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Op-ed

WMD-Free Middle East

Antonia Dimou, November 30, 2011

The idea of arms control is not foreign in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Through time, Egypt, Israel and Jordan have agreed to a variety of arms-control and confidence-building measures with regards to disengagement of their forces, demilitarization and limitation of forces agreements. In this context, the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty incorporates a number of arms-control measures that address the security concerns of each side and provides a blueprint of genuine partnership for peace in the regional context. Israel's treaties with Egypt and Jordan show that "full peace" is a relative term that varies in content and has evolved over time.

While the intricate and intrusive Sinai military arrangements are the key to what the Egypt-Israel agreement posits as "maximum security," the Jordan-Israel agreement offers "good neighborly relations and cooperation" as the true source of "lasting security." In practical terms, this includes cooperation on both a bilateral basis to combat terrorism and prevent cross-border infiltration, and on a regional basis with the aim to create a Conference of Security and Cooperation in the Middle East, and a regional zone free from weapons of mass destruction.
 
Specifically, according to Article 7, the parties "undertake to work as a matter of priority, and as soon as possible, in the context of the Multilateral Working Group on Arms Control and Regional Security, and jointly, towards the creation of a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction, both conventional and non-conventional, in the context of a comprehensive, lasting and stable peace, characterized by the renunciation of the use of force, and by reconciliation and good will." Also, both parties undertake "to refrain from the threat of use of force or weapons, conventional, non-conventional or of any other kind, against each other, or of other actions or activities that adversely affect the security of the other Party."
 
From the start of the multilaterals, Jordan has advocated the need for a new regional institutional framework to support the objectives and reinforce arms-control talks. After a series of talks throughout 1994, the idea of setting up a regional security center with headquarters in Amman as a venue for seminars and training on arms control and regional security was endorsed. Since 1995, when the ACRS Group, the only formal regional arms control mechanism, halted, the role of Jordanian civil society in promoting the establishment of a WMDFZ in the region has been critical as the only forum for regular dialogue on non-proliferation and arms-control issues.
 
The Middle East Scientific Institute for Security (MESIS), previously known as the Cooperative Monitoring Center associated with the Royal Scientific Society, was established in 2002 in Amman jointly with the U.S. Department of Energy and Sandia National Laboratories. MESIS activities include conducting studies with regional experts on technical aspects of arms control with the aim of reducing the motivation of regional states to acquire WMD. It hosts workshops on regional biosecurity and biosafety and on approaches to national implementation of WMD agreements.
 
Also, the Middle East Security Consultants established in January in Amman includes a group of experts whose main focus is on the political developments of the Arab world, the future Arab-Israeli relations, and Nuclear, Biological and Chemical proliferation. Equally significant is the role of the El Hassan Science City located in Amman that has established a strong relationship with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and supports the efforts of the organization to ensure that testing of nuclear weapons is banned in all its forms. Upon the logic that the organization is central to global and regional disarmament and non-proliferation efforts, Jordan has given a home to the CTBTO auxiliary seismic station at Tel al- Asfar, which has been in operation since 2002.
 
Jordan supported the resolution on the Middle East adopted by the 1995 Review and Extension Conference, which had been "the basis on which the Treaty was indefinitely extended." In fact, Jordan was among the Arab countries that joined consensus in exchange for a call on "all states in the Middle East, including Israel, to take practical steps … aimed at making progress towards … an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of WMD and their delivery systems," and on "all states party to the NPT to assure the early establishment by regional countries of such a zone."
 
The relationship between the Middle East WMDFZ and a regional peace agreement has gained much debate. For Israel, a comprehensive agreement must precede the establishment of the zone. This linkage was also acknowledged in the 1995 NPT Middle East Resolution, albeit in a subtle manner. Since the weapons build upon the region is consequence of the conflict and tensions between regional states, the root causes of the conflict must be addressed as a priority. The Arab position that a WMDFZ should be established prior to a comprehensive peace settlement is not accepted by Israel. To Israel peace comes first, and denuclearization last. In a way, this concept is embedded in the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty that speaks for a WMDFZ as a goal "to be achieved in the context of a comprehensive, lasting and stable peace."
 
It seems that there are two major prerequisites for any negotiation on a WMDFZ to be successful: first, better knowledge of the risk assessment, strategic and threat perceptions of the various regional players. National security has been perceived as a zero-sum game, wherein gains for one side have been viewed as constituting a potential threat to the other. There has been little recognition that arms control or arms reductions and the search for political agreements in this area would serve either national or mutual interests. On the contrary, when considering its regional environment, each state may come to the conclusion that its national security requires increasing its own level of armaments or even turning to WMD. For instance, Israel considers itself under an existential threat from Iran, but Iran feels threatened by Israeli capabilities and cannot ignore the presence of U.S. forces or bases in most of its neighbor­hood.
 
Second, there is need to increase the regional flow of informa­tion regarding military spending and arms transfers, and to develop confidence and security-build­ing measures. The collection, by an impartial body, of data related to military budgets, transfers, and non-proliferation measures can be a first necessary step towards disarmament in a WMDFZ.
 
Jordan is a strong advocate of a WMDFZ that rids the region from the threats of using these weapons. It is noteworthy that in 2004 the kingdom had become target of a terrorist organization that planned to unleash a chemical weapons attack within Jordan proper. Jordanian authorities captured trucks with 20 tons of chemicals like Vx nerve agent and explosives planned to cause explosions that would have dispersed the toxic chemicals and would have killed as many as 20,000 people. The planned chemical attack on Jordan has reconfigured the whole WMD debate inside the kingdom.
 
Nowadays, Jordan has declared its interest in acquiring nuclear power, a policy not embarked in response to Israel's supposed nuclear capabilities. Jordan's planning to utilize nuclear power and pursue its nuclear program is driven by economic considerations including the use of nuclear power as a source of energy and to produce desalinated water much needed for a country with limited natural resources and an expanding population.
 
The need for energy security seems to sit with a deep fear of having nuclear capable countries in the Middle East. This should not be the case. The nuclear agenda in the region has flipped from military to socio-economic in most of the political thinking of regional governments, while a raft of international agreements and protocols have enmeshed most of these governments in a peaceful, regional nuclear structure. Measures such as the IAEA Safeguards on peaceful nuclear activities, Additional Protocol measures, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty will change the landscape with the cooperation of most regional actors.
 
In this regional framework, and in line with the second major prerequisite for the establishment of a WMDFZ, Jordan plans to establish a Regional Data Centre that will cooperate with the CTBTO to facilitate researchers from neighboring countries and help preparations to implement the verification regime beyond its borders. Jordan has gained invaluable experience by establishing and expanding the first National Data Centre currently based at the Jordan Seismological Observatory, developing rare technical expertise that can be shared with regional countries.
 
Additionally, in line with the Jordan-Israel peace treaty that provides for "lasting security," Israel and Jordan periodically conduct joint earthquake exercises to practice techniques in evacuation and to test preparedness for an earthquake in the region, and/or of the simultaneous occurrence of an earthquake and nuclear disaster.
 
The cornerstone of establishing a Middle East WMDFZ is the political commitment of regional countries to lead this undertaking as well as institutionalized planning, systematic studies, and efforts on the political, technical and legal aspects to achieve timely results. Significant track-II efforts can help produce progress on the matter, while enhancing the role of science and technology, cooperative monitoring, and action programs on the national and regional levels can all serve the ultimate goal of creating a Middle East WMDFZ.
 
 
Antonia Dimou works with the Center for Strategic Studies, University of Jordan, and the Institute for Security and Defense Analyses, Greece.

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