A Draft Treaty for a WMD Free Zone in the Middle East: Time to Envisage the Practical

October 12th, 2017

     On 6 October 2017, the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations, in conjunction with the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), hosted a panel discussion entitled, “A Draft Treaty for a WMD Free Zone in the Middle East: Time to Envisage the Practical.”  The speakers included Jackie O’Halloran, Disarmament Director of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland, Sharon Dolev of BASIC in Israel and founder/director of the Israeli Disarmament Movement (IDM); Emad Kiyaei, policy advisor to and former Executive Director of the American Iranian Council; and Paul Ingram, Executive Director of BASIC.

     After a brief introduction by Paul Ingram, Jackie O’Halloran opened the panel discussion by recalling that the commitments of the NPT are interconnected; without Article VI, there would be no treaty, and without the agreement to negotiate the WMD Free Zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East, there would have been no indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995. O’Halloran noted the important role of civil society in disarmament and nonproliferation initiatives, and on that note, congratulated ICAN for their Nobel Peace Prize win.  She concluded by saying that the process of establishing a Middle East WMDFZ needs to be restarted, and that creativity will be required, but that she believes it will ultimately be possible to resolve this important issue.

     Paul Ingram, Executive Director of BASIC, opened by explaining why the organization created the draft treaty for a WMDFZ in the Middle East; by doing so, BASIC hoped to challenge the oft-made assertion that the task is impossible.  Ingram noted that the responsibility to make progress on drafting such a treaty is shared by many states, even though formal responsibility for progress under the NPT remains with just three states.  Ingram concluded by stating that whatever one thinks of the substance of the JCPOA, it highlights the ability to make progress on a region fraught with tension in a multilateral context.  Referring to the fact that many consider it to be the “singular bright spot” of progress toward disarmament in the region, Ingram emphasized the current debate over the JCPOA as underlining the necessity to continue to build on, not denigrate, the progress made by the agreement in the Middle East.

     Emad Kiyaei opened with a bit of history, stating that the concept of a zone in the Middle East was first proposed in 1974 by Iran and Egypt as a nuclear weapon free zone (NWFZ), but that the current debate is now over a zone that includes all WMD and their delivery systems.  Kiyaei pointed out that while there are numerous NWFZ in populated areas, there has never been the establishment of a WMDFZ before, and thus, the challenge of its establishment in the Middle East is unique in many ways, and requires “more steadfast[ness] in pursuit of this goal.”  Kiyaei expressed that unfortunately, the region is fraught with a history of WMD use, and that the failure to convene the 2012 conference on a WMDFZ in the Middle East was a major setback.  However, Kiyaei highlighted two positive developments that have taken place since the 2012 failure: the creation of JCPOA, and the accession to the CWC by Syria.  Kiyaei indicated that the implementation of the JCPOA formed the bedrock of boosting nuclear nonproliferation in the region, and showed that when there is political will, negotiations of the P5 + 1 or the EU 3 + 3 can make substantive progress.  Though the use of chemical weapons in Syria was an atrocity, Kiyaei indicated that the work of the OPCW in Syria, and their accession to the CWC, was an important step in clearing the way for the creation of a WMDFZ in the Middle East.  However, Kiyaei stressed that the challenge that must be discussed now is the unacknowledged Israeli nuclear program, given that Israel is not a signatory to the NPT, that its facilities are not monitored by the IAEA, and that it is located in an extremely unstable region.  Kiyaei expressed that the monopoly of nuclear weapons possession in the region is simply no longer sustainable, and that the creation of a WMDFZ in the Middle East is not just a step toward nonproliferation and disarmament, but also will promote wider security in the region.  However, Kiyaei cautioned that without the political will of world powers, progress toward a WMDFZ in the Middle East will be nonexistent. He concluded by urging the world powers to seriously consider the security of the region, and how it stands to significantly benefit from the creation of a WMDFZ.

     Sharon Dolev opened by expressing that her organization, IDM, was extremely excited about notion of the mandated 2012 conference to establish a WMDFZ in the Middle East, but was not surprised that it never materialized.  She expressed her dismay that the Israeli Government actually thanked the states that blocked the 2012 conference. She then detailed the major obstacles to the WMDFZ in the Middle East as perceived by individuals from both Israel and Iran: the increasing role of non-state actors in conflict and their potential to acquire WMD, the tension over the recognition and/or normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab states, and the lack of dialogue between the two sides.  In reality, said Dolev, the concern over stability in the region and the rising role of non-state actors only highlights and reiterates the necessity of a WMDFZ. Dolev also expressed that she had circulated the draft treaty created by BASIC, and had received good feedback on the draft treaty from current and former diplomats in the Middle East, indicating that a path to the establishment of a WMDFZ was indeed possible, given a little good will.

     The formal remarks concluded with the announcement that in 2018, two major and three minor roundtable discussions would take place so that additional experts and former diplomats could provide further feedback on the draft treaty for the establishment of a WMDFZ in the Middle East.  The panelists then took questions from various members of the audience, and concluded by distributing copies of the draft treaty.


Text and Photo by Margaret Rowland