Concern over Iran’s possible nuclear weapons ambitions has led to sanctions that hurt the economy and the people of Iran (rather than the government). These are the very people the U.S. wants on our side in promoting reform, democracy and human rights inside Iran, and better U.S.-Iranian relations.
Instead of escalating ever-harsher economic sanctions or worse -- threatening military attack on Iran -- the U.S. and other nations should prioritize negotiations and diplomacy with Iran. A major part of the solution to tensions over Iran’s nuclear program should be establishing a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in the Middle East, a proposal that has been around for more than three decades. Nuclear Weapons Free Zones already exist and have stemmed nuclear proloferation in South America, Africa, Central Asia, Antarctica, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.
Currently, Israel is the only nuclear weapons state in the region, a fact it does not officially acknowledge though it is estimated to have between 200 and 400 nuclear weapons. Every country in the region except Israel is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). However, many countries in the region certainly have the capacity to develop or obtain nuclear weapons, which could spell disaster in one of the most conflict-prone areas of the world.
In May, 2010, the final declaration of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference at the United Nations called for negotiations on a Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone to be held in 2012. Peace Action will work with peace movement allies around the world in support of this real, practical, positive solution to the concern of a nuclear arms build-up in the Middle East.
Following is a statement we issued in favor of the establishment of a Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone from 2006, we hope you’ll find it relevant and worthy of support today.
January 24, 2006
Today we are renewing the call for a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in the Middle East. Re-opening negotiations toward achieving that goal is the best way—perhaps the only way—to halt without violence the prospect of a nuclear arms race in that deeply troubled part of the world. Additionally, achieving a Nuclear Free Zone in the Middle East would bring the world one step closer to eliminating both the problem of nuclear proliferation and the threat of nuclear war and could serve as a model solution for resolving similar tensions in other regions of the world.
The call for a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East was first issued in 1974, when the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for all states in the region to declare that they will refrain from producing, acquiring or in any way possessing nuclear weapons and nuclear explosive devices and from permitting the stationing of nuclear weapons on their territory by any third party. It also called for the states to place all their nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. In subsequent years, the General Assembly on several occasions renewed its call.
It is also pertinent that UN Security Resolution 687, passed in 1991, which demanded Iraqi disarmament, did so within the context of "establishing in the Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction." It was alleged violations of this resolution which the Bush administration used to justify its illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq, even though Iraq had already complied with its disarmament provisions. The United States has refused to push for the full implementation of this resolution, however, by its refusal to support the establishment of a WMD-free zone for the entire region.
In 1974, Israel was the only Middle Eastern state that possessed nuclear weapons. Israel remains so today, and has rejected calls to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty or place its nuclear facilities under IAEA inspection as mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 487. Other countries in the region have long asserted that Israel's nuclear arsenal poses a threat to their security and is a provocation to nuclear proliferation.
Now that Iran has withdrawn certain of its facilities from IAEA supervision and may begin enriching uranium with the purpose of building nuclear weapons, there is special urgency to begin once more a diplomatic process that will lead to the Middle East NFZ. Fortunately, since the best intelligence estimates indicate that it will take Iran at least five years to develop a nuclear weapon if that indeed is its intention, there is ample time to conduct these negotiations. Thus, while preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is an important goal, there is time to achieve this goal as part of a regional disarmament framework, which is far more likely to be successful than demanding unilateral concessions.
This would not be the first effort to negotiate a Middle East NFZ. The U.S.-led 1991 Madrid conference for Arab-Israeli peace included a process for negotiating a nuclear free zone, but the process was halted four years later when the United States failed to push Israel to compromise. In late 2003, a draft UN Security Council resolution calling for Middle Eastern NWFZ was tabled following the threat of a United States veto. In July of 2004, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, visited Israel and got an agreement from the Israeli government to meet with other Middle Eastern states in January 2005 to discuss issues related to the establishment of a NWFZ, but the meeting never took place without apparent U.S. objections.
Clearly, another effort is needed, this time with the full weight of the major powers behind it.
By issuing this call today, we are asking the international community, and especially the U.S. and European nations, to acknowledge that their efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons must be even-handed or their efforts will not be taken seriously. The pattern of threatening selected states with sanctions, or even military action, while tolerating the acquisition and possession of nuclear weapons by other states, suggests less interest in non-proliferation than in geo-politics.
Such double-standards do not just apply to Israel. The United States has announced its intention to enter into a nuclear cooperation agreement with India, which would violate both U.S. laws and international agreements prohibiting such support for countries which have refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and have developed nuclear weapons. The U.S. has also agreed to provide nuclear-capable aircraft to Pakistan. Both countries are in violation of UN Security Council resolution 1172, which calls on both Pakistan and India to eliminate their nuclear weapons programs.
Given that the United States has successfully blocked the UN Security Council from enforcing its resolutions regarding the nuclear weapons programs of three countries which have already developed nuclear weapons, the United States has little credibility in insisting that the UN Security Council impose tough sanctions on Iran for its largely civilian nuclear program which is years away from having actually developing nuclear weapons. It should also be noted that the United States played a major role in developing Iran’s nuclear program, with administrations from Eisenhower through Carter providing the Shah’s regime with equipment, fuel and financing.
An even greater impediment to fostering an international will to forswear nuclear weapons has been the failure of the five nations that possessed nuclear weapons in 1968, when the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty was negotiated, to live up to their obligations under Article VI to move rapidly toward the abolition of their own nuclear arsenals. With the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that Presidents Gorbachev and Reagan negotiated in the 1980s, finally the two nuclear superpowers began to dismantle some of their nuclear weapons. In recent years, however, the START process has halted, mainly because the U.S. no longer has the will to continue those efforts. Consequently, the U.S. and Russia still have more than 10,000 operational weapons aboard a variety of delivery systems.
It is important to stress that it was the United States which first introduced nuclear weapons to the Middle East starting in 1958 and has continued to bring tactical nuclear weapons on its planes and ships ever since.
The Nuclear Free Zone has been an effective approach to preventing nuclear proliferation. Latin America, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Antarctica have all been established as NWFZs, and no nation in those regions has, since the establishment of these NWFZs, chosen to seek nuclear weapons capability. South and Southwest Asia are the only portions of the Global South not currently part of an NWFZ.
If the United States endorses the call for a Middle East NWFZ, it will send an unmistakable signal that it is serious about preventing nuclear proliferation and, beyond that, about achieving peace in the Middle East.
Finally, it cannot be stressed enough that if nations are going to appeal to international law to control the behavior of other nations, they themselves must demonstrate a willingness to act within the framework of international law, especially when it comes to the use of military force.
What recent experience has so clearly demonstrated is that there can be no Pax Americana. If there is to be peace in the world, and especially if humankind is to avoid a nuclear holocaust, there must be a universal, not a selective, commitment to the rule of law and international security.