Iran’s failure to fulfill its obligations as a nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) state-party, Syria’s alleged pursuit of chemical weapons, and Israel’s failure to sign the NPT and its continued possession of nuclear weapons illustrate the fundamental challenge of controlling arms competition in the Middle East.
Not surprisingly, many policymakers have favored managing crises, rather than addressing their root cause: the widespread sense of insecurity felt by states in the region. Yet, as Dalia Dassa Kaye points out in this month’s cover story, regional arms control could play a valuable role in dealing with some of these proliferation concerns and could also contribute to the goal of a comprehensive Middle East peace.
One arms control tool—on-site inspection—is particularly important. Citing the recent Iraq experience, former Department of State official Edward Ifft points out that, although inspections are only one tool in the arms control toolbox and have some limitations, they provide essential information to policymakers, who can either correct or corroborate information provided by national intelligence services and prevent worst-case scenarios from driving the policy process.
For the United States, much of that intelligence information is supplied by satellites. Michael Krepon notes, however, that the Pentagon is inching toward weaponizing space, a move that could jeopardize the flow of intelligence—information needed both by policymakers and commanders managing their troops in battle. Krepon’s article is part of our extended commentary on the debate over space weapons, which also includes contributions from Jeffrey Lewis and Theresa Hitchens. Lewis shows how, contrary to the assertions of those advocating that the United States place weapons in space, there is little evidence that Russia or China have yet decided to forge ahead with similar programs. Hitchens probes whether the policy on space weapons is shifting under the Bush administration, even in the absence of any announced change from the White House.
Even as new concerns arise with new technologies, the decades-old problem of nuclear proliferation continues. Ambassador Thomas Graham Jr. this month reviews The Nuclear Tipping Point, a book by some of the nation’s best-known arms control experts examining eight countries that could have developed nuclear weapons but chose not to do so. One key restraint has been the NPT and the willingness of nuclear-weapon states such as the United States to take steps, including cutting its own arsenal, in order to decrease the perceived political importance of these weapons. As Graham, Krepon, Ifft, and Dassa Kaye all show, restraint often begets restraint and benefits national security.