An Arms Control Process for the Middle East
April 27, 2010
Like the road to peace, the road to arms control has been paved with good intentions and little else. The practical work done as part of the Arms Control and Regional Security process has virtually been forgotten. At the same time, there have been a long series of calls for eliminating weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East – almost all of which have done more to serve political purposes than to reflect a real interest in arms control.
President Obama, however, has opened a new window of opportunity for addressing these issues. On April 5, 2009, President Obama presented an ambitious three-part strategy to address the international nuclear threat:
- proposing measures to reduce and eventually eliminate existing nuclear arsenals,
- strengthening the Non-proliferation Treaty and halting proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional states,
- and preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons or materials.
One year later, in April, 2010, the United States has published the 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review and the New U.S. Russia START Treaty, and has convened the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington DC. President Obama also called upon all nations to strengthen the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) for the upcoming review conference in May, 2010, and identified a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement as being a “vital national security interest of the United States”
My colleague, Abdullah Toukan, was one of the pioneers of the original ACRS effort, and has transformed our work on the regional balance into an analysis of arms control options that argues the events of the past year have created a window of opportunity to start a dynamic vehicle for an Arms Control and Regional Security process for the Middle East with the final aim of creating a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the region.
This analysis is entitled “An Arms control Process for the Middle East” is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/100427_ToukanArmsControl.pdf.
It addresses the proliferation threat posed by WMD and ballistic missiles in the Middle East region. If nothing else, it is time to provide a new level of transparency that addresses both the fact that Israel is a mature nuclear power, and that Iranian and Arab calls for a WMD Free Zone cannot simply demand that Israel forgo a critical strategic advantage – they must also address their own missile forces, their ability to use chemical and biological weapons, and any covert efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
The report also outlines Abdullah’s suggestions for restarting the Arms Control and Regional Security process as part of the options available to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. The report looks into the multilateral Arms Control and Regional Security process that took place in the 1990s as part of the 1991 Madrid based Middle East Peace Process. The report also examines concepts and measures that were developed as part of ACRS as a means to reduce tensions and preventing a war of misunderstanding and miscalculation, like reducing the ability to use military force for the purpose of political intimidation. The report shows how these concepts and measures can presently be applied in the region, and how they can serve as initial steps for the establishment of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone.
The report suggests that the regional parties that attended the Multilateral negotiations -- plus the states that were not initially invited such as Iraq, Iran, Libya and Sudan --have the incentive to work together on this issue as a group of states that not only share political, security and economic ties, but are all are considered states that define the region. This group would include countries that span from Morocco to Iran (west to east) and from Syria to Yemen (north to south).
It also examines the role of nuclear powers like India and Pakistan. If stability and security can be achieved in a region by promoting arms control measures, this will have a positive effect on other regions. For this very reason security concerns of peripheral states as well as other neighboring regions should be taken into consideration throughout the negotiation process.
As is noted in the report, successful arms control cannot precede an Arab-Israeli peace settlement. It also cannot be separated from the problems raised by Israel’s nuclear forces, and from the potential threats posed by Iranian and other regional long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs. It is, however, possible to make a new beginning – building on the ACRS baseline. It is possible to build on NGO reporting and analysis to scope out the current level of national missile and WMD programs and examine their implications for arms control.
In examining these issues, countries should look beyond a narrow focus on nuclear weapons, or a compartmentalized look at ballistic missiles, and to examine both the full range of WMD and delivery systems, and the radical shift taking place in nuclear enrichment technology and biotechnology. They should examine the implication of regional extended deterrence and containment options in terms of both the regional balance and arms control.
In conclusion, it is time to build on President Obama’s initiatives, to revive the effort to create a carefully integrated and managed Arms Control and Regional Security process -- keeping in mind that external issues, like progress in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations towards a two state solution, will be pivotal for the success of any arms control process in the Middle East.