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Edinburgh Preparative Conference on WMDFZ in the Middle East

First group photo of the Edinburgh Preparative Conference at the Edinburgh City Chambers with the Deputy Lord Provost.

From 23-25 January 2018, UN House Scotland held a series of seminars titled The Edinburgh Preparative Conference in the Edinburgh City Chambers. The Edinburgh Preparative Conference was the first small step towards a treaty to a weapons of mass destruction free zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East. With guests ranging from experts to activists to academics from the region and beyond, it was a successful week that set out strategies, goals, and long-term planning for a draft treaty that explored the technical possibilities of an agreement when the political stars align. The Edinburgh Preparative Conference had one unifying thread: through the work of civil society, it is possible to achieve the ‘impossible.’

Touring the Scottish Parliament with Bill Kidd, MSP

The idea of a WMDFZ zone in the Middle East has been in the international agenda for many decades, beginning in 1974 with a joint Egyptian-Iranian proposal to the UN General Assembly for a nuclear weapons free zone. This was reaffirmed in the 1995 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, which called for ‘the establishment of an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems.’ Yet, in 2012 and 2015, talks fell through due to lack of consensus and rejection by other states. This downward trend in the timeline for a WMDFZ in the Middle East has been disheartening, but the Edinburgh Preparative Conference has given new hope for future efforts.

The Conference is noted, in some ways, as but flicker in the long history and uncertain future of a WMDFZ in the Middle East. However, it is a critical step forward by showing the viability of talks to obtain funding, bring people together, and secure the future of the process. It helps bring negotiations back to the table, making sure that it is not turned away at the 2018 NPT PrepCom or the 2020 NPT Review.

Press Release at Parliament on the last day of the Conference

It is true that a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction is a difficult case. However, it is not an impossible one. Using the Conference as a springboard, it is critical to remember that negotiations must speak with, not at, the Middle East. The inclusion of regional grassroot organisations will be crucial, as is the inclusion of Israel and the promotion of confidence-building exercises among countries. For further facilitation of talks, a neutral country should also come into play as a host and mediator, much like hosting of the Edinburgh Preparative Conference. Scotland could further develop this important role, bringing the world one step closer to achieving the ‘impossible.’

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