Assessing the NPT Review Conference

Friday 05/06/2015
A frustrated Egypt

Dubai - The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Con­ference recently ended a month-long series of meetings without agree­ment. The vision for a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East has been championed by and invest­ed in heavily by the international community and, in particular, the League of Arab States (LAS). The undeclared nuclear arsenal of Israel and, more recently the suspected activities of the nuclear programme in Iran have proved major stum­bling blocks in the process, along with failure to settle the Arab-Is­raeli conflict and establish an inde­pendent Palestinian state.
Most recently, uncertain political conditions in the region post-“Arab spring” have hindered the willing­ness of Israel to participate in the process even though its undeclared nuclear arsenal is of redundant val­ue from a strategic military power context.
After years of preparatory meet­ings, discussions and negotiations to define and address basic aspects of the process, Arab states — led by Egypt under the LAS — are grow­ing tired and frustrated. The United States increasingly faces a credibil­ity crisis as a committed and impar­tial stakeholder in the process due to its special treatment of Israel. After the United States vetoed a proposal by Egypt (joined by the United Kingdom and Canada) at the Review Conference, Israel made a public display of its appreciation to the United States for its support.
The proposal by Egypt wanted to do away with the facilitator and the three conveners of the process - the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia - and instead empower the UN secretary-general to hold the conference within six months from conclusion of the Review Conference (with or without Israel, or any other state for that matter).
It also proposed one working group be set up to address the scope, limits and interim measures of the process and another to work on implementation, verification and compliance. For the United States, the proposal and its expec­tations unfairly singled out Israel and were deemed unrealistic. For Arab states, if the process for estab­lishing a WMDFZ in the Middle East is going to achieve any progress — and soon — it will need to change.
The latest Egyptian proposal was somewhat audacious, but unlikely to succeed. The idea was instead to pressure Israel as well as make a clear statement of intent. For Arab states, continuing on the current path with an open-ended process looking for unanimity does not work. A WMDFZ in the Middle East cannot be achieved until and unless it addresses Israeli nuclear capabili­ties, along with chemical and bio­logical weapons and their delivery systems.
If the United States is not going to facilitate the process intensely or position itself to move it forward more seriously by pressing Israel to engage other stakeholders in the process, then the message from Arab states is that they will seek al­ternatives.
The Arab perspective is that a WMDFZ in the Middle East is in­creasingly moving out of reach. Serious stock-taking among Arab leaders is questioning the utility of their policies and whether, or for how much longer, they can afford to invest in the process. Indeed, the strategic costs associated for Arab states with the broader issue of non-proliferation but if a WMDFZ in the Middle East is not viable and the international non-proliferation regime cannot meet its stated ob­jectives then where does that leave the security interest of Arab states in, say, 2030?
The Arab perception is that there are double standards in the inter­national non-proliferation regime: States that have built a large nu­clear arsenal, such as Israel and Iran, whose status as a threshold nuclear weapons state is effective­ly being formalised, are rewarded with special treatment. Arab states, on the other hand, have found no capable or willing partner to drive this process forward materially and tangibly and we may be witnessing an aggressive final push from Arab states to realise a WMDFZ in the Middle East before they, too, give up on the idea if these efforts lead, again, nowhere.