By Tariq Rauf
Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons is likely to lead to a destructive nuclear arms race in the region; especially if Israel’s nuclear installations remain outside any international control.
Most Arab States of the region of the Middle East consider that:
• the 2018 UNGA decision A/73/546 on convening a conference on the zone was a breakthrough;
• the new initiative through the UNGA is directed at all States of the region of the Middle East, the three co-sponsors of the1995 NPTREC Resolution are invited and no States of the region shall be excluded;
• while the UNGA route was not ideal, it was resorted to as there was no realistic alternative due to the prevailing situation regionally and globally; and
• the initiative shall be fully inclusive, involve direct dialogue, be based on arrangements freely arrived at, there will be no singling out of any State of the region; however, if any State of the region does not attend, this cannot prevent other States of the region to attend the conference slated for November this year.
Regarding the question of how to deal with the Middle East issue at the 2020 review conference of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the following points are relevant:
(a) the NPT review process remains the primary focus and the UNGA initiative is not an alternative to the NPT process but should be regarded as parallel and complementary;
(b) it can alleviate pressure on the 2020 review conference;
(c) there is no intention to hold the review conference hostage to the Middle East issue and the NPT States of the region want the review conference to be successful;
(d) the UNGA conference shall be open to all States and now it is important to start engagement and preparations on the modalities and procedural aspects;
(e) the assertion is incorrect that Israel was not consulted in advance on the 2018 resolution at UNGA, in fact it was consulted in advance of the decision;
(f) the decision garnered more than 100 affirmative votes at UNGA, which was a clear majority;
(g) the 2019 NPT PrepCom should take factual note of the UNGA decision to convene the conference in November;
(h) the Middle East zone issue remains within the NPT process and the 2020 review conference would have to reaffirm and recognize this;
(i) the November conference provides an opportunity to all States to meet and discuss zone matters, express views, all decisions shall be by consensus, it is an opportunity for direct consultations among the States of the region of the Middle East, and it is up to the States of the region to decide whether to sign/ratify a future MEWMDFZ treaty;
(j) the Middle East zone now can be considered as the fourth pillar of the NPT;
(k) it is regrettable that some States (Israel and the United States) had urged the IAEA (and other relevant international organizations) not to attend the November conference;
(l) the NPT States of the region believe in collective not selective security and this calls for the universalization of the NPT and the cessation of granting privileges to States not party to the Treaty (Israel);
(m) regarding the three co-sponsors (Russia, UK, USA) of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference Resolution calling for the establishment of a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction: the UK has voiced support for the vision of a MEWMDFZ and is attending the November conference; the Russian Federation endorsed the convening of the conference also is attending the November conference which it regards as easing pressure at the 2020 review conference; while the US has indicated support for the goal of a Middle East free of WMD based on direct dialogue and consensus but has condemned the General Assembly decision of 2018 to convene the November conference as “illegitimate” and is boycotting the conference; and
(n) Israel too has decided not to attend the November conference.
The METO Project
The Middle East Treaty Organization (METO) Project for a zone free of WMD in the Middle East represents a civil society initiative on “Achieving the Possible” was launched and sustained by Sharon Dolev of the Israeli Disarmament Movement and has attracted support from experts from States of the region of the Middle East as well as from other countries.
The METO project has developed the elements of a text of a MEWMDFZ treaty that has been shared with the States of the Middle East region and is designed to serve as a catalyst for them to jump start discussions on such a treaty.
Ii is hoped that the States attending the current conference can draw motivation, ideas and elements from the draft treaty text prepared by the METO Project as they discuss the possible elements and provisions of a future treaty that can garner the support of the States of the region.
Some may find shortcomings or omissions in the draft text but States of the region and other concerned parties are invited to further develop, enhance and enrich the elements presented in the draft text.
This effort needs to be joined not by sceptics nor naysayers but by optimists and those who are serious about promoting the cause of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction and of its transformation into a region of peace, justice and security.
The Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction now underway at the United Nations in New York provides a belated but important opportunity to address regional security, non-proliferation and disarmament matters in the region of the Middle East.
It sets into place an annual process focusing on discussing matters pertaining to eliminating the threats, dangers and risks of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in the region; achieving universal adherence in the region to the NPT through the verified elimination of Israel’s nuclear weapon programme, and also securing universal adherence in the region to and compliance with the Biological and Toxin Weapon Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention that prohibit biological and chemical weapons, and signature and/or ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) that prohibits all types of nuclear explosive tests.
Bringing peace and security to the region of the Middle East should be accorded the highest priority by the States of the region as well as by all other States.
Tariq Rauf, former Head of Verification and Security Policy Coordination, Office reporting to the Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency (2002-2011), was responsible for safeguards and security policy, the Director General’s annual report on the Application of Safeguards in the Middle East and for the IAEA Forum on the Experience of NWFZs relevant for the Middle East
The views expressed are the writer’s personal observations.