Towards 2010 and Beyond - Challenges for the Non-Proliferation Regime and the Middle East

1 May 2009

Challenges for the Non-Proliferation Regime and the Middle East

Sameh Aboul-Enein

The nuclear non-proliferation regime is faced with profound challenges and dynamic opportunities. This short analysis, delivered in the closing panel of the 2009 Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference on "The Nuclear Order - Build or Break", focuses on five practical steps to move forward to 2010 and beyond.

1. The 2010 Review Conference

The 2010 NPT Review Conference represents a real window of opportunity to build on previous commitments - such as those made in 2000 - and to take concrete steps to achieve progress towards a nuclear weapon free world. The responsibility to achieve that lies with all of us - nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states, members and non-members of the NPT.

The preparatory meetings suggest there is a real willingness on the part of many members to strengthen the treaty and achieve its universality. We must remember today that key successes included South Africa's historic decision to dismantle its nuclear weapons and join the Treaty, decisions by Brazil and Argentina to roll back their nuclear programmes and create a bilateral verification agency, and the decisions by Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine to transfer nuclear weapons back to Russia after they seceded from the Soviet Union. The actions by these states to give up nuclear programmes and weapons deserve greater recognition, for they lead the way for other states with weapons and military nuclear programmes to follow.

Looking towards and beyond 2010, the NPT itself needs to be strengthened. We must utilize the remaining time before the 2010 Review Conference with more focused, constructive discussions among the key protagonists and interlocutors. We need to work towards agreement to establish a permanent secretariat and move towards creating an implementing organization to carry through decisions of Conferences of States Parties, working together with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as appropriate. We could also consider ways to ensure continuity in the annual process and raise the tempo, perhaps by having a fourth PrepCom.

Member states should consider ways to raise the political profile of the NPT - how about making the upcoming NPT Review Conference in 2010 a ministerial level meeting, for example? We have recognized the need to think along the lines of summits on the topics of energy, population, food, the financial crisis and climate change. Why can't there be a Summit for a Nuclear Free World? Such a Summit would provide a potential mechanism also to achieve the universality of the NPT.

More than ten years ago, the foreign ministers of seven countries - Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden - joined together to form the New Agenda Coalition to give fresh impetus to the efforts to achieve progress in nuclear disarmament. The need for such energy is as strong as ever today. We need a revitalized New Agenda Coalition to work closely with the Obama administration and the other nuclear weapon states to accelerate implementation on agreed practical steps and identify what more needs to be done.

As the vehicle for achieving this aim, we should pull together the 13 steps from the 2000 Review Conference with the many other practical proposals made by member states and expert groups since 2000. Balancing such initiatives will have a much better chance of achieving global consensus. A cross-regional multilateral and multicultural dialogue is needed for this purpose, one with a clear objective of a world free of nuclear weapons.

2. The Conference on Disarmament

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) has a special role that it can play in nuclear disarmament. It is a unique forum that includes the P-5 plus the non-NPT members. It should immediately establish an appropriate subsidiary body with a mandate to deal with nuclear disarmament.

Much more could be done in Geneva. The CD has vast potential and expertise that can make a difference if governments can summon the necessary political will. Experts, diplomats, researchers, nongovernmental organizations and research institutes (including governmental ones) could do more; at least they could and should facilitate workshops and international dialogue. They can begin working on a genuine international collaboration.

The CD must begin negotiations on a nondiscriminatory, multilateral, and verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material, based on the Shannon Mandate, with a view to completing the text within five years so that it can be opened for signature before the 2015 Review Conference. The deadlock over establishing an ad hoc committee on a Fissile Materials Treaty. If negotiations continue to be delayed, a group of experts should be convened and technical and scientific seminars should be held to discuss scope, definitions, transparency, accountability, and verification issues.

In addition to reinvigorating efforts to negotiate a Fissile Materials Treaty, the CD should consider making progress on the following:

  • Discussion by an ad hoc group of the steps that would lead toward systematic and progressive efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.
  • Dialogue among states that possess nuclear weapons and those that do not on practical steps that would facilitate the implementation of this commitment.
  • Technical seminars to address issues of scope, definitions and verification for nuclear disarmament agreements.
  • Development of ad hoc exchanges to establish a precedent that non-nuclear-weapon states have a legitimate interest and right to question nuclear-weapon states on nuclear disarmament matters.

Yes the CD can be revived! We need to open its curtains and get its members looking for common ground and cooperative action rather than simply issuing position statements. We can immediately establish several open-ended cross-regional working groups in the CD to move priority issues forward.

3.The Middle East

The 1995 Resolution on the Middle East adopted by the NPT Review and Extension Conference recognized the region's special status, as did the Final Document of the 2000 NPT Review Conference. Insofar as it pertains to the NPT, particularly its review, implementation and universality, the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East focused on achieving the following clear objectives:

  • The establishment of a nuclear-weapon free zone in the Middle East.
  • The accession to the NPT by states in the region that have not yet done so.
  • The placement of all nuclear facilities in the Middle East under full-scope IAEA safeguards.

Fourteen years have elapsed since the adoption of the 1995 resolution. It is clear that impetus must be given to this agenda. I support the suggestion that the 2010 Review Conference should appoint a Special Coordinator whose role would be to oversee implementation of the resolution. This will help to build confidence that this objective - so central to the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995 - is being taken seriously.

Such a Coordinator could be tasked with facilitating a route to constructive dialogue in the framework of the 1995 Middle East resolution and to begin practical steps to convene an International Conference in the Middle East to address both regional security and a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East with the objective of establishing a legally-binding and internationally and effectively-verifiable treaty for such a zone. This would be a start, but significant wider beneficial consequences can be envisaged, for the peace process in the Middle East, for example.

The establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East is a first step toward creating an effectively verifiable zone in the Middle East that would be free of all weapons of mass destruction - nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their delivery systems. I encourage all to look once again at Egyptian President Mubarak's initiative for the establishment of such a zone in the Middle East. It has three main components.

a) The prohibition of all weapons of mass destruction - nuclear, biological, and chemical - in all states of the Middle East.

b) All states in the region should provide assurance toward the full implementation of this goal, in an equal and reciprocal manner to fulfil this end.

c) Establishing proper verification measures and modalities to ensure the compliance of all states of the region without exception.

All states in the region must acknowledge and accept a challenging and deep responsibility towards achieving regional security.

Looking forward from here, universality of the NPT is critical to regional and global security, because states remaining outside the Treaty fundamentally weaken it by undermining the benefits of membership for their neighbours and by maintaining nuclear programmes that constitute a continuing nuclear danger to their neighbours and the rest of the world.

For 2010 and beyond, the Review Conference should seriously consider establishing an NPT Universality Adherence Support unit to address directly the mechanisms that will bring states outside the treaty into the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states.

4. Beyond the 2010 Review Conference and Nuclear Zero

We must not let the momentum slow after the NPT Review Conference. We must keep our eyes on the goal - the elimination of nuclear weapons and the assurance that they will never be produced or used again. This will require the active negotiation of a nuclear weapons convention, as called for by the UN General Assembly, and recently endorsed by the UN Secretary General in a speech on 24 October 2008. This is the logical conclusion to the current campaigns for global zero, and all states need to engage seriously with this project.

For the vision of zero to be credible, the permanent members of the UN Security Council should take the lead at an early stage. We have recently seen the link between disarmament and non-proliferation explicitly acknowledged by several key statesmen - this is to be warmly welcomed. Their action agenda must now include verification, the progressive deep reduction of operationally deployed strategic warheads, and a freeze in upgrading, modernizing and replacing existing weapons.

The role of nuclear weapons in military doctrines must be progressively and dramatically reduced as a matter of urgency, not only to enhance strategic stability and contribute to a climate of international confidence and security, but also to facilitate the process of eliminating the weapons. Any plans to develop new nuclear weapons or new uses, roles, or rationalizations for their use must be shelved immediately.

The P-5 need to act in a coherent and coordinated manner in a way that demonstrates they have the necessary transparent and credible political commitment to carry through their agreed and required undertakings.

5. Trust and the Way forward

Finally, the concept of trust remains poorly understood, yet is central to our work on the future of nuclear disarmament and arms control. Mutual trust is a key to any process of cooperation among nations. Trust, in my view, is about constructive dialogue, cross-regional exchange, reaching out, crossing bridges and cross-cultural tolerance; it is about building mutual interests and respect for differences.

We need a genuine and candid conversation about nuclear disarmament between officials and experts from nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states. There has not been such a conversation for a long time. We need to exploit all the opportunities that can exist to make this happen, and to invite into the conversation representatives of civil society who can inject valuable information, insights and perspectives, as well as providing bridges and discussion spaces, just like this one, that can help break deadlocks.

Civil society has a key role to play. It raised awareness on small arms and on cluster munitions, and before that on the need for a comprehensive ban on all nuclear testing. NGOs have forged an action-partnership with governments to achieve change that we are only beginning to see the consequences of. We need to recognize the role of civil society and integrate NGOs more effectively and respectfully into the NPT review process - as partners with governmental diplomacy, with a different but essential role to play.

Furthermore, women have an essential role in peace-making and security-building that should be respected and supported. Women have long played a leadership role in promoting global disarmament, and gender perspectives can affect the way society views nuclear weapons and pave the way for them to be devalued and abolished. The road to total nuclear disarmament and the culture of peace must be part of an educational and awareness programme that will require women as well as men around the world to participate fully and actively.

Finally, the time has come for serious people of all political perspectives to engage in thoughtful, transparent conversations with the clear objectives of ending current and potential proliferation and eliminating nuclear weapons, working towards an agreed target date, such as 2025.

Sameh Aboul-Enein is a diplomat and scholar and contributed these views solely in his personal capacity. This article is based on the presentation he made to the 2009 Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference on "The Nuclear Order - Build or Break", held in Washington D.C. April 6-7. Dr Aboul-Enein holds an MSc from the American University and a PhD from the University of London and is a member of the multilateral study group on missiles convened by the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (2008-11). Dr Aboul-Enein is Deputy Head of Mission at the Egyptian Embassy in London.