Trying to stem a nuclearised Mideast

Guest post by Giorgio Franceschini, Peace Research Institute Frankfurt

One highlight of the forthcoming EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference will be the session on non-proliferation and security in the Middle East. The subject is highly topical because states in the region are expected to attend a UN-facilitated conference aimed at the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (which goes by the rather unwieldy acronym of MEWMDFZ) sometime this year.

The obstacles for the establishment of such a zone are enormous. It would require – at a minimum – a viable solution to the Iranian nuclear challenge, and a change of Israel’s nuclear posture, one that would be acceptable to both Jerusalem and its neighbours. A further requirement for an MEWMDFZ will be the ratification of both the biological and chemical weapons conventions by all states in the region – first and foremost, Egypt, Israel and Syria – and a dense web of confidence- and security-building measures in the conventional military realm, especially with respect to WMD-capable delivery vehicles.

But tensions are high and some countries find themselves in the midst of a turbulent political transition. It is therefore not at all clear whether the MEWMDFZ conference will take place at all in 2012; and if it does, it is uncertain which countries will attend.

Some obstacles have been anticipated and already addressed, such as ways to get the conference started, and how to start designing such a zone. Last year, the EU organised a seminar on the MEWMDFZ with high-level participation by delegations from the Middle East, including Iran and Israel. Its purpose was to facilitate confidence building between the parties on matters of WMD control. The outcome of the seminar lead to moderate optimism by non-governmental observers on the possibility of advancing a legally binding arms control measure in the Middle East in the near future.

The Middle East session at the EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference will see the participation of Prince Turki Al Faisal Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (pictured), together with three other high-level experts. Prince Turki recently reminded the international community about the urgency of establishing an MEWMDFZ, saying that should the project fail, we may soon be confronted with a nuclearised Middle East, which could include Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and even Turkey.

It is high time to come up with new ideas to revive the stagnant process of arms control in the Middle East, and restart multilateral high-level talks on regional security. The EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference could be a first step in this direction.

Giorgio Franceschini is a research assistant at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt, another member of the EU Non-Proliferation Consortium, alongside the IISS. Views in this post are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the IISS.


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