Hoping for a zone of goodwill in the Mideast

Beirut's Al-Amin Mosque. Timos L. Flickr user

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

BEIRUT, Lebanon, 4 July – An IISS workshop in this sun-kissed capital showed that the decades-long cold war between Iran and Saudi-led Gulf Arabs has again heated up, this time over Syria. But one issue on which those nations see common cause is the goal of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons (hereafter, simply the ‘Zone’). If it ever came to pass, the Zone would resolve Riyadh’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme and Tehran’s grievances about being held to a standard that is not applied to Israel. And since the Zone is such a far-off goal, nobody need be too bothered today about the intrusive inspections and other sensitive compromises that would need to be made for it to be implemented.

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Believing in a Mideast WMD-free zone

Nuclear weapons-free zone sign from IowaHighways' flickr accountBy Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

Sometimes you never know what you think about an issue until you start putting pen to paper.

Last November, the United Nations Association of the UK (UNA-UK) asked me to write a briefing report on the issue of establishing a Middle East Zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. (This mouthful is usually abbreviated as MEWMDFZ, or sometimes simply called the ‘zone’.) The paper would be the second in a UNA-UK series on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Part of the organisation’s ‘Towards Zero‘ programme, the paper seeks to raise awareness ahead of a conference being organised later this year by Jaakko Laajava, Finland’s under secretary of state for foreign and security policy, in support of the zone goal.

My initial reaction was to wonder whether there was anything new to say on the subject, given that the zone has been on the international agenda since 1974 and is as distant now as it was then. I also confess to having harboured some initial cynicism about whether the 2012 conference would contribute to the goal of a zone, or indeed whether it would even be held, given the differences among the key players.

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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.

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