How does the Middle East Crisis Affect the 2012 WMDFZ Conference?

By Alfred Nurja

Image Source: CNS

This month's issue of Arms Control Today carries an insightful article by Anne Penketh that reports on the potential impact that unrest in the Middle East may have on international efforts to host a 2012 regional conference on a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East. At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, the sponsors of 1995 Middle East resolution, the United States, Russia and Great Britain committed to work together with the UN Secretary General to convene a conference in 2012 in the region, appoint a facilitator and identify a host country for that conference. Consensus on this issue was instrumental to achieving what many considered a successful NPT review conference outcome.

The article sheds important new light on the following developments:

  1. The depository powers are now engaged in "earnest" consultations on identifying a facilitator and a host country for the conference. Russia, the UK and the U.S. hope to reach an agreement on the name of the facilitator and host country "before summer" the article says, noting that the facilitator may also come from the same country that will host the conference.
  2. Israel, which first indicated that it would not take part in the implementation of the steps agreed at the 2010 NPT Review Conference, is now reported to be "examining [the question] of the 2012 conference.. and is talking to the Americans" as Dan Meridor, Israel's Deputy Prime Minister is quoted in the article.
  3. The recent unrest in the Middle East may have further complicated efforts to host the conference and "that there is no guarantee that the conference may be held." However, "we have to try to make it happen," Gary Samore, President Obama's coordinator for WMD, said.

This last point on the implications of Middle East unrest on the conference is worth examining further. While admittedly raising important questions , a strong case can be made that the recent unrest in the Middle East adds to the urgency to make progress toward the achievement of a Middle East WMDFZ, an important component of which is hosting and achieving a constructive outcome from the 2012 conference.

First, one important lesson that these developments drive home is how important it is for the safety of the region, and indeed the world, to make progress toward the elimination of these dangerous weapons from one of the most volatile regions in the globe. As the Libyan case demonstrates, the presence of WMD in countries that risk being engulfed by political crises, violence and national fragmentation presents an immediate concern not only for the civilian populations in the countries concerned but for international global security at large.

Second, while there is credible evidence that democracies, and more representative governments in general, contribute to more peaceful regional relations, the process of democratization is often fraught with unpredictable developments, set-backs and considerable challenges. As argued elsewhere, "countries do not become democratic overnight. They [most likely] go through rocky transitional period ... where mass politics mixes in a volatile way with authoritarian elite politics." A constructive 2012 conference can provide the venue for WMD security and other confidence building measures to be discussed.

Efforts to host a constructive 2012 conference must be driven by more than just the need to prevent the significant negative repercussions that could result from the failure to host one. [As Anne Penketh reports, "Arab diplomats warn that, in the case of failure, prospects for the next NPT review conference, in 2015—and indeed for the treaty's future in general—would be bleak."] Hosting the conference is also important particularly for the opportunity it presents for starting a regional process where all WMD related questions can be raised and where both Israel and other regional countries can take part as equal participants.

As ACA Executive Director Daryl Kimball pointed out during a recent Hudson Institute event on the subject, "the pursuit of such a goal [MEWMDFZ] provides tangible security benefits to each of the key countries in the region now and can help build the foundations required for the WMDFZ to come into existence." The current unrest in the Middle East only increases the importance of achieving a constructive outcome from the 2012 Conference.