Journal Article - United Nations Department for Disarmament Affairs

Examining Modalities for Nuclear Disarmament in the Middle East WMD-Free Zone Treaty

| May 04, 2023

Nearly three decades have passed since the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was extended indefinitely in 1995. The Resolution on the Middle East, which called for the establishment of a Middle East weapons
of mass destruction-free zone (ME WMDFZ), was an essential part of the agreement on an extension. Now, for the first time, the states of the region have begun negotiations on a treaty establishing such a zone. The deliberations convened under the auspices of the United Nations Secretary-General are at an early stage. Since the Conference started in 2019, decisions on key matters, including the scope of obligations pertaining to nuclear weapons, are still under discussion. The ME WMDFZ, once established, will join the five existing regional Nuclear Weapon-Free Zones (NWFZs) and become part of the wider international multilateral regime of non-proliferation, disarmament and arms control instruments. The negotiators charged with formulating the draft treaty have a wealth of experiences and precedents from which to draw. However, the unique characteristics of the Middle East necessitate a broad consideration of the scope of obligations within a ME WMDFZ treaty that could go further than the existing NWFZs. One of these key considerations will be how to address nuclear disarmament given the lack of clarity surrounding Israel’s nuclear capabilities. Additionally, there are lingering questions regarding the trajectory of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear programme given the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The history of proliferation in the Middle East has featured a significant number of past and ongoing cases of non-compliance with NPT safeguards obligations in the region, such as those in Iran, Iraq, Libya and the Syrian Arab Republic, and Saudi Arabia has hinted publicly at the possibility of pursuing nuclear weapons. These all point to the need to construct a viable nuclear disarmament framework as a key pillar of the zone framework to address not only existing cases of nuclear weapon possession, but also the continuous verification of non-diversion of nuclear material. Negotiating a framework that both addresses disarmament and aims to prevent future proliferation cases in the Middle East zone will undoubtedly be a difficult task, not least because of the technical challenges associated with nuclear weapon verification and disarmament and the aforementioned issues of the region. So far, most discussions have been related to the prohibition of nuclear weapon-related activities, such as their development, manufacture, production or testing, while the issue of nuclear disarmament has received little attention. Despite numerous regional and global frameworks in the form of the various NWFZ treaties and the NPT, there are few available international
mechanisms addressing nuclear disarmament. Those that do exist are relatively nascent and, in many ways, still evolving.
This paper addresses the complexities associated with nuclear disarmament in the absence of an internationally accepted multilateral framework. Its objective is to provide officials and experts with an overview of existing frameworks and
tools for nuclear disarmament and how these might be addressed in the regional context and in the ME WMDFZ treaty.5 The paper sketches out and examines the implications of two primary pathways to achieve nuclear disarmament in a
future ME WMDFZ treaty: disarmament as a precondition for joining the treaty, and the inclusion of specific disarmament provisions in the zone treaty. The paper also discusses the implications for each pathway. As states of the region have not yet set out the modalities of disarmament for a ME WMDFZ treaty, it is important to highlight that each pathway raises a different set of questions. These centre on the level of assurance and the conditions that states would find satisfactory or the level of certification or information to establish confidence in the outcome of the disarmament process. The questions also concern whether the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and/or a regional organization, or another entity could provide the verification of nuclear disarmament

  – Via United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research.

About This Journal Article

Examining Modalities for Nuclear Disarmament in the Middle East WMD-Free Zone Treaty
For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Haggag, Karim. Examining Modalities for Nuclear Disarmament in the Middle East WMD-Free Zone Treaty.” , (May 4, 2023) .

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