Washington, D.C. workshop on Prospects for a Middle East WMD-free Zone

On 23 June 2004, Pugwash Meeting no. 296 was held in Washington, DC.

12th Pugwash Workshop on the Middle East: Prospects for a WMD-free Zone

Workshop Report by Jeffrey Boutwell

In cooperation with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Pugwash Conferences held a one-day meeting on 23 June 2004 on the prospects for moving towards a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction. The meeting was held at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC, and Pugwash is grateful to Amb. William Miller, Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, and the staff of the Wilson Center for their hospitality and cooperation.

A total of 46 participants from eight countries attended the meeting, which consisted of two panel sessions. The first panel addressed current realities in the Middle East regarding conflict, politics and WMD, while the second panel explored the prospects for a Middle East WMD-free zone.
Conflict, Politics and WMD in the Middle East

Discussion began by emphasizing the importance of identifying the strategic imperatives that motivate countries to seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Historically, such imperatives have included calculations of survival, balance of power, political, and prestige. Different countries will have different combinations of motivations, however, and accurately understanding these is important to substantially reduce the motivations for acquiring WMD in the first place.

The discussion of Iran’s possible motivations for acquiring a nuclear capability focused on (1) Iran’s perception of external threats, most notably from two nuclear powers, the US and Israel; (2) of Iran being in the middle of an intensely unstable region, ranging from the Middle East through the Persian Gulf to Afghanistan and South Asia; (3) the need to protect Iran’s territorial integrity; and (4) the experience of Iran being the victim of WMD (chemical weapons) during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.

It was emphasized that the different domestic roots of Iran’s foreign policy – revolutionary Islam, moderate Islam, and Iranian nationalism – are all important in shaping debate in Iran on nuclear issues. At the moment, four broad schools of thought on nuclear issues can be identified: (1) those opposed to even civilian nuclear power; (2) those who are pro-NPT, with full access to civilian nuclear power technologies; (3) those who link civilian nuclear power to security, through indigenous fuel-cycle capabilities; and (4) those who advocate withdrawal from the NPT and Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. Despite four very disparate camps on nuclear issues, however, it should be emphasized that Iranian policy is not solely driven by any one faction, but is the result of a broad-based discussion across Iranian society.

Participants discussed how to resolve the current policy dilemma between Iran and the international community on its nuclear capabilities. Strategies mentioned included: international guarantees on supplying fuel to and removing nuclear waste from Iranian power reactors; an end to discriminatory treatment by equal pressure on Israel in advocating a WMD-free Middle East; security guarantees for all in the region; economic incentives, including WTO membership, for Iran; and the introduction of sophisticated analysis of security issues, in Persian, in order to deepen debate in Iran.

While the Syrian government denies having weapons of mass destruction, some US officials label Syria as a major WMD threat. The truth is likely in between. Regarding Syrian security perceptions, however, it was stressed that Syria feels itself surrounded by the US (in Turkey and Iraq) and Israel. The latter being a nuclear power, Syria felt compelled in the 1980s to narrow the asymmetry in power by developing a chemical weapons (CW) capability. Moreover, with Syrian conventional military forces eroding, CW are seen as a necessary deterrent. Syria also feels itself singled out by the US, and believes that American policy must treat countries equally and do far more to achieve Israeli-Palestinian and Middle East peace so as to negate the need for regional states to develop WMD.

There are strong feelings in the region about American ‘exceptionalism’ when it comes to US support for Israel and the Sharon government. Participants advocated the need for increased international aid and support to help establish a stable regional order in the Middle East (á la post-war Europe). Continued disorder in the region, coupled with the risk of terrorist acquisition of WMD, could have disastrous consequences.

The “constructive ambiguity” surrounding Israel’s nuclear weapons posture was thought to be neither ‘constructive’ nor ‘ambiguous’. Nonetheless, public support in Israel for the need to rely on nuclear weapons for Israel’s existential security remains very strong, and the country is not likely to give up that deterrent any time soon. In addition, it was noted that Israel continues to be made a scapegoat for continued instability and the lack of modernity in Arab countries. A rejoinder noted that, if Israel committed itself to an equitable peace settlement with the Palestinians, it could call the bluff of Arab authoritarian governments who continue to blame Israel for all the ills of the Arab world.

There was lengthy discussion of the interaction between progress towards peace and stability in the Middle East on one hand, and the creation of a WMD-free Middle East on the other. Is the latter entirely dependent on the former, or can the two proceed in parallel, with mutually reinforcing steps between them? One proposal called for Israel to admit its nuclear deterrent and announce reductions in its nuclear forces, to the level of a minimum deterrent, as a confidence-building measure.

More broadly, it was noted that some positive developments have occurred towards a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, notably in Iraq and Libya, but also in terms of clarifying Iranian intentions and IAEA efforts to achieve a solution. The question now is how to maintain this modest momentum. One step could be greater explication of Israel’s conditional support for a WMD-free Middle East. Conversely, Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons would be a major setback, and Iran’s neighbors in particular need to join the international community in speaking out on the issue.

In examining other aspects of strategies to promote a WMD-free Middle East, various disincentives to the acquisition of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons were mentioned. First, it was noted that possession of such weapons are no guarantee against state collapse, witness the Soviet Union. Second, various UN resolutions (nos. 687, 1441, and 1540) at a minimum strengthen international norms against acquiring WMD, particularly in the context of the Middle East. And third, nations that currently possess, or seek to possess, nuclear weapons in particular need to be mindful of the associated risk that such proliferation will likely make it easier for terrorist, non-state groups to acquire such weapons.
Prospects for a Middle East WMD-free Zone
The second session began with an overview of efforts to promote a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, beginning in 1974 with a Middle East nuclear weapons-free zone proposal submitted to the UN General Assembly by Egypt and Iran. This was followed in 1980 by agreement in principle from Israel on such a concept, but only if implemented through direct negotiations. In 1990, Egypt broadened the proposal from nuclear to all weapons of mass destruction, and this was followed in 1994 by a draft treaty from an Arab League expert group. The 1995 NPT Review Conference endorsed the concept of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, several Arab countries joined the NPT regime in 2000, and there was a further resolution on these issues to the UN Security Council in 2003.

Discussion returned to the basic dilemma, how to move forward with attempts to eliminate WMD in the Middle East in the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement in particular, and broader reconciliation between Israel and her neighbors in general? The Middle East was noted for being the ‘black hole’ of arms control agreements, yet peaceful relations between states has not been a necessary pre-condition for arms control and confidence-building agreements. The US and Soviet Union signed the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in 1972, long before the end of the Cold War. Similarly, could Israel not sign and ratify the BWC and the Chemical Weapons Convention as a means of making progress that could be reciprocated by the Arab states and Iran? There was much support in the discussion for a series of mutually-reinforcing steps that could help build momentum toward a WMD-free Middle East. Similarly, verification and transparency measures will be exceedingly important, and much work needs to be done now to explicate them.

There was also discussion of how to reduce the motivations for acquiring such weapons in the first place, or giving them up if already possessed. Security architectures for the region, external security guarantees, even extending the US nuclear umbrella to countries in the Middle East were all mentioned. One question was whether Israel might be more willing to give up its nuclear weapons if by doing so a comprehensive framework was put in place that greatly reduced the risk of terrorist groups in the region acquiring such weapons through state sponsors. The point was also made that distinctions need to be made between nuclear weapons on the one hand, and chemical and biological weapons on the other, with priority given to eliminating nuclear weapons.

Other points mentioned included focusing on controlling nuclear materials in the region, e.g., instituting safeguards at facilities such as Dimona in Israel and at similar facilities in the Arab countries and in Iran. Proposals were made for internationalizing the supply of nuclear fuel and the receipt of nuclear fuel waste for all countries, including Israel, similar to the concepts advanced for ensuring Iran of a supply of nuclear fuel should that country wish to proceed with a civilian nuclear capability under full IAEA safeguards.

The session concluded by returning to the basic issue of ways that Middle East peace and disarmament could reinforce each other. Given ongoing conflict in the region, unilateral measures will be difficult for any country to undertake, thus the importance of identifying mutual and reciprocal measures that could begin to build a modicum of trust between the parties while advancing the goals of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, building stable relationships between Israel, the Arab countries, and Iran, and promoting public confidence in such relationships. To that end, a proposal was made for a UN-sponsored conference on creating a WMD-free zone in the Middle East that could explore modest concrete steps that could advance the goal of a more peaceful and stable region.


Dr. Mohamed Ezzeldin Abdel-Moneim, Assistant Foreign Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cairo,Egypt; Professor, International Law & Organization, Suez Canal University.

Amb. Nobuyasu Abe, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, United Nations, New York, NY [formerly: Ambassador of Japan to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia].

Prof. Wa’el N. Al-Assad, Head of the Disarmament Department, The Arab League, Cairo, Egypt.

Dr. Gunnar Arbman, Director of Research, Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), Stockholm, Sweden.

Ms. Elyte Baykun, Middle East Programme Associate, Search for Common Ground. Washington, DC, USA.

Dr. Gary Bertsch, Director, Center for International Trade and Security, Washington, DC, USA; Professor, School of Public and International Affairs, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia.

Dr. Jeffrey Boutwell, Executive Director, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, Washington, DC, USA; Member, Pugwash Executive Committee.

Ms. Tonya Boyce, Program Assistant, International Studies Division, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC, USA.

Mr. Paul Carroll, Program Director, Ploughshares Fund, San Francisco, CA, USA.

Mr. Joseph Cirincione, Director for Nonproliferation, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC, USA.

Mr. Curtis Cook, Program Associate, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC, USA.

Ms. Kristen Cordell, Intern/Research Assistant, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC, USA.

Prof. Paolo Cotta-Ramusino, Secretary-General, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs Professor of Mathematical Physics, University of Milan, Italy; Secretary General, Union of Italian Scientists for Disarmament (USPID); Director, Program on Disarmament and International Security, Landau Network – Centro Volta, Como, Italy.

Dr. Robert J. Einhorn, Senior Adviser, International Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC, USA.

Mr. Michael Eisenstadt, Senior Fellow, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Washington, DC, USA.

Mr. Emile El-Hokayem, Research Associate, Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC, USA.

Dr. Andrea Ellner, Acting Director, The Graduate Institute for Political and International Studies, The University of Reading, Reading, UK.

Dr. Mohammed Abd El-Salam, Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC, USA.

Dr. Haleh Esfandiari , Director, Middle East Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC, USA.

Gen. (ret.) Eugene Habiger, Board of Directors, Nuclear Threat Initiative; Distinguished Fellow and Policy Adviser, University of Georgia Center for International Trade and Security, Washington, DC, USA.

Dr. Nasser Hadian, Assistant Professor of Law and Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran; Visiting Fellow, Columbia University Middle East Institute, New York, NY, USA.

Dr. Murhaf Jouejati, Adjunct Scholar, The Middle East Institute; Adjunct Professor, George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA.

Mr. Adam S. Judelson, Intern/Research Assistant, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs; International Security Studies Major, Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA.

Prof. Phillip A. Karber, Chairman, Institute of International Law and Politics, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA.

Ms. Judith Kipper, Director, Middle East Forum, Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, DC, USA.

Prof. William H. Kincade, Associate Professor, School of International Service, American University, Washington, DC, USA.

Dr. Kenneth Katzman, Middle East Affairs Specialist, Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress, Washington, DC, USA.

Ms. Ellen Laipson, President and CEO, Henry L. Stimson Center. Washington, DC, USA.

Dr. William J. Lanouette, Senior Analyst, Energy and Science Issues, General Accounting Office, Washington, DC, USA.

Dr. Robert Litwak, Director, International Studies Division, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC, USA.

Prof. Maurizio Martellini, Secretary General, Landau Network-Centro Volta; Professor of Physics, University of Insubria, Como, Italy.

Mr. Robert McNamara, Former U.S. Secretary of Defense; former President of the World Bank; former President, Ford Motor Company, USA

Ms. Gayle Meyers, Middle East Director Security Working Group, Search for Common Ground, Washington, DC, USA

Dr. Steven Miller, Director, International Security Program, Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA; Co-Chair U.S. Pugwash Group, Member, Pugwash Council.

Amb. William Miller , Senior Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC, USA.

Dr. Götz Neuneck, Senior Fellow, Institut für Friedensforschung und Sicherheitspolitik, Hamburg, Germany.

Mr. Robert Nurick, Senior Fellow, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, Washington, DC, USA.

Amb. Robert Pelletreau, Co-Director, Search for Common Ground in the Middle East, Washington, DC,USA.

Dr. George Rathjens, Professor Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts,USA; Former Pugwash Secretary General,

Dr. Abdel Monem Said Aly, Director, Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies,Al-Ahram Foundation, Cairo, Egypt.

Dr. Lawrence Scheinman, Distinguished Professor, Center for Non-proliferation, Monterey Institute of International Studies, Washington, DC, USA.

Dr. M. Hadi Semati, Visiting Scholar, Democracy and Rule of Law Project, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC, USA; Assistant Professor of Law and Political Science, Tehran University, Iran.

Amb. Mohamed Shaker, Vice Chairman, Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs (ECFA), Cairo, Egypt; Foreign Ministry, Cairo; Chairman, Sawiris Foundation for Social Development; Chairman, Regional Information Technology Institute (RITI).

Dr. Amy Smithson, Senior Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC, USA.

Mr. Henry Sokolski, Executive Director, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, Washington, DC, USA.

Dr. Ephraim Yuchtman-Ya’ar, Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC, USA; Head, Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University. Tel Aviv, Israel.