The issue of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle-East region is very relevant: indeed Egypt, Syria and Israel are neither parties to the Convention of prohibition of chemical weapons nor to the Convention of prohibition of biological weapons and Israel refuses to sign the Non proliferation Treaty (NPT). All states have also been engaged for several years in a policy of storage of increasingly efficient missiles, capable of carrying both conventional and unconventional loads and capable of reaching distant targets.
More than fifty years have been necessary for applying the concept of a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction (NWFZ /WMDFZ) to the Middle-East. Among the different fora where the Arab States have promoted the project of creating this NWFZ / WMDFZ, it is finally under the framework of NPT Review Conferences that it could at last find its place. It took fifteen years since the resolution on the Middle East included in the final document of the 1995 NPT Review Conference, to agree on the organization, in 2012, of a conference on the establishment of a NWFZ / WMDFZ in the region.
Despite intensive efforts from the designated Finnish facilitator and from the civil society at an international level, the 2010 NPT Review Conference’s final document remains vague. Two months prior to the planned Conference at the end of December, the date of the event is still not known and the participation of all States in the Middle East not confirmed. No agenda has been set yet nor the appropriate form of debates and the expected results of the Conference.
Several factors seem to suggest the failure of the Conference. First, the timing for the meeting: the political changes in some Middle-Eastern countries have affected, over the long term, the regional order to the extent that some interstate relations are taking a new turn. Several States have suffered (and are still suffering) from politico-security instability, that could question the credibility and the legitimacy of representative institutions and, beyond, those of the decisions that are made or that could be made. In addition, the preparation has not been optimal since Iran and Israel cast some doubts about their participation until the last moment, remaining away from preliminary discussions on the topic. The development of Iran's nuclear program also remains a possible factor of the failure of the Conference, not because of the possible response brought by the Arab states to this threat, but because it would make Israel's commitment to a process of establishing a zone free of nuclear weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East extremely difficult –if not impossible– for many years.
Some aspects deserve to be clarified before the beginning of the Conference, in order to geographically and thematically define the Conference:
- The question of the integration of Turkey in a Middle-East WMDFZ should be raised because it could influence the evolution of the process of creating a ZEADM. If Turkey has promoted close relationships with all its regional neighbors and has developed an attractive politico-social model for Arab societies, it has seen its relations with Iran turning to a « soft » competition for regional leadership. Its condition of US unconditional ally, symbolized by the presence of tactical nuclear weapons and of a missile defense element on its territory, may complicate already difficult negotiations between different actors.
- To obtain from all States in the Middle-East their participation and a positive and constructive attitude, it is imperative not to stigmatize any weapons of mass destruction, which may lead to the stigmatization of certain States and may transform the Conference in tribunal for bad pupils.
- The security issue is a constant irritant in the Middle-East, so it might be wise to engage in discussions in terms of the humanitarian impact resulting from the use of weapons of mass destruction. This would stigmatize the use of these weapons and therefore limit it. More broadly, the debate could extend to others issues such as the sustainable impact of these weapons in environmental and health terms or the (in) ability of these weapons to meet current and future challenges (terrorism, climate change, malnutrition ...).
-The Helsinki Conference can only be a first step of the project of a Middle-East NWFZ / WMDFZ whose stakes go beyond the region itself. As such it does not need unreachable ambitions but good wills and proposals. From this perspective, opting for confidence-building measures would be a modest but certain beginning: declaration of commitment from the States, adherence to certain international instruments indirectly related to the possession of weapons of mass destruction such as the CTBT or the Hague Code of Conduct.
- The growing determination of States in the region to develop peaceful nuclear programs to address their energy shortages could be used as leverage for their adherence to arms control instruments such as the IAEA Additional Protocol which strengthens guarantees and prerogatives of the Agency.
- A revival of discussions within the Arms Control and Regional Security group discussions could be seriously considered if the lessons of the previous debates are learned and if appropriate solutions are found such as the participation of all States in the region, the change of the external mediator or the dissociation of these discussions from the peace process.