Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone in the Middle East
Researcher, Princeton University
Presented at Church Center, New York
October 17, 2012
The Iranian nuclear program has come under the spotlight in recent years, where the West has accused Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons and an obstacle to nuclear non- proliferation. Yet, Iran has maintained that its program is peaceful purposes and supports initiatives such as WMDFZ ME to ensure that there is “nuclear energy for all. Nuclear weapons for none.”
I aim to provide a glimpse into the Iranian perspective on the WMDFZ Middle East and whether it can be a partner rather than an obstacle.
1. Iran’s historical role in WMDFZ ME:
a. A nuclear-weapon-free zone for the Middle East was first proposed to the UNGA by Iran in 1974.i
b. Egypt expanded the proposal to include all WMD and the UNGA passed a resolution in support of creating a WMDFZ in ME in 1990.ii
c. A future WMDFZ would commit parties not to possess, acquire, test, manufacture or use any nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as well as their delivery systems.
2. Is Iran aiming to build the bomb or not? Well the following signs indicate it does not:
a. Today, Iran does not possess any type of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and has signed all major treaties against the possession of weapons of mass destruction. These include the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) .iii
b. Iran is the only country in post World War II that has been inflicted with WMDs at the hands of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, costing over a 100,000 lives and injuries. This experience has engrained the necessity for it ‘never to happen again’ and its commitment towards a WMDFZ.
c. Since 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has implemented the most robust inspections in its history with more than 100 unannounced and over 4000 man-day inspections in Iran. The agency has frequently declared there is no evidence of even a gram of nuclear material diverted towards building nuclear bomb.
d. Based on Iranian assessment, the possession of nuclear weapons would provide only a short-term regional advantage that would turn into a longer- term vulnerability, because sooner or later Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia would follow suit and a regional nuclear arms race would be inescapable.iv
e. The US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in 2007 and 2011 concluded that:
• Iran does not have nuclear weapons;v
• Is not on the verge of acquiring a nuclear weapon, and
• Iranian leaders had made no political decision yet to build an actual weapon.vi
f. In summer 2011, Mohamed ElBaradei, the former Director General of the IAEA for 12 years and the Nobel Peace Prize recipient stated: “I have not seen a shred of evidence that Iran has been weaponizing, in terms of building nuclear-weapons facilities and using enriched materials … I don’t believe Iran is a clear and present danger. All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran.”vii
3. WMDFZ is a strategic doctrine of Iran in the region:
Evidence: initiated and supported WMDFZ in Middle East, member of conventions and has none of the WMDs. Iran has religiously obligated itself against nuclear weapons. Based on the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s fatwa or religious decree, the use of nuclear weapons and all other types of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is haram or prohibited, a sin, useless, costly, harmful and dangerous, posing a serious threat to humanity.
4. There has been little tangible progress toward this goal during the subsequent four decades. Iran seems to be on board. Then what is the main obstacle?
a. First, Israel is the only country in the region that possesses weapons of mass destruction—including nuclear weapons arsenal ranging from 80-400. While all the countries in the region except Israel are parties to the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). It is also the sole state that is blocking the realization of the WMDFZ in Middle East as it requires first security guarantees from regional states before considering supporting even the idea.
b. Second, the region faces several mutually reinforcing insecurity dilemmas: between Iran and Israel; between Iran and the Persian Gulf states; and between Israel and the Arab states and these confrontations are intensifying – in some cases because of the changes of governments as a result of the “Arab Spring.” Finally, there is an ongoing buildup of conventional arms: In 2011, the Obama administration agreed to sell $60 billion of weaponry to Saudi Arabia, the biggest arms sale in US history. viii
5. Is there hope? Yes! For the following reason:
a. The stagnation of the initiative for the WMDFZ in ME is primarily based on the nuclear monopoly of Israel in the region and the West’s efforts to keep it that way. This is no longer the case, since Iran has mastered the breakout capability and if it chooses–can build a nuclear weapon. The combination of Israeli’s nuclear arsenal and Iran’s breakout capability reinforces the need for a realistic agreement on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.
b. The Israeli domestic stance is changing. A poll conducted in 2011 by the University of Maryland concluded that nearly two-thirds of Israelis favor a nuclear free zone in the Middle East.ix
c. The ‘Arab Spring’ has completely changed the region and revived calls for democracy, freedom and end to dictatorial rule. The populous of the region is first and foremost young—75% are below the age of 35—they will be the drivers of change. Second, decades old Western backed dictators have collapsed by the will of the people. There is no longer the fear of authorities, may they be their own rulers or the all powerful—US backed Israel. This new reality requires new thinking and a paradigm shift in Western, US and Israeli regional policy towards supporting the democratic change sweeping the region. One mechanism to harness this ambition and positive energy of the youth and ensure future stability, security and nuclear non-proliferation is through the WMDFZ. I hope that this time, in particular in the upcoming meeting in December in Finland addressing WMDFZ Middle East, the world will take it seriously or be judged like those who refused change.
iii “Signatories of the Biological Weapons Convention”. Opbw.org. http://www.opbw.org/convention/status.html. Retrieved 23 November 2011;
ab “States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention”. Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. 20 May 2008. http://www.opcw.org/about-opcw/member-states/. Retrieved 22 July 2008.
ab “Signatories and Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons”. http://www.fas.org/nuke/control/npt/text/npt3.htm. Retrieved 17 April 2006.
Nuclear Bomb is not Logical”, Ali Akbar Salehi, BBC Persian, http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/2012/10/121001_u14_salehi_presser.shtml
vi http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/09/world/middleeast/iran-will-soon-move-uranium-work-underground- official-says.html?pagewanted=2
vii http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/are-sanctions-fatwa-iran-6363?page=1 http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/to-deal-with-irans-nuclear-future-go-back-to-2008/2011/10/26/gIQADQyEKM_story.html