The Expected Scenarios of Future Disarmament in the Middle East: Aftermath of the Postponement of the 2012 Helsinki Conference

With the escalation of crisis events in the Middle East and recent international announcements, speculations abound about the future and the fate of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and prospects for the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the region remain uncertain. This pessimistic view is due to the interdependence between the indefinite extension of the treaty and its possible collapse if the 1995 Middle East resolution of the NPT Review conference is not implemented.

The postponement of the 2012 Helsinki Conference for the establishment of a nuclear weapons- and weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East (MEWMDFZ), which was to be attended by all the countries in the region, is viewed as a breach of the provision of the 2010 NPT Review Conference's final document. This impedes the implementation of the 1995 resolution on the Middle East and constitutes a setback for Arab and international efforts to free the region of nuclear weapons.

The Arab countries consider the implementation of the 2010 Review Conference recommendations as the cornerstone in their positions toward all issues of disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation, occupying a high priority on the agenda of their foreign policy, which is governed by the principle of universality of the NPT to be applied to all the countries in the region, without exception.

This was demonstrated by the Egyptian position backed by Arab support during the 2013 NPT Preparatory Committee Conference (PrepCom) in Geneva. The Arab coalition registered its objection to the decision of the conveners of the 2012 Conference to cancel/postpone the Helsinki Conference and rejected their alleged justifications. Thus, incremental steps might be taken in the absence of a serious and tangible process to resume the international conference before the 2014 PrepCom in New York, and the final step might be taken at the 2015 NPT Review Conference. There is an essential and urgent need for concrete steps to be taken before the 2015 RevCom to establish a clear implementation mechanism and a specific timetable to deal with the crucial matter of implementing the 1995 Middle East Resolution. This could be achieved, if and only if, the international community, particularly the Convener States, the United States, United Kingdom and Russia, meet their obligations seriously. Otherwise, regional states would have no option but to review their nuclear policy and issues of non-proliferation, since it is not feasible to continue providing more concessions without achieving any tangible progress on the topic.

Hopes for Implementing the 1995 Resolution Will Not Last Forever

Some believe that the cancellation/postponement of the conference is not the end of the road and will not lead to the collapse of the nonproliferation regime. This view is questionable. Hopes of implementing the 1995 Middle East Resolution will not last forever. The consequences of the postponement may be disastrous, as compliance with international obligations contains a conditional commitment not to threaten the national security of states parties and not to breach or defy the provisions and the decisions included in the treaty. The Arab states have cooperated effectively for the success of the 2012 Helsinki Conference, they have announced their willingness to participate actively, and have applied the principle of good faith in advance by withdrawing the Arab and Egyptian draft resolutions about "Israeli nuclear capabilities" at the 56th session of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference in September 2012. In addition, some Arab countries agreed to sit down at the negotiating table with Israel despite not recognizing it as a country. Although this opportunity for constructive participation should have been seized by Israel before it is too late, the response was an expected rejection. Previously, Israel rejected the outstretched hands of peace offered by 22 Arab states through the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. This opportunity may not be repeated. Israel must be aware of the new realities and changes in the Middle East and interpret them reasonably. In such a highly strained environment, it is necessary to lay the foundation for regional security and the gradual transition from a zero-sum attitude to positive cooperation. Israel is not part of the process, but the main part of the problem that needs to be solved in a peaceful and collaborative commitment to maintain regional security for all the countries of the region without exception.

Current circumstances and variables presented in the region may limit the expected scenarios of the future of disarmament in the Middle East as follows:

The first scenario: Convening the Middle East Conference 2012 prior to the 2014 NPT PrepCom in New York. So far, the only two optimistic developments are: First, the European Union resolution by the European Parliament in January 2013 urging to resume negotiations for the 2012 Middle East Conference and to identify a date for convening it, and secondly, the Russian proposal to hold the conference in December 2013. The proposal has received support from Egypt and other Arab states. However, these developments are not enough in light of the current situation. The matter requires translating the initiatives into practical and concrete steps by all parties concerned, specifically the three co-sponsor states of the 1995 ME Resolution (the U.S., Russia and the UK).

The second scenario: Convening the Middle East Conference prior to the 2015 NPT Review Conference in New York. The Arab states might take all possible steps in all forums of disarmament, non-proliferation and other related issues to push the international community, and in particular the cosponsors states, to carry out their obligations for implementing the Middle East Resolution of 1995, by setting a date for convening the postponed 2012 Helsinki Conference for the establishment of an MEWMDFZ and by putting more pressure not only on Iran but also on Israel to respond to and comply with international calls to free the region of nuclear weapons and WMD and to show their good will and seriousness.

The third scenario: Disband and not convene the 2012 Middle East Conference before the NPT Review Conference in New York in 2015. This may happen due to the following reasons:

1) Israel's intransigent position on nuclear issues and non-compliance with the will of the international community for it to play an active role in freeing the Middle East of nuclear weapons and all WMD, while insisting on implementing serial confidence-building measures before arms control, which represents the "security dilemma."
2) The failure of Iran and the West to reach an agreement regarding Iran's alleged nuclear program, which raises Arab concern.
3) The occurrence of a war in the ME region or a nuclear and environmental disaster caused by the Israeli nuclear reactor that is over 60 years old and consequently poses a catastrophic risk to the surrounding area in Israel and nearby countries such as Egypt and Jordan.

The last scenario may lead to the obstruction of progress toward the establishment of regional peace and security and may increase the risk of nuclear arms proliferation in the Middle East - and the actual collapse of the non-proliferation regime. In 2011 the former head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Faisal, stated the possibility of the kingdom and other countries in the region seeking possession of nuclear weapons in the case of a failure of international efforts to persuade Israel to join the NPT as a non-nuclear state, place all its nuclear facilities under the comprehensive safeguards system of the IAEA, reach a peaceful agreement over the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program and abandon its nuclear military ambitions.

The Egyptian National Security Interest

Given the current regional situation and considering the growing role of public opinion toward domestic and foreign policy, particularly regarding the continuity of a treaty in which the security and stability of the Arab countries may not be adequately provided for, the Egyptian national security interest might be negatively impacted, creating strategic disruption in the region. This discourse could push Arab governments to comply with the will of their population by taking appropriate alternative options. From an Arab standpoint, the status quo of nuclear imbalance makes the region totally dependent on Israel's good intentions rather than on systematic guarantees for security and stability such as the establishment of a nuclear weapons- and WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

In the end, this crucial unfinished nuclear matter does not depend only on the efforts of Arab states and Iran, but also on Israel's political will and desire to provide sustainable security to Israelis through the achievement of nuclear security cooperation with regional states that will lead inevitably to reaching the desired peace. It also depends on the seriousness of the international parties, particularly the co-sponsor states, to shoulder their obligations toward the implementation of the Middle East Resolution of 1995, which is considered the essential pillar on which the NPT was indefinitely extended without a vote.