UN Conference on a Middle East Weapons-Free Zone
BASEL, Switzerland (December 7, 2021) — From November 29 to December 3, 2021, the UN hosted the 2nd session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction, attended by all states in the region except one (Israel).
UNFOLD ZERO co-founder Alyn Ware and TonyRobinson, Operations Director for the Middle East Treaty Organization, report on progress being made by the UN process in an article Middle East Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone, Long Elusive, is Making Progress, say Experts published by InDepth News on December 4, 2021.
“The process will not be easy,’ says Mr. Ware. “There are intense conflicts in the region that have sometimes erupted into armed conflict, and which continue to undermine trust and thwart diplomatic efforts to achieve such a zone. But the very fact of initiating the UN Conference is an important start. It provides opportunities for states in the region to share perspectives, consider proposals and approaches, and give diplomacy an opportunity to work.”
“This annual conference will continue to take place until all regional countries agree to a WMD Free Zone treaty,” says Mr. Robinson. “And by coming back year after year to this conference and organizing work between the sessions, it will build trust and confidence among the regional countries—giving more reasons for Israel to also join.”[See full article below — EAW]
In his opening comments for the Conference on Establishing a Middle East Zone free of nuclear weapons and other WMD, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated:
“Achieving a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction will eliminate the possibilities of nuclear conflicts in the region and contribute to realizing a world free of nuclear weapons. It will strengthen the international bans on chemical and biological weapons.
“It will build trust, reduce tensions and prevent conflicts and human suffering. It will deescalate regional arms races and free much needed resources to tackle major challenges, including COVID-19, climate change, and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Finally, it will contribute to achieving just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.”
Middle East Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone,
Long Elusive, is Making Progress, say Experts
NEW YORK (December 4, 2021) — A longstanding proposal for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the politically and militarily volatile Middle East remains elusive. Since 1967, five nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZ) have been established worldwide — in Latin America and the Caribbean, South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa and Central Asia.
Speaking at the second “UN Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and other Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs),” which took place November 29 to December 3, UN Secretary-General António Guterres pointed out that the five existing zones include 60 per cent of the UN’s 193 Member States — and cover almost all of the Southern Hemisphere.
“Expanding such zones to more regions will strengthen global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation norms and contribute to building a safer world.”
That is particularly the case in the Middle East, where concerns over nuclear programmes persist, and where conflicts and civil wars are causing widespread civilian casualties and suffering, undermining stability and disrupting social and economic development, he warned.
Alyn Ware, Director of the Peace and Disarmament program at the World Future Council, told IDN the UN Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDFZ) is a vitally important process to address the very real concerns about actual and/or potential nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs in the Middle East.
Amongst the countries in this region:
Israel has not joined the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is believed to have produced nuclear weapons; neither Egypt nor Israel have ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention CWC); Syria is believed to have violated the CWC through the use of chemical weapons; and a number of countries have not signed the biological weapons convention, including Comoros, Djibouti and Israel.
The UN conference, he pointed out, shines a light on these issues, and contributes to political pressure to curtail the WMD programs in the region and achieve signature and ratification of the relevant treaties.
The process will not be easy, he warned.
“There are intense conflicts in the region that have sometimes erupted into armed conflict, and which continue to undermine trust and thwart diplomatic efforts to achieve such a zone. But the very fact of initiating the UN Conference is an important start. It provides opportunities for states in the region to share perspectives, consider proposals and approaches, and give diplomacy an opportunity to work,” Ware noted.
He said the conference is open-ended — with a mandate provided by General Assembly decision A/73/546 to continue meeting annually, ‘until the conference concludes the elaboration of a legally binding treaty establishing a Middle East Zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.’
“This was a wise move by the UN, in order to allow time for all states in the region to become engaged in the process. Only one state in the region (Israel) has not joined the UN conference”.
Their lack of participation, he said, doesn’t necessarily mean that no progress can be made. “Indeed, a lot can be done to discuss the legal, technical and institutional requirements to establish such a zone, at the same time as a diplomatic dialogue is advanced with Israel on what arrangements could be made to bring them into the process,” he noted.
Tony Robinson, Operations Director, Middle East Treaty Organization, told IDN the second UN Conference on a WMDFZ in the Middle East is already paving the way forward toward establishing such a zone.
Having 22 countries of the Arab League and Iran around the negotiating table is fantastic, he said. The only regional country absent was Israel but there is no reason why those in the room can’t make progress in a process that Israel can then join at any time.
The political declaration that came out of the 1st session shows that states of the region can achieve consensus and build on areas of common ground. Until this conference was set up there was no dedicated forum for countries of the region to discuss major security issues — including WMD disarmament’, Robinson said.
“This annual conference will continue to take place until all regional countries agree to a WMD Free Zone treaty. And by coming back year after year to this conference and organizing work between the sessions, it will build trust and confidence among the regional countries — giving more reasons for Israel to also join. Obviously, it’s not going to happen overnight, but all dialogue among these countries must be welcomed and the process itself protected,” he noted.
As this conference started, so too did the talks in Vienna to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — (a nuclear agreement between Iran and Western powers). A breakthrough in Vienna will not only make sure Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful and US crippling sanctions are removed but also reinforce the importance of dialogue and diplomacy.
Meanwhile, said Robinson, the region is also going through some key changes with renewed efforts among Gulf States to engage in dialogue with one another to Israel’s recent agreements with four Arab states, which all goes in a positive direction of increased engagement and reducing tensions in the region.
“While this conference contributes positively towards establishing the Zone, there are other parallel processes that are complementary, with progress on any or all moving us closer to the goal. Specifically, the decades old process within the NPT that is dedicated and vital to establishing the Zone.”
“So, we believe that the conference in New York for the Zone that is within the NPT. There is no doubt that countries of the region, in their statements to the NPT RevCon will report on the progress made,” declared Robinson.
Ware said if Israel continues to resist joining such a process, there is also the option of negotiating a treaty that other states in the region can sign and ratify, but which would not become legally binding until all states in the region (including Israel) sign and ratify.
The Treaty of Tlatelolco (Latin America NWFZ), for example, was adopted on such a basis at a time when Cuba, Brazil and Argentina were not ready to join. (They have now joined). All this points to the high value and importance of this UN process, he pointed out.
“In addition, progress on advancing a Middle East Zone free of nuclear weapons and other WMD is critical for the stability of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”
In 1995, Ware said, the NPT was extended indefinitely on agreement by states parties on achieving a Middle East NWFZ, amongst other things. To not take action in implementation of these commitments could erode confidence in the NPT and lead to some states considering withdrawal.
“The connection between the UN Conference and the NPT is reinforced by the fact that the three depository governments of the NPT are also invited to participate in the UN Conference on the Middle East Zone. Two of those depository governments (Russia and the UK) have participated in both of the sessions,” he added.
Meanwhile, the political declaration adopted at the first session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction, reads: “We, the representatives of participating States at the first session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction, having met at Headquarters from 18 to 22 November 2019, pursuant to General Assembly decision 73/546:
(a) Welcome all initiatives, resolutions, decisions and recommendations on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction;
(b) Believe that the establishment of a verifiable Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction would greatly enhance regional and international peace and security;
(c) Declare our intent and solemn commitment to pursue, in accordance with relevant international resolutions, and in an open and inclusive manner with all invited States, the elaboration of a legally binding treaty to establish a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at by consensus by the States of the region;
(d) Call upon all States of the Middle East and all other States to refrain from taking any measures that preclude the achievement of the objectives of the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction;
(e) Convinced that the realization of this long-standing goal would be facilitated by the participation of all States of the Middle East, extend an open-ended invitation to all States of the region to lend their support to the present declaration and to join the process;
(f) In that spirit, we believe that the Conference, through the elaboration of a legally binding treaty establishing a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, could contribute to building regional and international confidence therein;
(g) Commit to undertaking efforts to follow up on the declaration and on the outcomes of the Conference and to engaging in preparations for the second session of the Conference, commend the efforts of the Secretary-General in convening the first session of the Conference, and request his continued efforts and those of relevant international organizations and the strong support of the international community towards the success of the Conference in establishing a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction”.
This article was produced as a part of the joint media project between The Non-profit International Press Syndicate Group and Soka Gakkai International in Consultative Status with ECOSOC on 04 December 2021. We believe in the free flow of information. Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.
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Conference on Establishing a Middle East
WMD-Free Zone: Will It Lead Anywhere?
The Middle East is a region where nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs arise from, and contribute to, tensions, instability and conflict.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq was launched by the US and the UK with the stated purpose to ‘disarm Iraq ofweapons of mass destruction’ (see ‘Operation Iraq Freedom’, statement by US President Bush) even though no such weapons were subsequently found by the invading forces.
The US and Israel have on a number of occasions made military threats against Iran due to suspicions that Iran intends to use its nuclear energy program to develop nuclear weapons.
Syria has faced international condemnation for using chemical weapons in their civil war and was forced to allow the UN and OPCW in to confiscate and destroy their stockpile of chemical weapons (although there are allegations that Syria still possesses such weapons). Israel has launched military attacks against nuclear energy facilities of both Iraq (1981) and Syria (2018) based on suspicions that these facilities were being used to support clandestine nuclear weapons programs.
And lastly, but definitely not least, the undeclared production and possession by Israel of between 100-200 nuclear weapons further aggravates relations with their neighbours in the Middle East and creates a thorn in the side of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — Israel is the only state in the region that has not joined the treaty, much to the annoyance of other Middle East countries.
Proposal for a Zone Free of Nuclear and Other WMD
In this fragile environment, the proposal for a regional treaty to prohibit weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is very attractive, but also very elusive. The proposal is based on nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties that have been adopted in other regions including Africa, Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Pacific and South-East Asia. It has been supported by all countries in the region in principle, and has found further support in UN resolutions and decisions of NPT Review Conferences.
But negotiations on such a zone have not commenced, primarily due to differences between Israel and the other Middle East (primarily Arab) countries on political conditions for such negotiations. Israel’s position is that a durable peace (i.e. security for Israel as a State) and compliance by other Middle East countries with non-proliferation obligations is required for them to join negotiations for a nuclear-weapons-free zone. Other Middle East countries argue that establishing such a zone would contribute to peace.
An attempt was made by a decision of the 2010 NPT Review Conference to bring all the States in the region together for a conference in 2012 to start the process of establishing a WMD free zone. However, it proved impossible to get agreement between Israel and the Arab states on the mandate and format of the conference, so it was never held.
In light of this, the United Nations General Assembly in 2018 decided to hold a Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction, which could proceed even if one or more of the Middle East countries stayed away. The UN was tasked to hold the first session of the conference in November 2019, with additional sessions annually until the conclusion of a treaty. All Middle East countries were invited to the conference, along with the five states recognised by the NPT as nuclear-armed States, i.e. China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA.
The nuclear-armed States were invited for a number of reasons including that:
a) they would need to sign protocols of the negotiated treaty affirming that they would recognise the treaty by not deploying nuclear weapons in the territories of the zone and also that they would not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the parties to the treaty;
b) they are key states in the NPT which has supported the establishment of the zone;
c) they might be able to influence states in the region to participate in negotiations for the zone; and
d) they are the permanent members of the UN Security Council which has a key responsibility to maintain international peace and prevent nuclear proliferation.
Who Turned Up to the Conference?
Israel and the USA stayed away, but most other Middle East countries and the other four nuclear-armed states participated. The Conference adopted a Political Declaration expressing support for a continued process to establish a WMD-free Zone and a Final Report which outlined the process of the conference and noted the decision on holding the next conference in 2020.
So what now? Did the conference make a difference? Will the next Middle East WMD-free Zone conference, which is scheduled for November 2020, lead to actual negotiations on a draft treaty establishing a Middle East Zone free of nuclear weapons and other WMD?
It’s not possible yet to determine the answers to these questions. There was definitely no break-through that moved Israel or the United States to announce that they would join this process. But could negotiations start without them? Experience from other NWFZs indicates that this is a possibility. The Treaty of Tlatelolco (Latin America and Caribbean NWFZ), for example was negotiated without a key country — Cuba — and with continuing concerns about the nuclear programs of Argentina and Brazil which remained outside the NPT and IAEA safeguards until 1995 and 1998 respectively. Cuba has now joined the Treaty and all three countries have ratified.
However, would the other Middle East countries be willing to start negotiations on a treaty if Israel was not a participant? Up until this conference, the answer to this appeared to be a definite no. The key countries calling for a Middle East WMD-free zone (Arab countries and Iran) appeared to be doing so in order to put pressure on Israel to join the NPT, and to highlight the double standards in international attention on their nuclear-energy programs, which had not developed nuclear weapons, while seemingly ignoring Israel’s actual production and possession of such weapons.
As such, they have not been willing to adopt further obligations under a regional treaty if Israel was not also bound by the treaty. During the conference, a number of participants echoed this perspective and stated that negotiations on such a treaty could not start without Israel.
Iran Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi, for example, argued that ‘The rejection of Israel to participate in the conference is a major hurdle in its success. Practically any possible treaty on the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East will be meaningless and ineffective in the absence of an entity possessing all types of WMD.’ (Israel has not signed the Biological Weapons Convention, and has signed but not ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention).
Ambassador Ravanchi also argued that negotiations for such a zone required the participation of the United States, as the US is ‘a NWS (nuclear-weapon State) whose unconditional, non-discriminatory, effective and irrevocable legal assurance, along with such legal assurances of all other NWS, to all States of the region against the threat or use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances, is an essential requirement for the establishment of a WMD-free zone.’
Others, however, demonstrated a new flexibility not seen previously. Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Fathi Ahmed Edrees, for example, said that:
‘Efforts on disarmament and arms control, particularly with regard to WMDs, should not be contingent upon the attainment of ideal political and security conditions… It is worth mentioning that many such (NWFZ) treaties were negotiated without the participation of a number of parties at the beginning, and that did not prevent the negotiations from being continued and completed or the non-participating parties from joining the negotiations or acceding to the treaties at a later stage. Examples of such cases are plenty.’
So there is a possibility that the conference in 2020 might take the next step and decide to start the negotiations even without the participation of Israel and the USA. Or it might continue to serve as an exchange of views on the establishment of a WMD-free zone and explore the elements of a draft treaty without deciding to start negotiations yet. Either way, a UN process has been started that could take the heat off this issue in the 2020 NPT Review Conference and provide concrete steps toward negotiations of a Middle East WMD-free zone. This is definitely a process to keep an eye on and support.
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