Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005

Placing WMD in Context

Emily B. Landau

If things go according to plan, a conference on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East is due to take place in 2012. The considerable political challenges involved in convening this conference have become much more complicated of late in light of the political turmoil that has been rocking the Middle East since early this year. Although the date of the conference may get pushed back, unofficial Track II discussions already have begun to consider the prospects and logic of such a conference, which has effectively renewed the debate over the meaning and future of regional WMD arms control efforts in the Middle East.

These discussions indicate the serious consideration being given to the prospects for a conference on a WMD-free zone and underscore that a new regional arms control process must begin with a hard look at the realities in this region. There is a need to dispel some of the commonly voiced myths that continue to cloud and confuse many of the discussions on WMD arms control in the Middle East, particularly as far as nuclear weapons are concerned.

One of the most problematic assertions in the debate is that nuclear weapons actually have no value because they cannot be used. The advocates of nuclear disarmament who make this claim argue that nuclear arms should simply be eliminated because they have no value and, at the same time, are extremely dangerous. However, even the most superficial examination of international relations since 1945 would easily convince one that this is not obvious and that disarmament is anything but simple. Although over the 65 years of nonuse a strong norm developed, according to which nuclear weapons are weapons of deterrence and not use, states nevertheless continue to consider them to have tremendous strategic value. Beyond the bolstered security to be gained through nuclear deterrence, states that pursue nuclear weapons might do so for the prestige that accompanies their acquisition or for the ability to threaten their neighbors more effectively, safe in the knowledge that external parties will be much more wary about intervening on behalf of the threatened parties.

The implications for other states of one state’s nuclear possession can be either relatively benign (if the weapons are a way to ensure the possessor state’s survival) or dangerous (as a means of threatening other states), but there undoubtedly are strategic benefits to be gained by going nuclear. Otherwise, determined proliferators would not be devoting so much time, energy, and resources to attaining them, and the current nuclear-weapon states would have no problem in giving them up. In short, the desire of disarmament proponents to change this reality should not be confused with a description of the current role of nuclear weapons in international relations.

States can utilize the strategic value of nuclear weapons in either a benign or a dangerous manner. It is important to take this fact into account when discussing WMD arms control, especially in the Middle East. The threat posed to other states from one state’s possession of nuclear weapons is not just a matter of perspective or in the eye of the beholder. The differences among states are real and can be empirically assessed. For example, Israel has been noticeably low-key and defensive with regard to its nuclear capability for decades. In contrast, Iran is breaching its commitment to remain non-nuclear, while couching its nuclear development in highly threatening rhetoric toward its neighbors, especially Israel.

This connects to another myth that is explicitly or implicitly apparent in some of the debates taking place regarding the Middle East: that the nuclear programs of Iran and Israel are comparable. There is no justification for comparing the two states solely on the basis of their nuclear capabilities, due to the vastly different circumstances of their nuclearization and the very different manner with which each state regards these capabilities.

The argument that Iran is moving in a military direction as a response to Israel, with the implication that if Israel were to do away with its assumed nuclear weapons, Iran would have no reason to pursue them, is similarly unfounded. There are no historical or strategic grounds for making such a connection between the two programs.

Israel began its nuclear program in the 1950s with the idea that it needed an insurance policy for long-term survival, and this has been Israel’s sole purpose ever since. Iran restarted its military program in the 1980s as a response to Iraq’s nuclear development, in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War. More importantly, Iran’s present interest in a military nuclear capability stems from Tehran’s desire to entrench its regional power and influence, which will come at the expense of most states in the Middle East, not only Israel. Even if Israel were to join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), there is little reason to believe that Iran would discontinue its activities. So saying that “both must disarm,” either on the grounds that all states become instantly identical when the issue of debate is nuclear weapons or that Iran’s nuclear program is linked to Israel’s, propagates a false sense of symmetry that is not helpful for serious regional arms control efforts.

Regional Security

Another issue to be clarified is the concept of regional security and the role of confidence- and security-building measures[1] in that framework. These measures, intended to deal with the tensions, hostility, and mistrust that characterize interstate relations and hamper the states’ ability to cooperate, are the essence of a win-win approach to regional security and have a central role to play in arms control efforts in the Middle East. The idea is to begin with small, mutually advantageous, and nonthreatening steps in order to initiate a dialogue, thus establishing a basis of mutual confidence and trust in the genuine pursuit of enhanced security for all. In light of the harsh and enduring conflicts in the Middle East that gave rise to WMD acquisition, focusing on interstate relations and dynamics is imperative.

An unfortunate result of the early 1990s Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS)[2] talks is that regional security and confidence- and security-building measures became imbued with political content. Rather than being understood as serious arms control measures grounded in a conceptual logic that posits that improving the regional atmosphere is essential in order to approach WMD disarmament, confidence- and security-building measures came to be regarded as Israel’s specific political preference for the talks. Once identified as Israel’s preference, the ideas met with growing opposition in Arab states. This situation needs to be rectified. It must be recognized that arms control efforts and regional security issues are inextricably linked, and the former will not be able to make headway without significant progress in the latter. This message ­resonates even more strongly today than in the 1990s, due to the deterioration of ­regional relations since that time.

The Challenge for 2012

In light of the issues described above, Israel has questions about what will be discussed at the 2012 conference. If it is a venue for improving regional relations and building up a basis for mutual confidence, with the understanding that this will be a long and difficult process in itself, Israel can most likely accept it. However, if it remains strongly linked to the NPT framework, which implicitly sends the message that this is all about nuclear weapons and not other weapons of mass destruction, there is little chance that Israel will view the effort positively. Also, it clearly would be unacceptable to Israel if the efforts remained grounded in the position that Egypt and Iran are strongly advocating, namely that “Israel is the problem.” It should not be forgotten that the 2010 NPT Review Conference final document stipulates that progress with regard to the 2012 conference will be in consultation with states in the region and that these states will have to arrive at these arrangements freely. Israel’s views and concerns must be incorporated.

The heart of the problem in the Middle East is not the weapons but how states relate to one another and to their own international commitments. In regional arms control processes, especially as far as Israel is concerned, weapons of mass destruction cannot be detached from the context of interstate dynamics.

Israel’s nuclear deterrent is considered to have tremendous strategic significance and value; it spells long-term survival for Israel in an extremely hostile and dangerous neighborhood. Israel is not likely to give that up any time soon, nor could the country be expected to do so in light of the threats that it faces from a number of directions. Even in Egypt, a country that has maintained a stable peace with Israel for more than three decades, the current foreign policy discourse advocates ­rethinking its ­relations with Israel.

The most dangerous regional development, however, is Iran’s nuclear advances. The prospect that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons only serves to convince Israel of its need to maintain its ultimate defense in the face of possible annihilation. For Israel, a major problem in the realm of arms control is that states make commitments to international treaties and then proceed to cheat and deceive the international community on their way to a WMD capability. Iran’s slow but (at least until now) unstoppable progress toward a military nuclear capability would be unbearable for Israelis if they were not confident that Israel has the means of deterring a nuclear strike from this hostile and deceptive regime.

The challenge for the organizers of the 2012 conference is to take these hard realities into account when devising the concept and agenda for a new round of arms control talks. Discounting the dangers of unconventional weapons other than nuclear weapons will certainly not help in getting Israel on board, nor will maintaining that Israel is the sole obstacle and that it must first join the NPT—an obvious nonstarter, although it has been a frequent theme at Track II meetings over the past year. Rather, the conference organizers must devise and insist on a step-by-step, win-win logic for the talks, enabling all states to agree to take part and engendering a positive, security-grounded, and forward-­looking process.


Emily B. Landau is director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. She teaches arms control at Tel Aviv University and at the University of Haifa’s International School. She is a frequent participant in Track II initiatives on arms control and regional security in the Middle East.



1. The more common term is “confidence-building measures,” but “confidence- and security-building measures” is the term that was used by the Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) Working Group to emphasize both confidence and security.

2. The ACRS Working Group was active for four years (1991–1995) in the framework of the multilateral track of the Madrid peace process. For background, see Emily B. Landau, “ACRS: What Worked, What Didn’t, and What Could Be Relevant for the Region Today,” Disarmament Forum, No. 2 (2008), www.unidir.ch/bdd/­fiche-article.php?ref_article=2727.

In light of the harsh and enduring conflicts in the Middle East that gave rise to WMD acquisition, focusing on interstate relations and dynamics is imperative.

Salvaging the 2012 Conference

Nabil Fahmy

In 1974 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. Since then, there have been no concrete steps toward that objective. The final document of the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, with its commitments to a conference in 2012 on creating a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East, opened the possibility of changing the situation.

That momentum must be sustained. The conference should be convened and serve to launch the delicate and time-consuming process that will be necessary to create a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

The issue of the WMD-free zone has resurfaced in a number of ways since 1974. By the early 1980s, the 1974 resolution was being adopted annually by consensus at the United Nations. The establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East also was a paramount issue in the discussions and failures of the Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) process emanating from the 1991 Madrid Conference on the Middle East. At the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, a resolution was adopted calling for practical steps toward the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. The resolution was a fundamental component of the set of decisions taken that allowed the conference to extend the NPT indefinitely without a vote. Although the initial proposal related to nuclear weapons alone, Egypt in 1990 notably also had called for the establishment of a Middle Eastern zone free of chemical and biological as well as nuclear weapons.

Nevertheless, none of these steps led to concrete progress. Israel’s unsafeguarded nuclear program continues unabated. Questions and accusations swirl about Iran’s nuclear motivation. Both programs will have to be included in the proposed Middle Eastern WMD-free zone if it is to have any relevance at all.

Egypt, Israel, and a number of Arab countries have refrained from ratifying the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). One can spend endless hours trying to analyze the lack of progress. Egypt and some other Arab countries are determined not to ratify any WMD conventions before Israel ratifies the NPT, and some believe that asymmetries in the balances of power and conflicting threat perceptions make such steps illogical. In essence, although it may seem to be a cliché, the absence of political will on the part of regional players or the nuclear-weapon states, each for their own reasons, has been the obstacle to progress. This also is the primary lesson drawn from the ACRS process.

As a point of departure, it is this author’s view that ensuring that the Middle East is free of all weapons of mass destruction should be the common objective. It is the only real, viable regional goal because it responds to asymmetries in military capabilities. That goal, however, should reach fruition through a series of measures that complement and parallel each other, but will not necessarily require establishing one umbrella for all these different weapons systems and their means of delivery. In other words, creating a nuclear-weapon-free zone commensurate with similar zones in other regions of the world is both a possible and an effective means to safeguard the region from these weapons. Dealing with chemical and biological weapons, given their nature, is probably more effective through existing international instruments such as the CWC and BWC although the latter may require additional verification measures at the regional level. The priority in this regard should be on nuclear weapons because of the devastating consequences of their use or proliferation.

In attempting to move forward on the establishment of a Middle Eastern nuclear-weapon-free zone and then to the issues of chemical and biological weapons, the first obstacle will be to convince Israel to start a serious domestic debate, and then discussions with its neighbors, on the utility and risks involved with its nuclear program and that of others. Traditional Israeli arguments that its opaque program is needed to counter massive conventional Arab forces no longer are valid given the development of Israel’s conventional weapons capacities. Furthermore, it has not proven a viable deterrent toward the Iraqi program in the last century or toward Iran more recently. The question that Israelis therefore should address is whether their program is an asset or a liability, fueling an arms race or at least impeding the possibility of progress at the regional level that would include intrusive regional verification procedures to curtail possible proliferators.

Once this national debate and regional discussion have occurred or in parallel with them, hopefully with the assistance of the United States and the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council, it is imperative to go through the analytical discussions and negotiations related to the details of the proposed zone. In doing so, the regional states and the stakeholders in each of the countries slowly will become more acclimated to the details of the zone and issues that are seldom discussed now. As is often the case in tedious labor negotiations, if one does not pass through the ebbs and flows of the negotiations, one may be unable to come to grips with solutions and compromises that in many respects are self-evident. The negotiating process itself should help create the environment for constructive consideration of the details of the proposals with an understanding of the perspectives of the other side. This process would cover significant fundamental issues such as the geographical scope of the zone, the list of prohibited activities, and the verification procedures and withdrawal clauses required to assure all the parties. These are the priority issues that Egypt believes need to be addressed. Much of this material has been addressed in other nuclear-weapon-free zones and is fundamentally of a technical nature, provided there is the requisite desire to establish such a zone under the right circumstances.

The one provision that is purely political in nature relates to the entry into force of the treaty. On this issue, there clearly is a wide range among positions in the region. States such as Egypt believe a zone can be established even now and that such a development would enhance security and limit the potential for damage if conflicts were to break out. Other Arab countries, although supportive of establishing a zone, are not ready to negotiate directly with Israel and prefer the creation of a zone through a multilateral, UN-based system. Israeli statements have argued that a zone can be established only after both peace and reconciliation occur among the Middle Eastern parties. Iran, while formally supportive of the creation of a zone, has been uncharacteristically silent during discussions of regional boundaries, that is, what countries constitute the Middle East, for purposes of the zone. The three depositaries of the NPT—Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which are the co-sponsors of the 1995 NPT resolution—have been inconsistent in their positions on the creation of a zone and have been lukewarm in their enthusiasm about taking concrete steps forward.

The 2010 NPT Review Conference was able to conclude successfully only because agreement ultimately was reached on the convening of a conference in 2012 to look at how to implement the 1995 NPT Middle East resolution. This achievement was possible only because of the Obama administration’s keen interest in emphasizing that its nuclear disarmament policies were different from the previous administration’s and this required a successful conclusion of the 2010 conference. Since then, however, little if anything has been done toward preparing for the 2012 Middle East conference.

As of this writing, the conference facilitator has not been appointed nor the venue for the event determined. This is quite astonishing and disturbing. A failure to hold the conference would diminish the credibility of the NPT as a whole. If the meeting takes place but the participants do not prepare properly, the gathering will turn into a rhetorical event with acerbic exchanges and heightened passions. Although assurances of success are impossible, best practices should have compelled the appointment of a facilitator early on, with a mandate to contact the parties on the substantive issues. This would have augured well for a serious discussion during the conference, which would be the beginning of a process of extended negotiations ultimately leading to the creation of a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

There remains little time before the projected date for the conference. Nevertheless, progress can be achieved if the conference focuses on concluding with three specific objectives:

• a clear-cut, unwavering, and unconditional reaffirmation by all participants of their support for the creation of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East;

• the adoption of a plan of action mapping out a negotiating process elaborating the substantive issues of geographical scope, scope of prohibition, verification system, and withdrawal, leaving the issue of entry into force as the last issue for discussion; and

• the adoption by the regional players of a series of interim measures toward the ultimate objective, for example, the prohibition of the production of weapons-grade material and possibly a timeline for the destruction of existing stockpiles of such material. This is of special relevance to Israel’s nuclear program because it is unsafeguarded and possibly Iran’s because of the repeated questions about that program. Unilateral adherence by the regional states to international agreements on the safety of nuclear materials also could be useful. All these measures would provide limited but significant reinforcement to the credibility of the commitment of the region’s states to pursue serious negotiations.

In recent months, the Arab Middle East has been witnessing significant new domestic trends that hopefully will evolve into more democratic systems of government responsive to the interests and priorities of its people. Like anywhere else in the world, change in the Middle East brings with it a level of uncertainty, and that will lead all states to revisit and review their security postures in light of new opportunities and challenges.

Some states may suggest that one should reduce ambitions for a 2012 conference or postpone it until these political changes in the region settle and can be evaluated. This is a disingenuous argument that is not worthy of serious consideration.

Although they occasionally have changed leaders, Arab Middle Eastern regimes have been essentially constant in their policies since the 1973 war. Why was this time not utilized? Furthermore, if practical steps had beeen taken toward the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, any risks emanating from Arab change actually would have been greatly reduced. The most important point, however, is frequently ignored: the most prominent and substantive nuclear programs in the Middle East do not exist in the Arab world but are in Israel in particular and also Iran. No changes are occurring in Israel although the protests taking place there as this article was being written might lead to some; if there are any in Iran, they are at a much slower pace than in the Arab world. The final point in this respect is that although the full face of change in the Arab world and in the Middle East remains undefined, it is consistently toward more open, democratic governance. The international community has been calling for this, partly from a human rights perspective but also because of the assumption that democratic regimes are more stable, more rational, and consequently better partners in the international community. Although Middle Eastern change is interesting and should be followed, it is not a reason to postpone serious measures toward creating a WMD-free zone in the Middle East and ensuring that the region is free of all weapons of mass destruction.



Nabil Fahmy is dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo and nonresident chair of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies’ Middle East Nonproliferation Project. From 1999 to 2008, he was the Egyptian ambassador to the United States.

Because it responds to asymmetries in regional capabilities, a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction is the only real, viable regional goal. Countries need to muster the political will to pursue that goal.

The Long Journey Toward A WMD-Free Middle East

Patricia Lewis and William C. Potter

One of the most sought-after prizes in international disarmament and nonproliferation diplomacy is a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In such a conflict-ridden area with a history of mistrust and animosity where chemical weapons were used in the past, the prospect of renewed WMD use is all too possible.[1] For these reasons, a WMD-free zone in the Middle East is not only an aspirational goal, but a matter of practical urgency.

The idea of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East is not a new one and, indeed, was proposed in April 1962 by a group of highly respected Israeli intellectuals, the Committee for the Denuclearization of the Middle East. In 1974, Egypt and Iran also embraced the concept as national policy and raised the issue in the UN General Assembly. Periodically since 1980, it has been possible to reach consensus on the resolution that international peace and security in the region would be enhanced greatly if all states in the Middle East agreed not to produce, test, acquire, or station nuclear weapons on their territories. Yet, notwithstanding the recurrent support for the measure at the General Assembly, until 1995, very little came to pass, ­leading many analysts and diplomats to question if all states in the region genuinely were interested in a zone free of nuclear weapons.

In 1990, at the initiative of Egypt, the concept of a Middle East zone was expanded to include all weapons of mass destruction. This more comprehensive approach, which was pursued in tandem with that of a nuclear-weapon-free zone, envisaged the possibility that a bargain could be struck in which Israel agreed to abandon, in a verifiable manner, its unacknowledged but widely assumed nuclear weapons capability while all states in the region agreed to give up or forgo any offensive chemical and biological weapons capabilities and join relevant global treaties and agreements such as the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention. Although this approach made sense theoretically, it thus far has failed to produce any tangible product. There had been some hope that the Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) talks[2] might lead to a negotiated zone of one form or another, but these talks collapsed in 1995, due in part to disagreements between Egypt and Israel over when and how to address the zone in the context of sequencing the steps in the wider peace process.

That year also marked the occasion of a month-long negotiation at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review and Extension Conference. A key component of a package that made possible the indefinite extension of the treaty was adoption of the Resolution on the Middle East, co-sponsored by Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. This resolution was carefully crafted and called on all states in the Middle East to “take practical steps in appropriate forums aimed at making progress towards, inter alia, the establishment of an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems, and to refrain from taking any measures that preclude the achievement of this objective.” The 1995 resolution also called on all NPT parties, and in particular the nuclear-weapon states, to “extend their cooperation and to exert their utmost efforts with a view to ensuring the early establishment by regional parties of a Middle East zone free of nuclear and all other weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.” From this point on, for all practical purposes the concepts of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East and a WMD-free zone in the region became conflated in NPT parlance.

Although it would have been impossible to have reached the decision to extend the NPT indefinitely without the 1995 resolution, no progress was made toward the implementation of the resolution until the 2010 NPT Review Conference. Indeed, Egypt’s frustration over the lack of headway in implementing the resolution and skepticism about the commitment to the resolution by its three nuclear-weapon-state sponsors contributed to the collapse of the 2005 NPT Review Conference. A desire to avoid repeating the experiences of 2005 was instrumental in inducing parties at the 2010 conference to forge consensus on several modest steps to begin the implementation of the 1995 resolution.

More specifically, the 2010 NPT Review Conference final document called on the UN secretary-general and the three co-sponsors of the 1995 resolution, in consultation with regional states, to convene a conference in 2012, to be attended by all states in the Middle East, “on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at by the states of the region, and with the full support and engagement of the nuclear-weapon states.”

In addition, the UN secretary-general, along with the three co-sponsors and in consultation with the states of the region, is charged with appointing a facilitator who will “have a mandate to support implementation of the 1995 Resolution by conducting consultations and undertaking preparations for the convening of the 2012 conference.” The facilitator is tasked with assisting “in implementing follow-on steps agreed at the 2012 conference” and “to report to the NPT 2015 Review Conference and its Preparatory Committee meetings.” In addition, the final document says that a “host government for the 2012 conference will also be designated.”

As with all successful negotiations, the final document from the 2010 conference required compromises by all key parties, including Egypt, Iran, and the United States.[3] Not surprisingly, Israel, which was not directly involved in the negotiations as it is not an NPT member, took exception to what was said and not said in the document. In particular, it objected to being named explicitly (albeit in the same mild fashion that was adopted at the 2000 NPT Review Conference) when there was no mention of India and Pakistan, the two other countries that never have joined the NPT. It also strongly objected to the failure of the document to take note of, much less condemn, Iran’s noncompliance with its NPT obligations, a step that would have been opposed by Iran and thus might have blocked consensus on the final ­document.

At the time of this writing, 14 months have passed since the 2010 NPT Review Conference, and neither a facilitator nor a host government for the 2012 Middle East conference has been appointed. During the summer of 2011, however, the three co-sponsors of the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East held a series of consultations with states from the region in their respective capitals, and the UN secretary-general and the co-sponsors also had consultations with states in New York. These recent developments have led some to anticipate that it may be possible to decide on a facilitator and host country before the end of the fall. Regrettably, background documentation for the conference has yet to begin, and at least one of the three sponsors of the 1995 Middle East resolution appears to have advised the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization not to proceed quickly in that direction. These delays are most unfortunate and do not augur well for the convening of a conference in 2012. They also tend to reinforce a form of “sophisticated cynicism” in which all efforts to roll back weapons programs are viewed as naive and hopeless. This outlook, in turn, leads to a sense of fatalism among many supporters of a zone. Such attitudes also have discouraged scholars from pursuing research on the issue and foundations from supporting serious efforts in pursuit of a zone.[4] Further complicating the process, at least in the short term, is the Arab Spring of 2011 and the accompanying political turmoil throughout the region, which clearly was not anticipated by the negotiators of the 2010 final document when they selected 2012 as the date for the conference.

The Larger Process

Nuclear-weapon-free zones predate the NPT and arguably represent one of the few disarmament and nonproliferation approaches that have shown considerable progress in recent years. The concept of such zones can be traced back to the mid-1950s, and its origin usually is associated with a Polish plan to make a portion of Central Europe nuclear-weapon free.[5] Although this regional initiative was never realized, in relatively short order a number of nuclear-weapon-free zones were negotiated. They included the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, and the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco among Latin American and Caribbean states—the first nuclear-­weapon-free zone that is a populated area. These zones, in turn, gave rise to those in the South Pacific (the 1985 Treaty of Rarotonga), Africa (the 1996 Treaty of Pelindaba), Southeast Asia (the 1995 Bangkok Treaty), and Central Asia (the 2006 Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty).[6] In addition to these treaties that remain in force, an agreement on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was negotiated in 1992, but was ­subsequently ­abrogated.

The NPT also foresaw the possibility that more states might choose to pursue regional arrangements to supplement their more global treaty commitments, and Article VII affirms “the right of any group of States to conclude regional treaties in order to assure the total absence of nuclear weapons in their respective territories.” Similarly, the 1995 NPT ­Review and Extension Conference Decision on Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament expressed the “conviction that the establishment of internationally recognized nuclear-weapon-free zones, on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at among the States of the region concerned, enhances global and regional peace and security,” a view that was reiterated at the 2000 and 2010 review conferences.

Nuclear-weapon-free zones historically have been viewed as effective means to perform a variety of disarmament and nonproliferation tasks. These include enabling states in a region to take the initiative to exclude nuclear weapons from their territories, to establish greater transparency and verification measures, to prevent nuclear weapons tests from being conducted in a region, to foster confidence among the countries of a region that neighbors are not engaged in nuclear weapons activities, to build and maintain nonproliferation norms, and to promote broader regional cooperation, including but not limited to the area of peaceful use of nuclear energy.[7] Although treaties in a number of regions have been successful in accomplishing these objectives, their full potential has not always been realized due to a number of barriers within and external to the region.[8]

Perhaps the most pronounced internal barrier is the presence of ongoing hostility and conflict among states within the region. Some observers have maintained that nuclear-weapon-free zones cannot be established in regions such as the Middle East and South Asia, which are characterized by enduring and bitter rivalries, including those of a nuclear nature. A possible counterexample, however, is the successful conclusion of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which covers a region that at the time of negotiation was ridden with conflict and included nuclear archrivals Argentina and Brazil. Although the intensity of conflict was much lower in Latin America than in the Middle East and South Asia and did not involve religious issues, a process of democratization in which governments abandoned military dictatorships might have been necessary before Argentina and Brazil were able to perceive significant common interests in forgoing their military nuclear aspirations and redirecting their resources to emphasize economic development and greater engagement in the international marketplace. Indeed, during the negotiation of the Pelindaba Treaty, several of the participating African states were embroiled in full-scale hostilities, but that did not prevent the conclusion of the continental nuclear-weapon-free zone. Other internal barriers to the creation of these zones that have been noted by some analysts include domestic instability among key regional states, the possession of nuclear weapons on the part of states in the prospective zone, and the absence of regional forums at which to initiate discussions leading to more formal negotiations on a zone.

One also can point to a variety of external barriers. They include the policies of nuclear-weapon states, which may discourage them from concluding legally binding protocols to provide negative security assurances, that is, pledges not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons, to some states in a region or to preclude the future possibility of deployment or transit of nuclear weapons in certain regions. In fact, although all five of the NPT-recognized nuclear-weapon states have formally endorsed the principle of nuclear-weapon-free zones, in practice, they rarely have found a zone that they like. As a result, even when they do not actively oppose the creation of a zone, they typically have been slow to conclude the relevant protocols.

Although not a barrier per se, the effectiveness of existing zones has been impeded at times by the tendency of some parties to zone treaties to act contrary to the treaty’s provisions. This phenomenon has been especially prevalent in recent years with respect to the issue of nuclear trade with countries lacking comprehensive safeguards or, in the case of the Central Asian treaty, the IAEA additional protocol.[9] Disregard for compliance with any provision of the treaty undermines the legitimacy of all provisions of the treaty.

Lessons From Existing Zones[10]

Although nuclear-weapon-free zones share some basic characteristics[11], each zone typically has a number of distinctive features. These features reflect circumstances and concerns specific to the region, as well as the time period during which the treaties were negotiated. The Tlatelolco treaty, for example, reflects a permissive attitude toward “peaceful nuclear explosives”; the Rarotonga treaty precludes nuclear testing and the dumping of radioactive waste at sea; the Korean denuclearization agreement includes the prohibition of uranium enrichment and plutonium separation; the Pelindaba treaty introduces the concept of a ban on attacks against nuclear installations, which already exists in a 1988 bilateral agreement between India and Pakistan; and the Central Asian treaty emphasizes the need for environmental remediation related to prior nuclear activities on the territory of member states and requires members to adhere to an additional protocol.[12] This evolutionary process, in which new zones typically add to and often improve on prior zones, suggests that notwithstanding major internal and external barriers, it may be possible to negotiate additional zones. Possible lessons to be derived from the experience of prior zones include:

Promote Greater Cooperation and Information Sharing. Members of nuclear-weapon-free zones would benefit if there were more regular interaction among zones, including the exchange of information and coordination regarding issues of mutual interest (e.g., verification and compliance, disaster preparedness, peaceful nuclear use, and the promotion of nuclear disarmament measures in international forums such as the NPT review process and the First Committee of the UN General Assembly). A step in this direction was the convening of the Second Conference of States Parties and Signatories to Treaties That Establish Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones and Mongolia at the United Nations immediately preceding the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

Si Vis Pacem, Para Pacem (If you want peace, prepare for peace). Most prior nuclear-weapon-free zones were regarded as quixotic at one time or another and were opposed by key states in the region or by one or more nuclear-weapon states. States in a region that are interested in the creation of a zone should persevere and take preliminary steps in what may be thought of as the prenegotiation phase of the development of a zone to begin to address many of the problems that will need to be solved if and when the political climate permits the initiation of actual negotiations.[13]

Utilize Regional Organizations If Present. Prior to the start of formal negotiations, one should exploit the presence of existing regional organizations as a forum for discussions of the scope and content of a zone. In the absence of an existing regional forum, a group of interested states in the region or conceivably an expert group convened under the auspices of the United Nations may be able to begin a dialogue to advance the deliberative process. The UN Department of Disarmament Affairs, with technical support from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies and financial assistance from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for example, convened a multiyear group of experts from Central Asia to facilitate the negotiation of the Central Asian treaty.

Treat Domestic and International Political Change as Opportunities. Major internal and external political changes often provide catalysts or triggers that can be used to promote policy innovation, including the pursuit of nuclear-weapon-free zones. This phenomenon was present in Argentina and Brazil with the demise of military governments and a reorientation to internationalizing the countries’ economies beginning in 1967 and can be associated with the increased international opposition to French nuclear testing in the Pacific in the 1980s and the demise of apartheid in South Africa in the early 1990s. In principle, the tumultuous events in the Middle East in 2011 may also provide opportunities for new thinking about regional cooperation, although the uncertainty they generate also may reinforce caution on the part of some states.

Do Not Wait for Holdout States. As Michael Hamel-Green urges, “[T]he existence of holdout states within a region should not delay efforts by other regional states to pursue discussions and dialogue on [nuclear-weapon-free zone] and [WMD-free zone] concepts in regional, international and other forums.”[14] The Tlatelolco treaty is a particularly good case in point and was constructed in a creative fashion that enabled the treaty to enter into force for many countries in Latin America, even as others delayed for many years.

Promote Greater Engagement by Civil Society. To date, civil society has been much less effective in instigating headway on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation issues than in the sphere of conventional arms such as landmines, small arms and light weapons, and cluster munitions. In principle, however, this need not remain the case, and there is an important role for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to play in conducting research and providing innovative but practical policy recommendations to national governments in the sphere of nuclear-weapon-free zones.

Moving Forward

Probably the most significant driver for the WMD-free zone in the Middle East is the growing awareness that a conflict in the region could involve the use of nuclear weapons. Although not a new consideration, it has gained increased currency due to nuclear brinkmanship by Iran, the perception that Israel’s powerful allies accept its nuclear weapons as a permanent feature of the Middle Eastern terrain, increased interest in and access to civil nuclear technology by other states in the region, and occasional, veiled threats by Saudi Arabia and other Arab states that should Iran develop nuclear weapons, it would not long remain the only nuclear weapons newcomer to the region. These developments may not in themselves represent the preconditions for negotiation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone, but they should prompt a radical rethinking of nuclear policy in the Middle East.

Although the potential for a deal on weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East certainly exists, it is unclear what form that deal could take. Although more relevant research on the topic has been done than is generally realized, it remains the case that this information is not widely known, and more serious work is required. In particular, there is a need for studies that take account of the experience of other regional arms control processes such as the extant nuclear-weapon-free zones and the Helsinki Process, which attempted to improve relations during the Cold War between the East and West. More research also is needed regarding the specific characteristics of the Middle East, including recent developments, for the purpose of delineating the content and possible scope of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East and the modalities for deliberations on these in advance of formal negotiations. It is likely that a future zone will need to include many of the following elements:

• prohibitions consistent with the NPT, such as Articles II and III, which prescribe obligations to be undertaken by nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states with respect to the transfer of nuclear weapons and fissionable material and the acceptance of IAEA safeguards.

• prohibition of the stationing of any nuclear explosive device on the territory of the parties to the treaty.

• prohibition of nuclear explosive testing in the territories of the parties and of participation in such tests by any state anywhere.

• prohibition of the dumping of radioactive waste in the territorial sea, land, rivers, or inland waters covered by the zone.

• declaration of any existing nuclear weapons capabilities, be they intact weapons or their component parts, prior to the entry into force of the treaty.

• dismantlement and destruction of existing nuclear weapons capabilities, facilities, and devices under international verification mechanisms.

• prohibition of armed attack on civil nuclear facilities in the Middle East.

• declaration of all nuclear facilities and their placement under IAEA safeguards.

• conclusion by parties of a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA, as well as an additional protocol.

• regional means of verification and monitoring compliance.

Confidence in the ability to verify the provisions of the zone will be a major requirement for its successful negotiation and implementation. Verification and compliance measures could be carried out by a new standing institution, by existing international verification instruments with added reporting requirements, or by a combination of the two approaches. Yet, the most unique and contentious aspect of a nuclear-weapon-free zone for the Middle East is that of declaring past and present nuclear weapons capabilities and then ­dismantling them.

Transparency in military nuclear capabilities is conspicuous by its absence in the region. There never has been a formal clarification of Israel’s nuclear status[15]; Iran and Syria have been found in noncompliance with their safeguards obligations at the IAEA, and the issue of their undeclared nuclear activities has been referred to the UN Security Council. If states do begin to negotiate a nuclear-weapon-free zone, at the very least there has to be a mechanism for enhancing transparency. One approach would be a declaration of intent to declare past programs. Such a declaration would be timed to immediately precede entry into force. Borrowing from the South African experience, prior to entry into force one might arrange for the dismantlement of military capabilities under the supervision of a team of international inspectors.

The Role of the Conference

As of mid-2011, it is impossible to anticipate with any confidence if or when the NPT-mandated conference on the Middle East will be convened or what it realistically could be expected to accomplish if it actually took place. That being said, one can anticipate a number of developments.

1. Regardless of when or where the conference is held, a great deal of work will need to be done in advance of the meeting if it is to yield any substantively meaningful deliberations and kick off a follow-on process. A necessary first step is to appoint a facilitator, who must have the time and the authority to undertake consultations in preparation for the conference on issues such as working methods for the conference, decision-making procedures, the agenda, participants, and substance. It is of the utmost importance to agree on and name the facilitator as soon as possible so that the groundwork can be laid.

2. Whenever the conference is held, there will be a need for background documentation, and it is desirable for international organizations to begin now to prepare such material. Experts at international organizations, in NGOs, and in academia also can play a useful role in identifying means to overcome differences among the prospective members of the zone, as well as charting alternative proposals for elements of the zone, including its scope and verification measures, the basic obligations of member states, and the sequence by which commitments would be fulfilled.

3. Ultimately, it may prove infeasible to convene the conference before the end of 2012. If a facilitator is appointed and that individual’s consultations make clear that there is a desire among the preponderance of relevant parties to postpone the conference, it could be rescheduled for 2013. However, any such decision would have to be communicated very carefully. The arguments for delay need to be weighed judiciously against the costs of postponement, which include potential damage to the NPT review process, especially in light of the critical role played by the Middle East recommendations in the negotiation of a successful outcome of the 2010 review conference. A number of delegations sought stronger disarmament provisions in the final document, but accepted the negotiated action plan in deference to Egypt (the chair of the Nonaligned Movement). Postponement of the conference is apt to be interpreted by some of these states as evidence of bad faith by Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States and may well lead to the unraveling of the document, in particular those provisions related to nuclear disarmament.

Many arguments have been advanced in support of a postponement of the 2012 conference. Some of them are serious, most are self-serving, and many are simply repackaged objections from the past that seek to take account of the rapidly changing dynamics in the region. They have in common a fear of the unknown, a skepticism that things can change for the better peacefully, and a view that it is naive to negotiate meaningful disarmament and nonproliferation measures in a region where conflict has long been the norm. These naysayers may prove to be correct, but it is certain that the Middle East will not be free of weapons of mass destruction until a serious and concerted effort is begun. Small, halting steps forward were taken in 2010 in the form of consensus recommendations to convene a conference in 2012. Failure to honor that mandate would squander an ­opportunity that may not reappear.

Patricia Lewis is deputy director of and a scientist-in-residence at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. William C. Potter is the Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar Professor of Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute and director of the CNS.


1. Chemical weapons were used in the 1980s by Iraq in the Anfal campaign against the Kurds and in the Iran-Iraq War.

2. See, for example, Alison Kelly, “NPT: Back on Track,” Arms Control Today, July/August 2010; William Potter et al., “The 2010 NPT Review Conference: Deconstructing Consensus,” James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), June 17, 2010, http://cns.miis.edu/­stories/pdfs/100617_npt_2010_summary.pdf.

3. The Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) effort was one of five region-wide ­working groups associated with the Madrid peace process that was active from 1992 to 1995. For a discussion of ACRS, see, for example, Emily B. Landau, “ACRS: What Worked, What Didn’t, and What Could Be Relevant for the Region Today,” Disarmament Forum, No. 2 (2008), pp. 1–20; Peter Jones, “Arms Control in the Middle East: Some Reflections on ACRS,” Security Dialogue, Vol. 28, No. 1 (1997).

4. This situation bears some resemblance to the state of affairs in the late 1980s and early 1990s with regard to the pursuit of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

5. The so-called Rapacki Plan, named after Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rapacki, came on the heels of a Soviet proposal at the United Nations in 1956 to limit nuclear arms on a regional basis. For a discussion of the evolution of the zone concept, see Jan Prawitz and James Leonard, A Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East (Geneva: UNIDIR, 1996), pp. 1–6. This publication remains a very valuable resource for current discussions of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East and contains many of the ideas that have been rediscovered by more recent studies.

6. The dates in parentheses refer to the signing of the treaties, not their entry into force. For a synopsis of the current status of nuclear-weapon-free zones, see Arms Control Association, “Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones (NWFZ) at a Glance,” www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/nwfz. For a more extended analysis, see CNS, “Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone (NWFZ) Clearinghouse,” http://cns.miis.edu/nwfz_clearinghouse.

7. Scott Parrish and Jean du Preez, “Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones: Still a Useful Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Tool?” Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, 2006.

8. For an extended discussion of these barriers, see Michael Hamel-Green, Regional Initiatives on Nuclear- and WMD-Free Zones: Cooperative Approaches to Arms Control and Non-proliferation (Geneva: UNIDIR, 2005), pp. 25–27.

9. The Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty is unambiguous about precluding nuclear trade with countries that do not have an additional protocol in place, but this provision appears to have been ignored when it comes to nuclear trade negotiations with India.

10. See Hamel-Green, Regional Initiatives on Nuclear- and WMD-Free Zones, pp. 27–32; CNS, “Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone (NWFZ) Clearinghouse,” sec. 10.

11. The common characteristics of nuclear-weapon-free zones are identified in a 1999 UN Disarmament Commission report, which also specifies guidelines for their creation. See UN General Assembly, “Report of the Disarmament Commission,” A/54/42, 1999, annex 1 (“Establishment of Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones on the Basis of Arrangements Freely Arrived at Among the States of the Region Concerned”), www.un.org/disarmament/HomePage/DisarmamentCommission/UNDiscom.shtml.

12. A number of these features are noted in the discussion by Prawitz and Leonard of the evolving nature of nuclear-weapon-free zones. Prawitz and Leonard, A Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East, pp. 30–31.

13. Ibid., pp. 76–78.

14. Hamel-Green, Regional Initiatives on Nuclear- and WMD-Free Zones, p. 35.

15. Avner Cohen, The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain With the Bomb (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010).

Last year, countries made notable, though tentative, progress toward restarting the effort to rid the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction. If they prove unable to convene their promised conference, they will have squandered an opportunity that may not reappear.

Run-Up to Mideast Meeting Shows Fissures

Daniel Horner

Efforts to decide on the facilitator and host country for a planned 2012 conference on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East are hampered by disagreements not only over the individual person and country for those roles, but also over fundamental points of the process for making the choices, interviews with participants in the ­process indicate.

Nevertheless, some of the interviewees, who represent key countries in the talks, said it still was possible that the decisions could be made before the end of the year and that the conference could take place as scheduled in 2012.

The commitment to hold the 2012 conference was a critical piece of the negotiations that produced the final document of the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. (See ACT, June 2010.) In that document, the parties reaffirmed their commitment to “a full implementation” of the resolution on a WMD-free zone in the Middle East that, in turn, was central to the agreement at the 1995 review conference to make the NPT permanent.

Several states in the Middle East have declined to join the NPT, the Biological Weapons Convention, or the Chemical Weapons Convention or are believed to have weapons of mass destruction or be pursuing WMD capabilities.

There has been little visible progress on the 2012 meeting since the May 2010 NPT conference. Many participants in the process had hoped that a July 6–7 seminar in Brussels, attended by government officials and representatives of nongovernmental organizations, would spur action toward a decision on the host and facilitator. Although the seminar did conclude with an announcement of three candidate countries to host the 2012 conference, some of the current and former officials interviewed—many of whom attended the closed-door seminar—said they had hoped for more.

According to the officials, Russian diplomat Mikhail Ulyanov announced that the three candidates were Canada, Finland, and the Netherlands. Ulyanov was speaking on behalf of his country, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the three countries that co-sponsored the 1995 resolution and that, along with the UN secretary-general, are the designated conveners of the 2012 conference.

In an Aug. 5 interview, a U.S. Department of State official said the announcement had not been planned before the meeting, but that the three countries had decided to make one to counter a widespread impression that they were not working vigorously to make the 2012 conference happen. The official also said that “just because it’s not in public doesn’t mean a lot hasn’t been going on.”

However, a European diplomat said in an Aug. 18 interview that Ulyanov’s announcement “made everything worse” because it showed how little had been accomplished in the year since the NPT review conference.

Several of the officials questioned the viability of two of the candidates. In an Aug. 19 interview, Egyptian Ambassador to the United Nations Maged Abdelaziz, who attended the Brussels meeting, said the United States had proposed Canada as a host during the 2010 NPT conference, but Arab countries did not support that choice. He said the Arab countries also had reservations about the Netherlands, in part because it is a member of NATO (as is Canada) and in part because of its views and the views of the proposed Dutch facilitator on the Middle East and on the proposed conference. Abdelaziz indicated that Finland was more acceptable although he said the proposed Finnish facilitator did not have the political rank that the position would require.

He also said Austria, which at one point was under consideration, would be ­acceptable to the Arab Group.

The European diplomat offered a similar assessment of the prospects for Canada, Finland, and the Netherlands.

An official from a Persian Gulf state also said there has been “no objection so far to Finland’s offer” and that Canada does not have “strong credibility on this issue” because of its ongoing position on Israel’s nuclear program in UN forums. However, in an Aug. 17 interview, he argued that the venue is less important than the facilitator.  According to the State Department official, the three co-sponsors believe that the facilitator should come from the host country because the facilitator would have the “diplomatic resources [of the host country] to tap into.”

Referring to the decisions on the host and facilitator, the Gulf state official said, “I don’t think there is a condition that they should be linked.” As he and Abdelaziz noted, the 2010 NPT Review Conference final document lists the decisions as two separate steps. There is “nothing in the review document that says this is a package,” Abdelaziz said.

“We want a shift of direction,” with priority placed on the naming of a facilitator, he said. The facilitator must meet certain criteria established by the Arab Group and conveyed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the co-sponsors, he said. The person must not be from one of the five NPT nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), an Arab country, Iran, or Israel; must be at least at a “ministerial level”; and must be acceptable to everyone, particularly Iran and Israel, he said.

NPT Issues

Some of the officials stressed the importance for the NPT regime of progress on the Middle Eastern WMD-free zone. Because of the lack of progress since 1995 on the issue, the countries of the region felt “betrayed,” the Gulf state official said. For that reason, he said, some countries from the region and the Nonaligned Movement did not want to tighten the terms for withdrawal from the NPT, a topic that was discussed at some length at the 2010 review conference.

The next review conference is to take place in 2015, with three annual preparatory meetings, starting next May.

The European diplomat said it would be a problem “for formal reasons” if the process still was seen as stalled at the time of the 2012 preparatory meeting. Otherwise, the meeting will be ­“hijacked,” he said.

If the host and facilitator are named in September or October, the conference conceivably could be held in March or April; but that is “rather unlikely,” he said. However, he said, if the arrangements for the Mideast conference were put in place before the May NPT preparatory meeting, it “would not be easy to complain.” In comments similar to those of several other participants and observers, he said, “The Arab Spring does not help speed the process.”

The Gulf state official laid out a similar timetable, saying he “can’t imagine” the conference taking place before May or June. If there is no agreement roughly by November on the host and facilitator, then that timetable probably would be impossible, he said. Asked if holding the conference in 2012 was feasible, he said that although “many things [are] happening,” the “objective [of holding the conference next year] should not be undermined.”

The conference should take place in 2012, but participants “should be realistic” about what to expect, the Gulf state official said. The 2012 meeting should not “be the end” of the effort, he said.

Overall, failing to convene the conference is “more risky than having it” because abandoning plans to hold it “would kill prospects for [the Middle Eastern WMD-free zone] from the beginning,” with potentially severe implications for the NPT regime, he said.

The link to the NPT raises a different set of issues for Israel, which is not a party to the NPT and was not directly involved in the negotiations leading to the 1995 and 2010 NPT conference final documents. Nevertheless, in an Aug. 18 interview, a former Israeli official said he would not “reject…out of hand” the idea that it would be beneficial for Israel to attend the conference.

However, the former official said, the terms of reference would have to be “drafted in the spirit and letter” of the statements by President Barack Obama and national security adviser Gen. James Jones immediately after the NPT review conference. Otherwise, it will be difficult for Israel, which is “suspicious to begin with, to consider attending the [2012] conference,” the former official said.

In his May 28, 2010, statement on the NPT review conference and the WMD-free zone, Obama said, “The United States has long supported such a zone, although our view is that a comprehensive and durable peace in the region and full compliance by all regional states with their arms control and nonproliferation obligations are essential precursors for its establishment.” Jones, in his statement the same day, provided some additional detail on the zone and the conference, saying in part that “[t]he United States will insist that this be a conference for discussion aimed at an exchange of views on a broad agenda, to include regional security issues, verification and compliance, and all categories of weapons of mass destruction and systems for their delivery.”

The 2010 NPT conference final document specifies that the 2012 conference “shall take as its terms of reference the 1995 Resolution [on the Middle East].”

U.S. Attitude

In some statements this year, U.S. officials have suggested that the Arab Spring could push the meeting beyond 2012. In an April 7 interview with Arms Control Today, White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Gary Samore said that since the 2010 NPT conference, “there have been some extraordinarily dramatic changes in the region; and whether or not we can still make that 2012 meeting is, I think, much less clear. We have to continue to make an effort.” Samore was scheduled to address the Brussels meeting but canceled, citing a last-minute scheduling conflict.

The former Israeli official said his impression is that the White House “has other issues to deal with” and sees this one as “a pain in the neck.” If the United States had felt “a stronger interest or concern,” it would have pushed “in a more persuasive manner” for an agreement on the host and facilitator, he said. The European diplomat said the United States and the other co-sponsors could have been much more active than they were at the Brussels seminar.

In the Aug. 5 interview, the State Department official disputed the idea that his government was not committed to the meeting or the 2012 timetable. “We think this can happen and should happen in 2012…. [E]verything we are doing is based on the assumption” that it will take place on that schedule, he said. If the countries of the region wanted to push back the meeting date, the United States would not stand in their way, but the date “won’t slip to 2013 based on anything we’re doing or not doing,” he said.

He said he expected an announcement of the host and facilitator in “the next month or two.”

Abdelaziz said in the Aug. 19 interview that “things [were] starting to move more” after the Brussels meeting. Egypt and other Arab League countries have met since then with Ban, who remains in close consultation with the co-sponsors, he said.

The Arab countries are “working hard to have this conference,” he said. They do not “want to corner anybody substantively or procedurally,” but “we don’t want to be cornered,” he said.

The countries preparing for a planned 2012 conference on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East are facing disagreements on several key points.

Israel Passes Landmine Removal Bill

Farrah Zughni

The Israeli Knesset last month approved a bill paving the way for the removal of “non-operational” anti-personnel landmines in Israel through the establishment of a national mine action authority.

The March 14 vote was 43 to 0.

The Minefield Clearance Act, which marks Israel’s first effort to address landmine contamination at the national level, limits demining to areas deemed “not essential to national security” by the authority. The exact number of deployed landmines is not known, but at least 33 square kilometers are believed to be affected, according to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, a nonprofit publication considered the authoritative source on landmines, cluster munitions, and other explosive remnants of war.

The legislation makes no mention of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, the most comprehensive international agreement pertaining to landmines. Israel is not a party to that pact. Unlike the Mine Ban Treaty, the act does not address the manufacture, trade, stockpiling, or future deployment of landmines.

Israel is party to another key international agreement—the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and its amended Protocol II, which regulates but does not prohibit landmine use. Israel declared a moratorium on the sale, transfer, and export of all anti-personnel mines in 1994 and has renewed the moratorium every three years since then. The size of the country’s landmine stockpile is not known.

The act’s passage took place one year after a mine detonation in the Golan Heights resulted in injuries to two Israeli children. One of them, Daniel Yuval, who was 11 years old at the time, underwent a leg amputation as a result. Yuval’s story and subsequent campaign efforts made headlines across Israel and beyond and are widely credited for the legislation’s ultimate success.


The Israeli Knesset last month approved a bill paving the way for the removal of “non-operational” anti-personnel landmines in Israel through the establishment of a national mine action authority.

Unrest Complicates 2012 Middle East Meeting

Anne Penketh

The upheavals sweeping across the Middle East have cast a long shadow over diplomatic negotiations aimed at organizing a conference on establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in that region, according to officials involved in the process.

“We are absolutely committed” to the conference, said President Barack Obama’s WMD coordinator, Gary Samore, in a Feb. 16 telephone interview. “But there’s a lot of uncertainty because of the unrest in the Middle East.” In other interviews in recent weeks, officials from other countries also voiced some concern about the possible impact of the turmoil that has engulfed several of the core states that would be expected to attend the conference. The forum, to be attended by “all states” of the region, is supposed to be convened next year under a consensus decision by the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. (See ACT, June 2010).

The Egyptian revolution that exploded in January came at a critical phase in the preparations for holding the unprecedented regional conference, which would be notable for bringing Israel and Iran to the table for discussions on security and disarmament issues. Israel is the region’s sole presumed nuclear-weapon state, but remains outside the NPT, while Iran’s uranium-enrichment program, which continues in defiance of the UN Security Council, has raised suspicions about Iranian intentions. “To guarantee success, Israelis and Iranians must be there,” said Mohamed Shaker, the president of the 1985 NPT Review Conference in a Jan. 31 interview in Cairo.

Until now, there has been no obvious progress toward convening the 2012 forum. No facilitator has been appointed, and there is no agreement on which states should attend or on a date and venue for the conference, let alone on the agenda. Yet, diplomats and officials taking the lead in the organizational process—from Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the UN secretary-general’s office—remain committed to implementing the review conference decision on holding the 2012 conference. They say consultations are now under way in earnest. An EU seminar is scheduled to be held this summer as part of the preparations for the conference mandated by the 189 states-parties at the review conference, according to EU diplomats.

Samore said the co-sponsors hope to reach agreement “before the summer” with the regional players on a host government for the event and on a facilitator, who may come from the same country.

But he cautioned that there is no guarantee that the conference will be held. “We have to try to make it happen,” he said. Referring to the Middle East turmoil, he added, “We don’t know what effect it will have on foreign policy, and governments may be distracted.”

Signs of Impatience

In the region, there are signs of impatience with the conveners. Arab diplomats said they had hoped that the Arab League summit in Baghdad at the end of March would be able to endorse the choice of facilitator, with a view to holding the conference itself before May 2012. “This is a major concern for us, that nothing has moved. There’s no facilitator and no site for the conference,” said Maged Abdelaziz, Egypt’s UN ambassador, who led the diplomatic push on the WMD-free zone at the NPT review conference last May. Establishing such a zone has been a primary goal of Egyptian diplomacy for decades. At the 1995 NPT review conference, the Arab Group successfully pushed for the adoption of a resolution on establishing a WMD-free zone in return for agreeing to the indefinite extension of the NPT.

Shaker, who is now the chairman of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, said it would be a shame if the Nile revolution affected the 2012 process. “Even with Egypt in chaos, we cannot lose sight of this issue which is so important for peace in the Middle East,” he said, speaking in his office on the seventh day of the 18-day Egyptian uprising.

There has been uncertainty about the Israeli government’s intentions regarding the 2012 conference. In the past, Israel has joined the other states in the UN General Assembly in officially endorsing the concept of a WMD-free zone as an ultimate goal. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angrily reacted to the review conference final document, which reaffirmed the importance of Israel joining the NPT and placing “all its nuclear facilities” under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Netanyahu warned that Israel would not attend. The Israeli government statement responding to the conference outcome said, “The real problem with WMDs in the Middle East does not relate to Israel but to those countries that have signed the NPT and brazenly violated it: Iraq under Saddam, Libya, Syria and Iran.”

Since then, Israel has begun to show signs of a greater willingness to engage, although officials still refrain from expressing open support for the conference. Israeli and U.S. officials also have made it clear that Israel cannot be expected to attend if the forum is used as an opportunity for “Israel bashing” by the Arab states and Iran.

Israel is examining [the conference]; we’re talking to the Americans,” Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said in a Feb. 8 interview on the sidelines of the annual Herzliya security conference near Tel Aviv. Meridor is the minister for intelligence and atomic energy in the Israeli cabinet. He also conducted a two-year strategic study on Israel’s policy of nuclear opacity, a policy that Israeli officials continue to believe has served the country well. Under a 1969 agreement between Prime Minister Golda Meir and U.S. President Richard Nixon, Israel has pursued a nuclear “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that continues with U.S. support to this day. Meanwhile, public discussion of Israel’s presumed nuclear weapons arsenal remains generally taboo. An off-the-record workshop at the Herzliya conference, entitled “Going to Zero? Global and Regional Nuclear and WMD Disarmament Initiatives,” paid only scant attention to the 2012 conference.

Inside and outside government circles in Israel, there is a range of opinion about the conference from conditional support to downright skepticism. One source said that “the only people interested in this are the Washington think tanks.”

Expressing a view held by some Israeli analysts, Emily Landau, senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said she would support a conference agenda reviving regional security talks such as those put in place by the 1991 Madrid conference, known as ACRS (arms control and regional security). From 1992 until its collapse in 1996, the multilateral working group, which included 14 Middle Eastern parties, focused on confidence-building measures and regional security issues. But Landau stressed that the 2012 conference “can only work with strong U.S. leadership.”

The final document from last year’s NPT review conference endorsed a series of “practical steps,” providing for the 2012 conference “on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction.” It called on the UN secretary-general and the United States, United Kingdom, and Russia—the co-sponsor states of the 1995 resolution—to consult with the region on specific preparatory steps.

However, the language of the review conference document was sufficiently ambiguous to allow for different interpretations, or “misinterpretations,” as one diplomat put it. There seems to be general agreement that 2012 would not be a “negotiating” conference but a forum for “discussions” and that criteria for the facilitator as established subsequently by the Arab Group should be respected. The facilitator should have a profile of former foreign minister or more senior status to give him or her diplomatic clout, must be acceptable to Israel and Iran, and be neutral. He or she should not be from an Arab state or Israel, nor from one of the five countries—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—recognized by the NPT as nuclear-weapon states.

Differing Visions

But there remains a fundamental gap between the Arab Group’s vision, which sees the conference as an opportunity to pressure Israel to give up its undeclared nuclear arsenal, and that of the United States and other co-sponsors, which want to isolate Iran and will insist on full NPT compliance. For the Arab states, the conference would finally address their long-standing grievance about what they call the double standards of the United States, which shields Israel.

Samore predicted “one battle after another,” beginning with the discussions on a facilitator and host government and continuing with the agenda, as the conveners pursue their consultations. The agenda is expected to address regional adherence to treaties including the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), as well as delivery systems.

“We see it as a give-and-take process,” said Abdelaziz. “At the same time that Israel will join the NPT, we will join the BWC and CWC,” he said. “It’s a parallel process requiring progress on all three fronts.” Neither Egypt—the first Middle Eastern country to acquire chemical weapons—nor Syria has signed or ratified the CWC. Both countries have signed but not ratified the BWC.

Obama defined his agenda priorities last July at a White House meeting with Netanyahu. “The United States will insist that such a conference will be for discussion aimed at an exchange of views on a broad agenda, to include regional security issues, verification and compliance, and all categories of weapons of mass destruction and systems for their delivery,” said a White House summary of their meeting.

Behind the discussions on convening the conference lie the politics driving Middle East hegemony and regional rivalries, which lay behind the collapse of ACRS in 1996 and will be the key factors when states consider their role in the 2012 conference. Will the next Egyptian government continue to champion the WMD-free zone? Will Iran, which was the first to call for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East in 1974, continue to see an interest in attending in the light of its own progress in uranium enrichment, which it insists is for peaceful purposes? Will Israel see the benefits of a security dialogue with its hostile neighbors or throw up roadblocks by citing concerns about conventional weapons and the peace process?

“It’s a good opportunity for Israel to start getting rid of its nuclear weapons, and for Iran not to get nuclear weapons, and for the Arabs to join the chemical and biological conventions,” Abdelaziz said.

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.

Anne Penketh is Washington program director of the British American Security Information Council. She recently returned from a two-week trip to the Middle East where she discussed prospects for the 2012 conference with officials and nongovernmental representatives.


The recent uprisings in the Middle East have clouded the picture for a planned 2012 conference on establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, officials from key countries said.

U.S. Consulting on Middle East Meeting

Alfred Nurja

U.S. consultations with Russia, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and other key parties to identify a facilitator and a host country for the planned 2012 conference on establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East are under way, a Department of State official said in a Nov. 17 interview.

“Since the facilitator must have the trust of all the countries in the region, including Israel, and the international clout to bring all parties together, the selection is an important issue that is being carefully considered,” he said. “There is no timeline at this point,” he added.

The 2012 conference was one of the key steps endorsed by the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May. (See ACT, June 2010.) It marked the first time that NPT parties had been able to adopt concrete measures on implementing a 1995 resolution on the subject.

Another U.S. official, Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation Susan Burk, said the 2012 conference “must draw the mandate from the region and operate by consensus of all countries concerned.” Burk, the Obama administration’s lead official at the NPT review conference, made the comments on the sidelines of a Nov. 18 forum in Washington.

In a Nov. 11 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Sameh Aboul-Enein, Egypt’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom, said that “Egypt intends to engage constructively with all concerned parties to implement the practical steps adopted.” Aboul-Enein, who was part of the Egyptian delegation at the review conference, added that “the road ahead is not easy but it’s the only way forward.”

Burk and Aboul-Enein attended an Oct. 25 conference organized by the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies on the Middle East WMD-free zone.

It remains unclear what the agenda items of the proposed 2012 conference will be, but according to a U.S. statement at the UN General Assembly First Committee in October, “[H]olding this conference will also require agreement to discuss a broad agenda, to include regional security issues, verification and compliance, and all categories of weapons of mass destruction.” The United States already has begun to work with others to advance this agenda, the statement added.

The statement came after the United States voted against an Arab League draft resolution on “The Risk of Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East,” which focused on Israel.

Israel, which has said that it supports the long-term vision of a WMD-free zone in the region, has conditioned forward movement on that objective with the existence of durable peace in the region and other states’ compliance with arms control and nonproliferation obligations. “[T]he basic prerequisites for reaching that vision do not exist,” Eyal Propper, director of the Arms Control Department at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the First Committee this October.

The 2012 “conference cannot be an event used to ramp up pressure on Israel,” the State Department official said.




IAEA Vote to Press Israel Falls Short

Alfred Nurja and Peter Crail

The members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Sept. 24 narrowly voted down a resolution expressing concern over Israeli nuclear capabilities and calling on the country to join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

The resolution, which was offered by the Arab Group, came to the floor on the last day of the week-long meeting of the IAEA General Conference in Vienna. The 51-46 vote against the resolution, with 54 abstentions or absences, marks a shift from last year, when a similar resolution passed by a vote of 49-46.

For nearly 20 years, Arab states have sponsored resolutions targeting Israel’s nuclear policy and calling on it to join the NPT. Last year’s vote was the first to succeed. The votes split primarily between Western countries and members of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM), a bloc representing 118 developing nations.

The General Conference is the agency’s highest decision-making body, comprising all 151 IAEA members.

The United States lobbied extensively against the motion, saying that it risked undermining ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as well as prospects for a 2012 conference on the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East. In a statement welcoming the outcome of the vote, Glyn Davies, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, said that “rejection of the resolution has not created winners and losers, but instead preserved the opportunity for progress” on those two objectives.

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference in May, the parties to the treaty endorsed steps toward establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, including convening a conference of states in the region in 2012. Those steps are intended to advance a 1995 resolution calling for a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. That resolution was key to securing Arab consensus on extending the NPT indefinitely.

Prior to the vote, the United States sought to persuade sponsors of the resolution to withdraw it for consideration this year and agree to a one-year moratorium on the issue. “Regrettably, there was no positive response to this proposal,” Davies told the conference.

The U.S. position was echoed by the European Union. In a letter sent to IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said that the resolution’s “non-consensual approach” would not help the 2012 agenda.

Speaking at a press conference in New York Sept. 24, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said he regretted the outcome of the vote and warned of a regional arms race if Israel maintained nuclear weapons. “It is inconceivable that only one country [in the region] will have nuclear weapons,” he said, adding that “the Middle East should be free of all weapons of mass destruction.”

In a statement to the IAEA conference before the vote, Israel Atomic Energy Commission Director-General Shaul Chorev accused the resolution’s sponsors of seeking to divert attention from Iran and Syria, “the real cases of dangerous proliferation and non-compliance” in the Middle East. An approach that singles out Israel “defeats the prospects for the advancement of arms control measures in the Middle East region,” he said.

Israel, which is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, has tied any decision to sign the NPT to progress on a comprehensive peace agreement in the region. Arab countries say that Israel’s suspected nuclear arsenal is a major hurdle to any peace negotiations. Israel’s position is not to confirm or deny having nuclear weapons. Accession to the treaty as a non-nuclear-weapon state would require Israel to abandon its ambiguous nuclear policy and place all nuclear facilities under IAEA monitoring.

Last year’s resolution required the IAEA director-general to report on progress in securing Israel’s accession to the NPT and in safeguarding all of its nuclear facilities. Amano’s Sept. 3 report said that Israel’s “nuclear material, facilities or other items to which safeguards had been applied remained in peaceful activities” but that the agency “is not in a position” to determine the extent of Israel’s unsafeguarded nuclear activities. In a Sept. 16 statement, the Arab League criticized the report, saying that it was “devoid of any substance and not up to the typical level of the Agency’s reporting.”


The members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Sept. 24 narrowly voted down a resolution expressing concern over Israeli nuclear capabilities and calling on the country to join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

The resolution, which was offered by the Arab Group, came to the floor on the last day of the week-long meeting of the IAEA General Conference in Vienna. The 51-46 vote against the resolution, with 54 abstentions or absences, marks a shift from last year, when a similar resolution passed by a vote of 49-46.

Israel and Multilateral Nuclear Approaches in the Middle East

Thomas Lorenz and Joanna Kidd

As most states in the Middle East have expressed an interest in or are already developing nuclear power, regional cooperation can be an important tool to build nuclear confidence and allay proliferation concerns. This article will investigate how Israel could fit into a nuclear energy development paradigm consisting of regional approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle.

In addition, it will argue that early progress in collaborative efforts can help to create momentum for the envisioned 2012 conference on developing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East.

Countries in the Middle East have cited a range of reasons for their resurgent or new interest in developing nuclear power, including the need to diversify energy sources and to meet increasing electricity demands. There are concerns that the interest is driven at least partly by Iran’s nuclear advances and suspicions that it may have a military dimension. Although nuclear power advancement in the Middle East can be viewed a priori with concern from a proliferation perspective, it could offer an opportunity for a net nonproliferation gain if technological development progresses down the right path of transparency and collaboration. The equation is straightforward. If these budding programs in the Middle East develop as completely separate national programs, mistrust is bound to increase. If they develop more in parallel with each other—with collaboration on such elements as information exchanges, transparency of plans, safety and security issues, and, potentially, fuel cycle activities—there is a real chance that nuclear development can serve instead as a tool to increase trust and confidence, feeding into a wider security-building agenda in the region.

Although nuclear cooperation has been a sensitive topic throughout the atomic era, it is particularly difficult to envision such ventures in the Middle East, with its chronically unstable political-security situation. Recent evidence suggests, however, that crossing the traditional Arab-Israeli divide is possible even in the nuclear area.

Access to Nuclear Technology

Israel is among the countries in the region that have expressed a renewed interest in nuclear energy. National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau used the opportunity of a civilian nuclear power conference in Paris in March to reiterate the country’s interest in developing nuclear power.[1] For the past 40 years, Israel has seen nuclear energy as an integral goal in its energy planning, but it has not yet introduced nuclear power into its energy mix. The Web site of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) says that Israel decided in the 1970s that “an option to produce electricity using nuclear reactors should be prepared and maintained.”[2] The Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) concluded in the 1980s that a site in the northern Negev desert near the town of Shivta would be suitable for a nuclear power plant. In his Paris speech, Landau confirmed that the Shivta site is still being maintained from a scientific and technical infrastructure point of view. The current plan is to have a two-unit nuclear power plant with a generation capacity of 1,200-1,500 megawatts operational by 2020.[3]

Israel considers itself an “energy island” because it is not connected to the grids of any of its neighbors and must import all its energy sources. From these imported sources, Israel produces around 13,000 megawatts of electricity, a figure that is expected to double by 2020. Without an indigenous nuclear power program, Israel will need either to continue relying on energy imports or seek alternative routes to nuclear power, such as regional collaboration. Israel’s energy situation provides an incentive for the country to seek a long-term regional nuclear deal in which it progressively increases the transparency of its nuclear activities in return for integration with neighbors on energy projects, a win-win situation for all countries in the region. Although Israel would not be interested in becoming dependent on any one source of energy imports, it is open to buying electricity generated from, for example, a Jordanian nuclear power plant.[4] Creating grid connections between Israel and neighboring Arab states would be a good peace project and open the door for further technological collaboration in the energy area. The initiation of talks on such grid connections could be plausible in the next couple of years and be a suitable precursor to other energy-related cooperative efforts.

The main constraint on Israel’s nuclear power development has been its exclusion from foreign assistance because it is not a signatory of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Because the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2008 granted India an exemption from the requirement of full-scope safeguards—meaning that all the country’s nuclear facilities would be open to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors—as a condition for trade, Israel has been lobbying for the group to draw up a list of objective trade criteria for non-NPT states. The NSG has been engaging Israel for the past few years, but the group has received Israeli proposals with lukewarm interest. In May 2009, NSG Chairman Viktor Elbling led a delegation to Israel to discuss export controls and Israel’s relationship with the NSG.

Some, including former IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, have argued that India’s NSG exception amounts to a nonproliferation gain because it draws the country into the regime. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine that further erosion of nuclear export controls, by granting Israel similar rights, will benefit nonproliferation. In fact, as the world sees a rising interest in nuclear power, the NSG should play an increasingly important role in anticipation of expanded nuclear trade. Unfortunately, the group has not been able to agree on strengthened guidelines on transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technologies. To regain credibility lost with the India exemption, the NSG must agree on tighter rules related to these technologies and refrain from further exemptions.

Where does this leave Israel as far as partaking in a regional arrangement when it does not have access to nuclear technology? Israel developed its nuclear infrastructure with foreign assistance but prior to the establishment of the NPT and the NSG. It is maintaining its current nuclear activities with limited access to the international nuclear market as controlled by the NSG. An ardent nonproliferation argument would hold that Israel should not even reap the benefit of nuclear energy indirectly, such as by buying nuclear-generated electricity from neighboring states, because of its status as an NPT holdout. Fred McGoldrick, a former U.S. Department of State official, said in March that although an arrangement under which a Jordanian reactor was supplying electricity to Israel “technically” would “probably not violate the NSG guidelines…it would not be faithful to their intent.”[5]

Israel has not breached any nonproliferation commitments because it has not signed the NPT. Most of its nuclear research and development occurred before 1968, when the treaty was opened for signature. Because of its relationship to and dependence on the United States, it could not be transparent about its nuclear activities and thus not be one of the open and accepted nuclear powers of the 1960s. Israel had promised the United States not to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East and did not want to defy its protector. The result was a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy between the two allies that kept Israel’s program secret.[6] The question is whether it is a net nonproliferation gain to keep Israel outside cooperative activities or whether encouraging and including Israel in potential regional efforts would be better in order to increase trust and confidence that nuclear activities have a peaceful intent. Israel must be integrated into the nonproliferation regime, and one approach could be the establishment of cooperative nuclear activities in the region. Although some supplier states may be opposed on political grounds to seeing Israel benefit indirectly from nuclear energy, for example in the case of the Jordanian nuclear power plant, it is unlikely that this will prevent nuclear trade and the construction of nuclear plants in states neighboring Israel.

Multilateral Nuclear Approaches[7]

Compared to many other countries in the Middle East, Israel has a clear position on multilateral nuclear approaches. According to one Israeli government source, the country has developed a set of prerequisites that it thinks should govern regional nuclear development.[8]

• States must forgo sensitive fuel-cycle facilities, such as uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing plants. Israel categorizes fuel fabrication plants as sensitive as well.[9] Although limiting enrichment and reprocessing technologies is a powerful nonproliferation measure, it goes to the heart of the problem of nuclear haves versus have-nots and infringement of NPT rights.[10] A more pragmatic approach would be to establish multilaterally owned and operated plants in the region.

• States must have an additional protocol to their IAEA safeguards agreements in place. This presents several problems because Israel itself currently would not live up to this criterion. Another stumbling block regarding additional protocols is that Egypt has said it will not sign one unless Israel joins the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state.[11]

• Nuclear fuel supply to the region should be based on lifetime contracts and follow so-called leasing and take-back arrangements. A just-in-time refueling regime can be a powerful confidence-building measure because it aims to deliver fresh fuel right before a reactor needs refueling and return spent fuel to the supplier country as soon as possible, preferably within a year after the spent fuel has been taken out of the reactor.

• A stable regulatory system is needed in each state embarking on a nuclear program. The United Arab Emirates and possibly Jordan are seen in Israel as being on the right track in this respect.

According to the Israeli source, Israel regards multilateral nuclear approaches as having merit, especially in light of its position that no country in the region should have a closed national nuclear fuel cycle. For Israel, the key questions to address are host-country selection and eligibility criteria for such an arrangement, the source said. Pointing to experiences in Iran and North Korea, where years of sanctions have not resolved proliferation concerns after detection of clandestine facilities, he said Israel is skeptical of the effectiveness of IAEA safeguards enforcement.[12]

Regarding current efforts to create a system of assured nuclear fuel supply, for example through supplier state-sponsored guarantees, and the establishment of international fuel banks to provide low-enriched uranium if supply were disrupted for political reasons, Israeli officials fall in line with the majority viewpoint that these types of assurances, if not part of a comprehensive effort to internationalize the nuclear fuel cycle, amount to creating a solution for a problem that does not exist. In other words, current supply mechanisms based on market forces work and do not need fixing.[13]

According to Israeli officials, current nuclear energy planning includes looking into how the national program could feed into efforts to internationalize the fuel cycle. The IEC and IAEC signed an agreement in March 2010 calling for a survey of long-term nuclear energy strategy, including international aspects, to be conducted by a joint task force consisting of all relevant government offices. Although the focus of international cooperation would be on states with developed fuel cycles, such as some EU countries, Japan, and the United States, one government official said the survey would presumably address potential regional approaches as well.[14]

Signs of Cooperation

In general, Israeli officials say their country is open to regional cooperation, especially with neighbors Egypt and Jordan, with which it has peace agreements. Due to the current regional political situation, however, cooperation among these three countries would be very difficult, even if there were a desire for it. A case in point is the Israeli-Jordanian relationship, which unofficially is quite good, despite a more critical tone publicly.[15] In the nuclear area, cooperation is taking place, but it is low key. Officials from the two countries are mainly discussing Jordan’s planned reactor at Aqaba on the Red Sea near the Israeli-Jordanian border. Although the full extent of the talks is unknown, Israel is providing assistance in terms of site selection, nuclear safety and security issues, and seismic data from its Geophysical Institute.[16]

Israeli news media reported in March on talks between Landau and Jean-Louis Borloo, France’s minister of environment and energy, on joint nuclear projects involving France, Israel, and Jordan.[17] Jordan, however, distanced itself from this public discussion, with Jordan Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Khaled Toukan stating that it is “too early to speak of regional cooperation with Israel before resolving the Palestinian issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict.”[18] The episode nonetheless can be seen as representing a trial balloon and an indication from Israel’s side that it is open to regional nuclear cooperation.

Further evidence of the regional willingness to cooperate in the nuclear field is the Jordan-based SESAME (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East) project. SESAME is the region’s first major scientific research center and aims to be “an international scientific and technological centre of excellence open to all qualified scientists from the Middle East and elsewhere.”[19] The project centers around a synchrotron radiation source, a gift from Germany. Activities are planned in fields such as molecular environmental science, micro-electromechanical devices, x-ray imaging, materials characterization, and clinical medical applications. Current SESAME members are Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey, and the Palestinian Authority.

When considering regional nuclear cooperation in the Middle East, Israel could offer expertise in a number of areas with its long-standing experience in the field. Indeed, it is already assisting Jordan with siting-related issues at Aqaba, as discussed above. Such assistance can be expanded to other countries, such as Egypt. Information exchanges in areas such as nuclear safety and security would be another good starting point for nuclear confidence building. Israel could offer a great deal in the area of education, in particular because it is currently setting up new nuclear engineering and physics courses to maintain its nuclear knowledge base. The SoreqNuclearResearchCenter has acquired a new particle accelerator to replace its 50-year-old research reactor. The accelerator is a joint project with the Weizmann Institute, the Israel Academy of Science, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Language does not necessarily pose a problem. For example, the Weizmann Institute offers all relevant graduate courses in English with open attendance.

Looking to the Future

What would a multilateral approach to the nuclear fuel cycle in the Middle East look like? Setting aside political constraints for a moment, one could imagine a network of regional nuclear facilities servicing the region with nuclear energy. In a best-case scenario, for a regional approach to the fuel cycle in the Middle East to be credible and acceptable, there should be no enrichment and reprocessing facilities. The first hurdle with this scenario is Iran’s expanding enrichment program, which Tehran is not likely simply to dismantle in the foreseeable future. One solution would be to internationalize Iran’s enrichment facilities, as has been proposed in principle by Iran. In a letter to the UN Security Council in June 2008, Iran’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee, proposed, as part of a package for constructive negotiations over the nuclear impasse, consideration of “establishing enrichment and nuclear fuel production consortiums in different parts of the world—including Iran.”[20] Geoffrey Forden and John Thomson of MIT have proposed a detailed and compelling plan for how to internationalize Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz.[21] According to Forden and Thomson, the enrichment technology should be “black-boxed,” which would impede access to sensitive know-how. It also should be multilaterally owned and controlled and placed under stringent safeguards, they said.

Another problem with “outlawing” enrichment technologies in the Middle East or any region is the strong objection from developing countries that see this as another infringement of their NPT rights to nuclear technology. A fairer approach would be to establish a global network of multilaterally owned and operated plants. This was envisioned in a 2005 IAEA Expert Group report on multilateral nuclear approaches, which said that, first, nationally owned plants should preferably be internationalized, followed by the establishment of “in particular regional” multilateral nuclear approaches for new fuel-cycle facilities, including enrichment plants.[22]

Jordan and Turkey are good candidates to host front-end fuel-cycle facilities, such as those for conversion and fuel fabrication, to form a regional fuel-production arrangement. Jordan, with its newfound uranium reserves, could be a main contributor of uranium, and Turkey has expressed interest in the past in hosting a regional fuel production center.[23] In general, nuclear power plants may be more troublesome from administrative, political, and technical points of view. Power plants are large, expensive and politically sensitive projects often subject to substantial delays and cost overruns, which could be difficult to manage between several states. Also, the host of the plant would have the technical advantage of being able to cut electricity supply to its co-owners when it wants to. Nuclear plants are preferably national ventures with assistance from, or even run by, established international vendor consortiums.

For the back end of the fuel cycle, a blanket nonreprocessing rule is preferable. The proliferation concerns associated with spent fuel reprocessing and plutonium extraction far outweigh the potential benefits from a so-called closed fuel-cycle arrangement. Although uranium enrichment (the other proliferation-sensitive process) is needed for fueling most reactors in the world, reprocessing is not necessary for electricity generation. Effective and transparent spent fuel disposition approaches should be established whereby the nuclear material is, for example, vitrified and stored in regional or international nuclear waste stations under multilateral control and monitoring.

The main nonproliferation benefit of the regional approach described above is that multilateral control, ownership, and operation will instill trust that the facilities are not used for nonpeaceful purposes. A breakout scenario in which the host country diverts uranium for a weapons program is much less likely if the facility is managed and staffed by people from several countries. It could also be argued that a multilateral approach means that a region needs fewer facilities than if each country develops the necessary production centers. This is attractive from a safeguards perspective because fewer sites would require IAEA monitoring. In addition, multinational ventures make economic sense due to economies of scale. It would be much less costly for a state to join a regional center than embark on developing a national facility.

On the negative side, as the 2005 IAEA Expert Group report on multilateral nuclear approaches pointed out, an internationally staffed enrichment facility could mean broader access to know-how and thus represent a proliferation risk.[24] However, if the facility is black-boxed, the spread of sensitive information would be restricted to a minimum.

Spillover Effect

If regional cooperative efforts in nuclear energy start to take off within the next few years, they could possibly open the door for more constructive discussions on other security-related issues. One opportunity to test this hypothesis will be the envisioned 2012 conference on developing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

The final document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference calls for all states in the Middle East to participate in a conference in 2012 on a regional WMD-free zone. For the first time, the action formally sets the stage for moving ahead concretely to implement the 1995 NPT Review Conference Resolution on the Middle East. But the road ahead before a conference in 2012 can be realized will be long and bumpy, with the main task being to persuade Israel actually to participate. One significant task will be to navigate through the diplomatic minefield of international proliferation forums, trying to avoid singling Israel out. Another challenge will be carrying out the regional confidence building that is needed for earnest negotiations on a WMD-free zone to take place. The changing nuclear landscape in the Middle East offers an opportunity to do that.

Volumes have been written on the preconditions for the creation of a Middle East WMD-free zone, and the Arab-Israeli conflict clearly lies at the heart of the difficulties in moving forward. Countless attempts have been made to kick-start negotiations on a WMD-free zone, but as a comprehensive UN study concluded in 2004, “The Middle East seems no closer to realizing the aims of a [WMD-free zone] than it was thirty years ago nor is the region any safer.”[25]

The United States will play a key role not only in persuading Israel to participate in talks about a Middle East WMD-free zone, but also in providing a security environment necessary for Israel to consider signing such a treaty. In recent months, media reports citing unnamed Israeli officials have suggested that the United States has provided “unequivocal guarantees…for the State of Israel’s preservation of strategic and deterring abilities,” as one of them put it.[26] Although public statements have not gone that far, at a July 6 joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Barack Obama, referring to discussions at the NPT review conference, said that “the United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.” This statement signals U.S. willingness to work with Israel to meet its security needs in a way that allows it to participate in earnest discussions on a Middle East WMD-free zone. Another area in which the United States, as well as France, can be constructive is encouraging nuclear trade with Israel conditioned on Israel’s signature on and adherence to a treaty establishing a verifiable WMD-free zone in the Middle East and signature on an NPT-like agreement. There is little prospect of Israel signing the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state in the foreseeable future, but Israel could consider signing a separate document as proposed by nonproliferation experts Avner Cohen and Thomas Graham Jr. Cohen and Graham proposed in 2004 that India, Israel, and Pakistan—the three countries that have never signed the NPT—could sign a free-standing protocol allowing them to keep their current programs but inhibiting further development. The agreement would call for cooperation with export controls, ban nuclear testing, and set a timeline phasing out fissile material production.[27]

It seems clear that if collaborative regional efforts in nuclear energy gain momentum within the next few years, a positive climate surrounding nuclear security issues in general will start to emerge. This would not only benefit the general peace process in the region, but also help to create the right setting for the envisioned 2012 conference on developing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.


As more and more states in the Middle East are jumping on the nuclear renaissance bandwagon, there is an urgent need to build nuclear confidence in the region. Instead of each state having a go-it-alone policy developing its own nuclear fuel cycle, which is likely to increase mistrust and the risk of proliferation, nuclear transparency and collaboration should be the norm. If the intentions behind these new programs are open and clear from the start, the countries involved are more likely to avoid misperceptions. Furthermore, by collaborating more closely on nuclear energy issues, the states stand to gain in economic and technical terms. With increased nuclear confidence through transparency measures and collaborative projects, the region also can reap many benefits regarding security building. There are signs that nuclear cooperation is possible. Regional projects such as SESAME and Israel’s assistance with nuclear power-plant siting in Jordan are evidence. Education is one area in which Israel could contribute to regional nuclear development; safety and security culture is another.

The next step is to promote collaborative efforts on nuclear energy, through joint training programs, exchanges of information and experience, and even talks on joint fuel-cycle facilities. Nuclear confidence building is integrally linked to the wider security agenda in the Middle East, including the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

Thomas Lorenz is a senior research fellow at the International Centre for Security Analysis (ICSA) at the Department of War Studies, King’s College in London. Previously, he was a safeguards information analyst with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Joanna Kidd is director of the ICSA. Prior to joining King’s College in 2003, she worked as a defense analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. This article is based on field research conducted by the authors for a project on multilateral nuclear approaches in the Middle East commissioned to the Centre for Science and Security Studies at King’s College by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.


1. Uzi Landau, Statement to the International Conference on Access to Civil Nuclear Energy, Paris, March 8-9, 2010, p. 70, www.conferenceparis-nucleairecivil.org/uploads/contents/86928/File/36255//transcriptionsconferenceen.pdf (summarized transcription).

2. Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC), “Research and Publications by IAEC Personnel,” www.iaec.gov.il/pages_e/card_report_e.asp.

3. World Nuclear Association, “Emerging Nuclear Energy Countries,” May 25, 2010, www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf102.html.

4. Israeli officials, interviews with authors, Israel, March 2010.

5. Daniel Horner, “Israel States Strong Interest in Nuclear Energy,” Arms Control Today, April 2010.

6. Avner Cohen and Thomas Graham Jr., “An NPT for Non-members,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, May/June 2004, pp. 40-44.

7. This section relies heavily on interviews conducted by the authors in Israel in March with representatives of the IAEC, Ministry of National Infrastructure, Weizmann Institute, Institute for National Security Studies, and NGO Monitor.

8. Israeli energy official, interview with authors, Israel, March 2010 (hereinafter Israeli energy official interview).

9. Israeli official, interview with authors, Israel, March 2010.

10. Article IV of the NPT asserts “the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.”

11. Although this linkage is not an official policy, Egyptian officials in public statements regarding an additional protocol typically make the link in no uncertain terms. See, for example, http://mfoa.africanews.com/site/list_message/9319.

12. Israeli energy official interview.

13. For a discussion on fuel assurances, how developing countries view them, and the past year’s negotiations at the IAEA Board of Governors on creating an international fuel bank, see Thomas Lorenz and Joanna Kidd, “An Uncertain Future for International Fuel Banks,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May/June 2010, pp. 44-49.

14. Israeli government official, interview with authors, Israel, March 2010.

15. Israeli academics, interviews with authors, Tel Aviv and Istanbul, March 2010.

16. Israeli government officials, interviews with authors, Israel, March 2010.

17. Ehud Zion Waldoks, “Landau to Announce Plans for First Israeli Nuke Power Plant,” Jerusalem Post, March 8, 2010, www.jpost.com/HealthAndSci-Tech/ScienceAndEnvironment/Article.aspx?id=170440.

18. “No Nuclear Cooperation With Israel Before End of Conflict – Officials,” The Jordan Times, March 10, 2010, http://cjpp5.over-blog.com/article-the-jordan-times-com-jordanie-no-nuclear-cooperation-with-israel-before-end-of-conflict---officials-46433756.html.

19. SESAME, “SESAME: Brief Description and Status Report,” www.sesame.org.jo/About/Description.aspx.

20. UN Security Council, “Letter Dated 17 June 2008 From the Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations Addressed to the President of the Security Council,” S/2008/397, June 17, 2008, www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/Iran%20S2008397.pdf.

21. Geoffrey Forden and John Thomson, “Iran as a Pioneer Case for Multilateral Nuclear Arrangements,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, May 2009, http://mit.edu/stgs/pdfs/IPCPublicationMay2009.pdf.

22. IAEA, “Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Expert Group Report to the Director General of the IAEA,” INFCIRC/640, February 22, 2005, p. 15, www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/mna-2005_web.pdf.

23. Mark Hibbs, “Turkey Will Press for Fuel Technology Transfer,” NuclearFuel, February 11, 2008.

24. IAEA, “Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle,” p. 75.

25. UN Institute for Disarmament Research, “Building a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East,” 2004, www.unidir.org/pdf/ouvrages/pdf-1-92-9045-168-8-en.pdf.

26. Attila Somfalvi, “State Official: Obama Provided Israel With Historic Guarantees,” YnetNews, May 30, 2010, www. ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3896361,00.html.

27. Cohen and Graham, “An NPT for Non-members.”


Prospect of Nuclear Deal With Israel Dismissed

Daniel Horner

The United States has no plans in the foreseeable future for civilian nuclear cooperation with Israel, U.S. officials said in recent weeks.

Media reports, seemingly confirmed by an Israeli cabinet minister, indicated that cooperation was at least being considered.

After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Barack Obama July 6 in Washington, Israeli and other media reported that the two sides had discussed civilian nuclear cooperation.

In remarks at a July 8 conference in Tel Aviv, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said the United States had made a “declaration of willingness,” which he called a “breakthrough,” Bloomberg reported.

Under U.S. law and the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Israel is not eligible for major nuclear trade because it is not a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and has not placed all its nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

The George W. Bush administration successfully pushed for an exception to U.S. law and the NSG guidelines to allow nuclear trade with India. (See ACT, October 2008.) Administration officials repeatedly said India’s case was unique and that Israel and Pakistan, which, like India, have never joined the NPT and have nuclear facilities that are not under safeguards, did not qualify for similar treatment. Since then, however, officials from the two countries have argued that they should receive a comparable deal.

At a July 8 press briefing, Department of State spokesman Mark Toner said, “There’s no agreement between the United States and Israel to pursue a nuclear cooperation agreement. There was no discussion of this issue between the president and prime minister.” Asked the following day if the two leaders had had any discussions related to nuclear energy or nuclear weapons, he said, “Not that I’m aware of.” He responded similarly to a question about a reported secret letter.

In an Aug. 25 interview with Arms Control Today, a U.S. official said that although some Israeli officials have raised the issue of an India-style deal, the United States has been “unambiguous” in rejecting it under the Bush and Obama administrations. He indicated that the policy is unlikely to change any time soon. “From our side, there is no interest in having this conversation,” he said.

The geopolitical situation in the Middle East makes a U.S.-Israeli nuclear deal unrealistic, he said. “It is clear, based on our discussions with other countries in the region, that U.S.-Israeli nuclear cooperation of the sort covered in a 123 agreement would be taken as a sign that we are not serious” about establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East, he said. U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements are often known as “123 agreements” because they are required by Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act.

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference in May, the parties agreed on steps toward establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, including the convening of a conference in 2012. (See ACT, June 2010.)

The Israeli embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment on the status of U.S.-Israeli nuclear cooperation.

At a March conference in Paris, Uzi Landau, Israel’s infrastructure minister, strongly reaffirmed his country’s interest in pursuing a nuclear power program and said the program could be “an area for regional cooperation.” (See ACT, April 2010.)


The United States has no plans in the foreseeable future for civilian nuclear cooperation with Israel, U.S. officials said in recent weeks.

Media reports, seemingly confirmed by an Israeli cabinet minister, indicated that cooperation was at least being considered.


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