In the last few years, one of the main topics of speculation regarding a potential weaponization of Iran’s nuclear program has been Israel’s likely response to an Iranian nuclear bomb.
One of the major successes of the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference was the plan to convene a meeting of interested countries to discuss the prospects of a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) free zone in the Middle East. For the past few months there has been endless speculation as to whether states in the region would attend the conference. Israel has yet to make public its decision to attend, but they will have plenty of time to decide.
On November 23, the State Department released a statement announcing the conference had been postponed. The statement concluded that the turmoil in the Middle East was not conducive to a productive conference but once the circumstances improve, it will be rescheduled. In a press briefing the following week, State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland clarified that all of the states involved in the conference agreed that it could not take place; this is not a unilateral move by the United States but a consensus of organizing parties.
From its inception, this conference was not intended to be a solution to problems in the Middle East. While it is an important step, its loftiest goals would be to open pathways for dialogue among countries in the region. The ideal outcome would be increased frequency and quality of diplomatic contact. These improved relations can lead to confidence-building measures which would in turn help to mitigate the current security challenges in the Middle East.
For the months leading up to this conference, skepticism steadily mounted because of concerns over revolutions in Egypt, Yemen and Libya, Syria’s civil war, Iran’s nuclear program and its conflict with Israel. In July 2012 the spokesperson of the Arab League announced full participation; however, as the civil war in Syria raged on, it was unclear how such a state would even send a representative. Syria’s chemical weapons program poses a threat to its people and the implications of Syrian attendance on regional peace and security would be reassuring to outside nations. On the other hand, the longevity of the current regime is tenuous at best. This conference is the beginning of a sustained effort in which Syria must be actively involved throughout the process.
Egypt first proposed the idea of a weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East over twenty years ago. Now, it is grappling with the effects of its own recent revolution. Although Cairo was instrumental in negotiating the Israel-Hamas ceasefire, it still faces severe domestic unrest. Egypt will not be able to fully participate in the conference until it at least establishes a formal constitution from which to work.
Moreover, Iran refuses to halt their nuclear program, much to the chagrin of the international community, especially the United States.
In order for the conference to take the first step toward a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone, Iran and Israel need to be willing to come to the table and rationally discuss both of their nuclear programs. Israel and its allies worry that such a discussion would consist of finger pointing at the Jewish nation for being the only nation in the region to possess nuclear weapons, a fact which Israel has never formally admitted.
Besides the concern about the Iranian nuclear program, deemed an existential threat by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tel Aviv is also troubled by the manner in which the conference began. Israel is one of four nuclear weapons states outside of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The plan made at the NPT Review Conference in 2010 for the WMD free zone meeting, while well-formulated, did not include one of the biggest players in the region. Israel therefore has reservations about signing on to something that they were not a part of in the first place.
It is hoped that there will be a renewed effort to hold this conference, and the world can progress towards a safer Middle East. This process will require commitment of all the parties involved to make a good faith effort in negotiations and start normalizing diplomatic relations.
Canceled Nukes Meeting: A Setback for Obama? By Dana Liebelson The day after Thanksgiving, when Americans were still digesting on La-Z-Boys and watching football, the State Department quietly announced that the 2012 conference for a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons had been canceled by the United States. It doesn’t quite qualify as inconvenient […]
The Obama administration’s recent submission to the Senate for ratification of two Nuclear Weapons Free Zones has prompted a backlash from Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ). The basis for the good Senator’s opposition is about as compelling as the reasons for his opposition to New START. In other words, not compelling at all.
Nuclear Weapons Free Zones are declared zones in which the presence, production, acquisition and use of nuclear weapons are banned by the signatory states. On May 2, President Obama submitted two requests to ratify the protocols of nuclear free-zone treaties- Pelindaba in Africa and Rarotonga in the South Pacific. The U.S. has signed the treaties, but has not yet ratified the protocols which commit us not to test or use nuclear weapons within the zones. The U.S. did sign and ratify, however, the Treaty of Tlatelolco (with Reagan’s support for ratification), the Latin American and Caribbean nuclear weapons free zone treaty, so ratification of Pelindaba and Rarotonga would not be a grand departure from policy.
As the Arms Control Association’s Peter Crail has laid out, the arguments for Senate approval of the protocols are strong.
The treaties can prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons usable technologies by requiring even stricter requirements than those in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Pelindaba, for instance, obligates members to follow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recommended standards of physical protection over nuclear facilities and material. Both Pelindaba and Rarotonga require that member states only engage in nuclear commerce with countries that have applied IAEA safeguards over all of their nuclear activities. This is significant because the two treaties’ members include some of the world’s key suppliers of uranium, including Australia, Namibia and Niger. The treaties, therefore, contribute to non-proliferation beyond the core prohibition on acquiring nuclear weapons.
Nonetheless, a terse press release from Sen. Kyl immediately followed the submission, condemning ratifying the treaties because:
1) signing would support the President’s “flawed nuclear policy” as outlined in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, which limits the circumstances under which the U.S. would use nuclear weapons, and
2) the treaties do not address the proliferation threats posed by Iran, Syria and North Korea
Sen. Kyl’s first argument is moot because President Clinton already signed Pelindaba and Rarotonga in 1996, giving our assurance not to test or bomb treaty members. Is Sen. Kyl suggesting that there are circumstances under which the U.S. should renounce its political commitment and threaten to use nuclear weapons against one of the members? If so, he should be asked to name them.
Any future threat posed by members of these zones is addressed in the Nuclear Posture Review, which states that any country using chemical or biological weapons against the U.S. or its allies would still face a devastating conventional military response, and the leaders of the accountable countries would be held personally responsible. This is a far more credible threat – especially as no country has used nuclear weapons since the end of World War II – and thus, a more effective deterrent than Sen. Kyl’s preferred theoretical U.S. nuclear strike.
Also, contrary to Sen. Kyl’s second argument, the fact that Pelindaba and Rarotonga are not directly tasked with curtailing the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs is not an argument against the zones. Senate approval of the protocols of these treaties would actually strengthen the U.S. ability to reign in rogue states because members of the treaties have demonstrated active commitments to arrest proliferation. For instance, Nigeria and South Africa have halted shipments of Iranian arms and ammunition bound for Gambia and North Korean tank parts bound for the Republic of Congo. Australia has employed stronger sanctions against Iran than the U.N. recommended.
“U.S. failure to ratify the [Nuclear Weapons Free Zones] protocols has not prevented such cooperation from occurring, but doing so would be a cost-free way to bolster the case made by the United States that more countries should cooperate in such nonproliferation efforts in the future,” Crail argues.
For fifteen years we have supported these treaties and now, we can only benefit from ratifying them. Ratify-away, Senate.
By Chad O’Carroll Efforts to place unique pressure on Israel over its presumed nuclear arsenal could scuttle plans for the scheduled 2012 Conference on establishing a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction, President Barack Obama said earlier this month. In summarizing Obama’s comments, the White House suggested that “the Conference will only […]