From Thalif Deen
A longstanding proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the politically and militarily unstable Middle East remains elusive. Five Nuclear Weapon Free Zones (NWFZ) have been established around the world since 1967 – in Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa and Central Asia.
In his speech at the second “UN Conference on the Establishment of a Nuclear and Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East“, which took place from November 29 to December 3, UN Secretary General AntÃ³nio Guterres pointed out that the five existing zones comprise 60 percent of the 193 member states of the United Nations – and cover almost the entire southern hemisphere.
“Expanding such zones to other regions will strengthen global norms for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and help build a safer world.”
This is particularly the case in the Middle East, where concerns about nuclear programs persist and conflict and civil war cause widespread casualties and suffering among civilians, undermine stability and disrupt social and economic development, he warned.
Alyn Ware, director of the peace and disarmament program at the World Future Council, told IDN that the UN conference on the establishment of a nuclear and weapons-of-mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East (WMDFZ) is an extremely important process in addressing very real concerns about real ones and / or potential nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs in the Middle East.
Among the countries in this region:
Israel has not acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is believed to have manufactured nuclear weapons; neither Egypt nor Israel have ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC); Syria allegedly violated the CWC by using chemical weapons; and a number of countries have failed to sign the Convention on Biological Weapons, including the Comoros, Djibouti and Israel.
The UN conference, he stressed, shed light on these issues and contributed to political pressure to restrict weapons of mass destruction programs in the region and to achieve the signing and ratification of the relevant treaties.
The process won’t be easy, he warned.
âThere are intense conflicts in the region which have sometimes broken out into armed conflict and which continue to undermine confidence and thwart diplomatic efforts to create such a zone. But the fact that the UN conference was launched is an important start. It gives states in the region the opportunity to exchange perspectives, consider proposals and approaches, and give diplomacy the opportunity to work, ânoted Ware.
He said the conference was open ended – with General Assembly mandate A / 73/546 to continue to meet annually.until the conference finalizes the drafting of a legally binding treaty establishing a Middle East zone free from nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. ‘
âThis was a smart move by the United Nations to give all states in the region time to get involved in the process. Only one state in the region (Israel) did not join the UN conference â.
Their lack of participation does not necessarily mean that no progress can be made. “Indeed, much can be done to discuss the legal, technical and institutional requirements for the establishment of such a zone, while at the same time promoting a diplomatic dialogue with Israel about what arrangements could be made to involve them in the process” he said on a note.
Tony Robinson, Operations Director, Middle East Treaty Organization, told IDN that the second UN conference on a zone of mass destruction in the Middle East is paving the way for such a zone to be established.
Having 22 Arab League countries and Iran at the negotiating table is fantastic, he said. The only regional country missing was Israel, but there is no reason why those present could not move forward in a process that Israel can then join at any time.
The political declaration from the 1st session shows that the states of the region can reach a consensus and build on common ground. Until that conference was established, there was no dedicated forum for countries in the region to discuss key security issues – including weapons of mass destruction disarmament, âRobinson said.
âThis annual conference will take place until all countries in the region agree to an agreement on an WMD free zone. And by coming back to this conference year after year and organizing the work between sessions, it will build trust and confidence among countries in the region – which gives more reasons for Israel to join as well. Of course this will not happen overnight, but any dialogue between these countries must be welcomed and the process itself protected, âhe noted.
At the beginning of this conference, talks began in Vienna to revitalize the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – (a nuclear agreement between Iran and the Western powers). A breakthrough in Vienna will not only ensure that the Iranian nuclear program remains peaceful and the crippling US sanctions are lifted, but it will also strengthen the importance of dialogue and diplomacy.
In the meantime, Robinson said, the region is also seeing some important changes with renewed efforts by the Gulf states to enter into dialogue with one another on Israel’s recent agreements with four Arab states, all in a positive direction of increased engagement and tensions in the country Region.
âWhile this conference is a positive contributor to the establishment of the Zone, there are other parallel processes that complement each other, with progress in some or all of us moving us closer to the goal. In particular, the decades-old process within the NPT, which is of crucial importance for the establishment of the zone. “
âSo we believe the New York conference is for the zone within the NPT. There is no doubt that the countries in the region will report on the progress made in their statements on the NPT RevCon, âsaid Robinson.
Ware said if Israel continues to oppose joining such a process, there is also the option of negotiating a treaty that other states in the region can sign and ratify, but which will not become legally binding until all states in the region (including Israel) have signed and ratified.
The Tlatelolco Treaty (Latin America NWFZ), for example, was adopted on this basis at a time when Cuba, Brazil and Argentina were not yet ready to join. (You have now joined). All of this points to the great value and importance of this UN process, he stressed.
“In addition, progress in advancing a nuclear and weapons-free zone in the Middle East is critical to the stability of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.”
In 1995, according to Ware, the NPT was extended for an indefinite period, including the agreement of the contracting states on the implementation of an NWFZ for the Middle East. Failure to take action to implement these commitments could undermine confidence in the NPT and lead some states to consider withdrawing.
âThe link between the UN conference and the NPT is strengthened by the fact that the three depot governments of the NPT are also invited to take part in the UN conference on the Middle East. Two of these custodian governments (Russia and the UK) attended both sessions, âhe added.
Meanwhile, the political declaration adopted at the first session of the Conference on the establishment of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East reads: âWe, the representatives of the participating States at the first session of the Conference on the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East and other weapons of mass destruction that met at Headquarters November 18-22, 2019, pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 73/546:
(a) Welcomes all initiatives, resolutions, decisions and recommendations to establish a zone in the Middle East free from nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction;
(b) Believe that the establishment of a verifiable zone in the Middle East free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction would greatly improve peace and security at the regional and international levels;
(c) Declare our intention and solemn commitment to pursue, in accordance with relevant international resolutions and in an open and inclusive manner, with all invited States the elaboration of a legally binding treaty establishing a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East and others on the basis of weapons of mass destruction Agreements freely reached by consensus among the states of the region;
(d) Call on all Middle Eastern States and all other States not to take any action which would prevent the attainment of the objectives of establishing a Zone of the Middle East free from nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction;
(e) Convinced that the participation of all Middle Eastern countries would facilitate the achievement of this long-standing goal, extend an open invitation to all countries in the region to support this Declaration and to join the process;
(f) With this in mind, we believe that the Conference could help build regional and international confidence in that area by drawing up a legally binding treaty creating a Middle East Zone free from nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction;
(g) To undertake to make efforts to follow up the statement and outcomes of the Conference and to prepare for the second session of the Conference, commend and solicit the efforts of the Secretary-General in convening the first session of the Conference its continued efforts and those of relevant international organizations and the strong support of the international community for the success of the Conference in establishing a nuclear and other weapons-free zone in the Middle East â.