveness and feasibility of energy alternatives would relieve some of the pressure on states to pursue nuclear programmes. Exploring such alternatives may need to be independent of WMDFZ initiatives, but if pursued in parallel it could help pave the way for progress on negotiations.

Besides the specific measures suggested above, it will also be necessary to consider the seemingly entrenched starting points of each of the representative positions characterized by the positions of the Arab states, Iran, and Israel. In each case, internal or domestic factors are inseparable from the national security and foreign policy positions that dictate stated positions in global fora such as the NPT and the IAEA. Threats may or may not originate outside of the states involved, but the perceptions of regional threats are a direct contributing factor - probably the key factor - in each of the representative positions considered here.

How these threat perceptions translate into foreign and security policy is highly subjective and the factors and processes of policy determination are inevitably internal, with high levels of secrecy. There is no "one size fits all" solution to national security concerns, particularly not in the Middle East, which does not offer a level playing field from any political perspective. Therefore one of the conditions for a WMDFZ in the Middle East is a domestic shift, at least within the key states. However it happens (and outsiders might never fully know), some kind of shift is necessary to foster greater openness and flexibility and influence threat perceptions at both the public and decision-making levels. The actual process for bringing about the policy (and perceptual) shifts will of course depend also on political culture and how democratic national security decision-making processes are.

What this means for international and regional efforts to promote a WMDFZ is that the most persuasive arguments and relevant information might differ in the case of each representative position. Within Israel, for example, there is a great deal of attention given to regional nuclear issues but little or no attention to disarmament as a solution or even as a conceptual approach that could reduce regional tensions. In fact there is no word in Hebrew for "disarmament" as such. Rather the term used is closer to "dismantlement", indicating a focus on the physical aspects of the weapons rather than a shift in policy relating to their value or use. The argument that disarmament is a relevant and practical approach to regional security has yet to be seriously entertained in Israel. Domestically, Israel appears almost immune to the enormous amount of international attention given to the issue of a WMD free zone in the Middle East, and many citizens would probably be surprised to learn that this goal is consistent with Israel's official position.

A shift in domestic dialogues surrounding energy needs and options is also essential. The belief of many states in the region that nuclear energy is a sustainable and viable way to meet domestic energy needs is only possible because of ignorance surrounding the realities of nuclear power generation. These include environmental and health[29] as well as economic factors. The true costs of nuclear power are often masked by subsidies and hidden expenses.[30]

Renewable energy alternatives such as solar or wind have not been given anywhere near the attention that nuclear and fossil fuel energy sources have received, globally or in the Middle East. Nor have they received anything like the level of subsidies or investment in research and development routinely pumped into nuclear energy. This is unfortunate given the strong potential for renewable energy - particularly solar and wind technologies - to meet energy needs in the Middle East. From an environmental and economic point of view, renewable energy sources are an option well worth exploring, and from a non-proliferation point of view they would make a decidedly positive contribution to security in the region. Greenpeace and others have already provided research into a renewable energy scenario for the Middle East that could serve to inform domestic dialogues.[31]


The current deadlock over a zone free of WMD in the Middle East is the result of a 'chicken and egg' circularity of logic, in which each side considers action by other(s) as a necessary precondition for making concessions itself. It can be overcome by addressing the core issues in parallel and ensuring that underlying security concerns and threat perceptions are continuously assessed and addressed.

Before the practical building blocks for a disarmament regime can be negotiated, it will be necessary for the states in the region to make far greater progress towards addressing the past, present and future concerns that create and fuel the tensions that lead to the use of armed force and the pursuit of security policies based on possession of weapons of mass destruction (or the potential to develop and use them). Because the mistrust that fuels tension and often sparks conflict in the Middle East is rooted in the past, any attempt to promote security, arms control and disarmament initiatives will only succeed if there is a prior or parallel process for addressing matters of human rights, justice, and history.

A "soft security" process that addresses past grievances is not only an essential pressure valve for the expression of human concerns that would otherwise interfere with diplomatic security negotiations. It can also feed directly into the confidence-building process that is essential for meaningful disarmament. Once such a process has been developed and implemented, the elements of a WMD disarmament regime, including but not limited to those explored above, will be seen as more realistic and feasible.


[1] Building a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East: Global Non-Proliferation Regimes and Regional Experiences, UNIDIR/2004/24, pp. 25, 29. See also Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East (updated September 29, 2006) http://cns.miis.edu/research/wmdme/index.htm

[2] Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute, Weapons of Mass Destruction Capabilities in the Middle East, http://cns.miis.edu/research/wmdme/capable.htm

[3] Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Reported Use of Chemical Weapons, Ballistic Missiles, and Cruise Missiles in the Middle East, http://cns.miis.edu/research/wmdme/timeline.htm

[4] Alan Dowty, "Making 'No First Use' Work: Bring All WMD Inside the Tent," The Non-proliferation Review 8 (Spring 2001): 79-85.

[5] Security Council Resolution 687 (April 3,1991).

[6] NPT 1995 Resolution on the Middle East.

[7] State of Israel, Explanation of Vote on the Establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East, UN General Assembly First Committee, October 9, 2007. This is the most recent statement of Israel's position: "Israel remains committed to a vision of the Middle East developing into a zone free of Chemical, Biological and Nuclear weapons as well as ballistic missiles. Yet we are also realistic enough to know that in the current realities of the Middle East, this noble vision is not going to materialize any time soon.." Available at: http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/political/1com/1com07/EOV/L1israel.pdf

[8] Rebecca Johnson, "Rethinking Security Interests for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Middle East", Disarmament Diplomacy 86 (this issue), Autumn 2007.

[9] Israel, Explanation of Vote on the Establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East, UN General Assembly First Committee, October 9 2007, above.

[10] Rebecca Johnson, "Rethinking Security Interests for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Middle East", op. cit.

[11] Recommendation 12, Weapons of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Arms, Report of the WMD Commission, 2006, p 81. www.wmdcommission.org

[12] Statement by Egypt at the Fourth Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, New York, September 23, 2005

[13] "Egypt links ratifying CTBT to Israel's nuclear stance", Pakistan Daily Times Sunday, 28 August 2005, http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_28-8-2005_pg4_7

[14] Statement by Israel at the Fifth Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Vienna, September 18, 2007

[15] Statement by Iran at the Second Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, New York, 11 November 2001.

[16] Statement by Iran at the Third Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Vienna, 3 September 2003.

[17] Statement by Iran at the Fifth Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Vienna, September 18, 2007.

[18] This proposal and the analysis that follow build on the presentation of Eitan Barak, "Regional No First Use Treaty: First Step in the Right Direction?" at the seminar "Nuclear Future in the Middle East? Options for De-escalation" hosted by Greenpeace, Tel Aviv, Israel, 15 February 2007, and on a forthcoming paper by Eitan Barak and Merav Datan on this topic.

[19] Jez Littlewood, "Strengthening the Role of the BTWC and CWC" in Building a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East: Global Non-Proliferation Regimes and Regional Experiences (United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research and League of Arab States, Geneva 2004) p. 26.

[20] "Arab League Reiterates Rejection of Chemical Arms Ban Treaty," The Xinhua General Overseas News Service, March 8, 1993, cited in Nuclear Threat Initiative, http://www.nti.org/e_research/profiles/Israel/Chemical/3664.html

[21] "Egypt: Diplomatic Source Says Egypt Not to Sign Chemical Weapons Treaty" Middle East News Agency, 15 August 1996, cited in Alan Dowty, "Making 'No First Use' Work: Bring All WMD Inside the Tent" The Nonproliferation Review, Spring 2001

[22] Written Statement of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the International Court of Justice, Advisory Opinion on the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, 19 June 1995, http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/95/8678.pdf

[23] Oral Statement of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the International Court of Justice, Verbatim Record in the case Legality of the Use by a State of Nuclear Weapons in Armed Conflict and Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, 6 November 1995, http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/95/5933.pdf

[24] Recommendation 12, Weapons of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Arms, Report of the WMD Commission, 2006, www.wmdcommission.org

[25] Weapons of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Arms, op. cit.

[26] See "Egypt goes nuclear amid regional tensions" International Relations and Security Network http://www.isn.ethz.ch/news/sw/details.cfm?id=16724

[27] William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, "Fearing Iran, Arab states seek nuclear power" International Herald Tribune, April 15, 2007, http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/04/15/news/nuke.php

[28] Comprehensive Fissile Materials Treaty, 21 February 2006 http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/

[29] An Overview of Nuclear Facilities in Iran, Israel and Turkey, Greenpeace, 2007, http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/

[30] The Economics of Nuclear Power, Greenpeace, 2007, http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/

[31] Energy [R]evolution - A pathway to a sustainable clean energy future for the Middle East, Greenpeace 2007, http://www.greenpeace.org/mediterranean/reports/energy-r-evolution-a-pathwa. See also Egypt and the Great Energy Debate, Greenpeace, 2007, http://www.greenpeace.org/mediterranean/reports/egypt-and-the-great-energy-deb

Merav Datan is the Middle East Political Advisor for Greenpeace International and is currently based in Tel Aviv. She is an international lawyer and a former adjunct professor at Rutgers Law School. She has previously worked for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy, and as a consultant to the United Nations Department for Disarmament Affairs. Portions of this paper appeared in the Greenpeace Briefing "Conditions for a Nuclear Free Middle East" distributed at the International Seminar on "Steps towards a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone", co-hosted by the Institute for Peace Studies and Greenpeace International, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, March 21, 2007.

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