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Tuesday, 29 May 2012

A WMD-free Middle East?

Went this morning to a Chatham House briefing (http://www.chathamhouse.org/events/view/183213) on "Nuclear Non-Proliferation: Towards a WMD Free Zone in the Middle East". The idea of a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East was first developed by some Israeli thinkers as long ago as 1962. As was said today, there is no room for starry-eyed optimism on this topic, but discussing it (and discussing how we might achieve it) is better than not discussing it. This at a time when we have to be worried about the fate of whatever chemical weapons might be in Syria, Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions and the possible poor state (in environmental terms) of Israel's ageing Dimona nuclear reactor.

Could a possible international conference on creating a WMD-free Middle East focus separately on different types of weapon (chemical, biological and nuclear), rather than attempting to deal with WMD in the round? Could there be an Islamic edict prohibiting Muslim countries from ever using WMD, given that a past such edict appears to have been followed by France having encouraged Iran to ignore the edict and continue to develop nuclear power, for what I presume to be French economic reasons? Has the Judeo-Christian West (unfortunately) developed a doctrine under which it is morally acceptable to possess nuclear bombs as a weapon of last resort, thus creating a template for a similar doctrine in the Islamic world?

If Israel says "let's have regional peace before we have a nuclear-free zone" and Egypt says "Regional peace is not in prospect, let's adopt a nuclear-free zone first", then could that be about to change? If Egypt now has to (for the first time) take account of Egyptian public opinion, then will Egyptian public opinion now want to solve Israeli/Palestinian problems first, and create a WMD-free zone later? Could Israel even go into an international conference offering to close Dimona, given that a small but growing part of Israeli civil society cares about this issue, and given that environmental issues are increasingly salient in Israeli society? Without Dimona, how could Israel produce or renew nuclear weapons? What happens environmentally if an Iranian missile hits Dimona?

Are all the weapons that were in Iraq and Libya now accounted for? If Syria uses chemical weapons against its own people (as the other Baathist regime did in Iraq - it also used chemical weapons against Iran), what happens diplomatically? What about the remains of Algeria's nuclear programme, amid (not very serious) speculation about terrorists using those remains to build weapons? What lessons can we learn from the successful creation of other nuclear-weapon-free zones, including the one in Latin America, which (let's not forget) used to be a major conflict zone, with Argentina and Brazil having both had nuclear weapons programmes?

http://www.unidir.org/pdf/articles/pdf-art3085.pdf is a fascinating article on this, co-authored by Dr Patricia Lewis, Chatham House's Research Director for International Security. One other contribution to this debate is at: http://youtube.com/watch?desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DfrAEmhqdLFs&v=frAEmhqdLFs&gl=US

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