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Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East: the Creation of a WMDFZ

Former UNHS intern Samantha Ku presents on the state of WMDFZ.

The attempt to create, and subsequently enforce, a WMDFZ (Weapons of Mass Destruction free-zone) in the Middle-East, perhaps the geopolitical region of the world with the largest exponential increase in WMD production and utilisation in recent decades, has become one of the foremost objectives of the United Nations in terms of its strategy regarding the future peace, stability and security of the region. On 9 July, UN House Scotland’s recent Resident Intern Samantha Ku, who has gained a lot of expertise on the topic, shared her thoughts on a WMDFZ in the Middle East at a seminar. Here is a summary of what she addressed.

Current concerns regarding potential terror threats, the profound lack of participation amongst Middle Eastern nations in current anti-WMD treaties and greater humanitarian concern due to recent cases of WMD usage in regional civil wars such as Syria have further consolidated the profound determination on behalf of both the international community and the regional nations themselves to create a definitive means through which to limit the likelihood of any confrontation through the medium of WMDs. Accordingly, the creation of such a treaty would act as a means through which to limit, if not wholly prevent, the potential for wide-ranging damage of a socio-cultural, political and humanitarian nature, which could potentially occur as a corollary of a confrontation between the major and notably hostile, nations in the region such as Israel or Iran. In this way, the implementation of such a zone could act as a beneficial means through which to direct the current trajectory of Middle Eastern geopolitics towards regional peace. It would also help to complement existing anti-WMD treaties such as the Biological Weapons Convention which was implemented in 1972. In addition, this could help to promote and advance disarmament education, while crucially allowing Middle Eastern nations to divert resources which are currently funnelled into the military and defence into other areas of the economy such as infrastructure, social security or health. Consequently, this would allow for positive development and the pathway to peaceful coexistence in the Middle East.

While this remains an important aim of the United Nations, particularly given the relative success of the five existing WMDFZ in other regions of the world, the attempt to install such a proposal has been an ongoing task for the last 40 years, with little tangible progress or development having been attained. Indeed, in the decades following the original suggestion proposed by Egypt in 1971 for the creation of a Middle Eastern WMDFZ, the further complication of geopolitics in the region has hindered, and indeed somewhat prevented, any cohesive and coherent plan and blueprint for the future of a WMDFZ in the region. This is particularly due to the lack of collective agreement as to what such a zone should look like and what it should entail. As such, the current nature of geopolitics in the Middle East – regional instability and interstate conflict, the interference of foreign powers by virtue of proxy war, a lack of discourse within states themselves and American support for Israel – has meant that there exists too tense of an environment to feasibly introduce a disarmament treaty which would have any tangible impact on the relative attitude of Middle Eastern governments to WMDs. Accordingly, due to the false belief in deterrence and the historical precedence of possessing these weapons as a way of keeping them safe, the international community has been thus far unsuccessful in creating a WMDFZ. This is in large part due to the fact that the aims and future goals of the Middle Eastern nations themselves and their foreign supporters remain too divergent to guarantee any form of adherence to a disarmament treaty, if it were to be successfully negotiated. From this perspective, therefore, while it remains an important objective within the United Nations, there currently exists insufficient means through which the international community could feasibly enforce sufficient co-operation amongst Middle Eastern governments to create a fair and cohesive plan for the future creation of a WMDFZ.

In attempting to improve the chances for the successful creation of such a treaty, the United Nations must seek to ensure the implementation of disarmament education within the Middle East such as in universities. They must also encourage trust-building amongst regional nations, while simultaneously conducting surveys tailored to individual countries. This will increase the likelihood that as many nations as possible will adhere to the treaty, thus slowly directing the Middle East on a path towards disarmament. Nevertheless, whether such a treaty will be implemented will rely heavily on changing norms and cultural values in individual nations, as a WMDFZ cannot be implemented unless there exists a relatively peaceful co-existence amongst the pre-eminent Middle Eastern nations. It also requires an Israeli willingness to relinquish its current position in the region in order to guarantee and facilitate some form of Arab-Israeli civility, if not wholesome peace and co-operation.

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