Nuclear Weapons in the Middle East

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Introduction

The History of Nuclear Weapons across the Globe

During the past several decades the increase in the production of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has been regarded as a chief threat to global security. The phrase ‘weapons of mass destruction’ refers to four different kinds of perilous devices namely: chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. According to Article II of the Chemical Weapons Convention, chemical weapons (CW) refer to “toxic chemicals and their precursors, munitions and devices specifically designed to cause death or other harm.”1 Chemical weapons were utilized more extensively than the other types of WMD during the First World War and to a certain degree during the Second World War. In the Middle East, chemical weapons were used in the past by different nations. For instance, chemical weapons were used by Egypt during the Yemen war of the 1960s; by Libya against Chad during the 1980s; and by Iraq against Iran and against its Kurdish population during the 1980s. Chemical weapons are much less deadly than biological and nuclear weapons.

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Biological weapons (BW) are produced to “disseminate pathogens or toxins in an aerosol cloud of microscopic particles that can be readily inhaled and retained in the lungs of the exposed population.”2 Therefore, biological weapons are special because they entail the utilization of living organisms as a weapon. Although biological weapons have a great lethal potential, they have not been extensively used in modern wars.3

Nuclear weapons (NW) emit large volumes of energy, most or all of which originates from “fission or a combination of fission and fusion processes.”4 The energy is emitted by disintegrating the nucleus of an atom, normally highly enriched uranium or plutonium, into two or more sections by bombarding it with neutrons. Nuclear weapons were used during the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks in Japan at the conclusion of the Second World War. Nuclear weapons have three major characteristics which need to be highlighted. First and foremost, they are the most lethal type of weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear devices result in disastrous damage because of the first blast and the consequent radiation. Second, they are the most difficult to produce. Production of nuclear weapons necessitates significant financial resources and advanced technologies and infrastructure. Lastly, unlike chemical weapons and biological weapons, which are globally prohibited, nuclear weapons are controlled by a more complex international system. Nuclear weapons have always been produced by western countries since the 1960s. However, a few other countries such as Israel and Iran began producing nuclear weapons in the recent past. The remaining countries of the word have generally agreed not to produce nuclear weapons.5

Nuclear weapons are usually depicted as the “great equalizer” because of the fact that they seal the gap in military power between “weak” and “strong” nations. Initially, the United States was the first country in the world to manufacture the nuclear weapon in 1945. In 1949, the Soviet Union became the second country to possess the bomb. Within a short time frame, three other nations followed suit namely: the United Kingdom (1952), France (1960), and China (1964).6 This fast spread of nuclear weapons across the globe in the 1950s and early 1960s became a major cause of concern that more and more countries would join the nuclear hub and acquire nuclear weapon capabilities. As a result, this would lead to the establishment of anarchy in the global arena and would threaten international stability. Luckily, the craze for the acquisition of nuclear weapons capabilities did not continue. In the ensuing years and decades, international efforts were intensified to slow down the spread of nuclear weapons and to stop the non-nuclear powers from acquiring the fatal weapons.7

Nuclear Weapons in the Middle East

Nuclear rows have emerged over military conflicts in the Middle East since the mid of 1950s. For instance in 1956, Israeli, British, and French troops attacked Egypt after Egypt grabbed the Suez Canal, forcing the Soviet Union to intervene through nuclear attacks threats. There was a possibility of the use of nuclear weapons during the 1967 and 1973 wars between Israel and its Arab neighbours. These wars caused worries that the wars would grow into military conflicts between the two superpowers. In 1991, the Gulf War dealt a big blow to Iraq’s nuclear program which was repeated in 2003.8 However, the 2003 war against Iraq was based on unfounded allegations that Saddam Hussein was still continuing with his earlier nuclear plans. Until today, no evidence has been found to prove that indeed Iraq was producing nuclear weapons.

Despite the fact that no evidence was found to support Iraq’s nuclear program, the war on Iraq had significant impact on nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and other parts of the globe. Three contradictory preliminary propositions have been made following the war. First, the war is an indicator of the extent to which the world’s present superpower would go to reprimand a government it accused of having nuclear aspirations and of seeking to develop a covert nuclear weapons program. Second, observations have been made by policy-makers and analysts that the United States attacked Iraq, which does not have nuclear weapons, but did not attack North Korea, which has nuclear weapons. According to this school of thought, nuclear weapons are crucial for the continued existence of countries that counter the United States. Third, the 2003 war has significantly changed the security setting of the Middle East.9

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Originally, Iran and Iraq have had equal powers in the region thus preventing the emergence of hegemony in the region. However, following the 2003 war and the subsequent destruction of Iraq’s military power, Iran’s military power and strategic position in the Middle East has grown substantially and is less restrained by Iraq. Moreover, the current Shiite-dominated regime in Iraq is more likely to react in favour of Iran’s aspirations and influences. However, the reaction of the other regional powers such as Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey to Iran’s overtures remains unarticulated.10 The military landscape in the Middle East also took a different direction in 2003 when Libya proclaimed that it had abandoned its military and foreign policies. The nation agreed to full collaboration with Western powers and international communities to do away with its acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and programs. The nation has since kept its word on its proclamation. This change of Libya’s position on WMD signifies an important leaf in the history and policy of non-proliferation in the Middle East and the rest of the world.11

Possibilities of a Nuclear Power Middle East

It is not easy to determine the probabilities of a nuclear Middle East appearing in the near future. As a matter of fact, evaluations of the duration of time it could take one or more of the region’s nations to acquire nuclear weapons seldom exposes the challenges inherent in carrying out such evaluations.12 A practical nuclear capability might be undertaken at present through one of two fundamental channels. The first venue entails the procurement of fissile resources or nuclear warheads from a nation that is currently in possession of nuclear weapons. The most probable of such a scenario would entail the likelihood of the smuggling of fissile material from Russia to a Middle Eastern nation. The second channel is the slow creation of a technical infrastructure that enables the original production of nuclear weapons. Bahgat argues that “whereas the former necessitates the institution of a uranium-enrichment facility, the latter necessitates the existence of a plutonium-producing nuclear reactor as well as the acquirement of a large-scale separation plant,” (405).13 When fissile material is acquired through either smuggling or original manufacture, an extra capacity to design and manufacture nuclear weapons is needed. Shai argues that “if these weapons are to be fitted on the tips of ballistic or cruise missiles, which have a better chance than bombers of penetrating an adversary’s air defence, the technology for reducing the size of warheads must also be mastered,” (217).14

In the last few years, Iraq and Iran have appeared as the chief source of worry concerning nuclear production in the Middle East region. However, the technical infrastructure of Iraq’s nuclear program was extensively damaged by the U.S. during the 1990-1991 Gulf War as well as by the post-war activities of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM).15 Before the 2003 war on Iraq, there were speculations that Saddam Hussein had aspirations of rebuilding Iraq’s nuclear program once the sanctions applied against Iraq were lifted. Iraq’s alleged inspiration to reconstruct its nuclear program was additionally fuelled by Iran’s attempts to rebuild and further enlarge its nuclear infrastructure. In addition, Iraq’s feelings of humiliation, originating from the conflicts between the strategy adopted by the UNSC toward its nuclear attempts and the willingness of many nations to put up with Israel’s nuclear capability, could also have fuelled Saddam Hussein’s resolve to reconstruct Iraq’s nuclear program.

Iraq’s rebuilding of its nuclear program would have been based on three fundamental resources. The first type of resource is the large amount of money that was made available after the removal of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council and the subsequent recapturing of Iraq’s share of the international oil market. Second, Iraq had abundant human resources in the form of scientists and engineers who took part in Iraq’s nuclear activities before the Gulf War, and who were still available after the end of the Gulf War. Lastly, “Saddam Hussein had impressive expertise, illustrated by his administration and management of the scientific and engineering aspects of Iraq’s nuclear program in the late 1980s, and by the triumphant camouflage and dishonesty exercised by Iraq during the same time period,” (Steinbach 13).16 Just before the beginning of the Gulf War, Iraq was somewhat close to the achievement of its nuclear production objectives thanks to the efforts made by the nation’s leader. However, the nation’s nuclear efforts had gone undetected by the developed countries. Even the developed countries’ highly proficient intelligence officials had not been able to discover Iraq’s covert activities. The Gulf War however destroyed Iraq’s nuclear infrastructure and brought it to ashes. However, the United States continued to have suspicions about Iraq’s nuclear production activities and waged a war on the nation in the name of bringing the country’s nuclear efforts to a halt. The 2003 war on Iraq however proved that Iraq’s nuclear weapons capability was and continues to be non-existent.

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On the other hand, Iran embarked upon a major attempt to reconstruct its nuclear weapons capability. Iran’s nuclear efforts revolve around revitalizing the ambitious nuclear power program initiated by the Shah of Iran in the early 197Os. This program was however halted by the Ayatollah Khomeini after the 1979 insurgency. Within this framework, Iran outsourced its nuclear program to Russia, which was contracted to finish the building of the first of two 1,300-megawatt power reactors at Bushehr.17 The Russian-Iranian accord agreed to the completion of both reactors, as well as the building of two 440-megawatt Russian reactors. Iran also entered into an agreement with China for the procurement of a 300-megawatt nuclear power reactor to be situated at Darkhovin, close to the Iraqi border.18 The agreement was a component of a framework contract that called for the ultimate building of two Chinese power reactors in Iran. Previous efforts by Iran to acquire nuclear research reactors from China and India were terminated after successful U.S. diplomatic intercessions with the two governments. At the same time, there were reports in the mid-90s that Iran was trying to hire nuclear scientists and engineers, and to create networks for smuggling fissile material from Russia. Iran also attempted to purchase sensitive materials required for the building of covert facilities used in the fortification of uranium and re-manufacturing of plutonium from Western Europe.19

Although Iraq and Iran have been the chief source of worry surrounding Middle East nuclear non-proliferation efforts, other nations in the region have in the recent past stepped up their efforts to develop their nuclear capabilities. For example, Algeria has made considerable attempts to construct a nuclear program, procuring a 15-megawatt research reactor from China and a lesser 1-megawatt reactor from Argentina.20 This is somewhat troublesome in view of the worsening internal situation in Algeria and the parallel predictions that this capability could be acquired by an extremist Islamist regime. Likewise, “Syria has also taken preliminary steps toward constructing a nuclear infrastructure by procuring a 30-kilowatt neutron-source mini-reactor from China” (Mansour 951).21

In the early 1990s, Egypt undertook a revitalization of its old 2-megawatt nuclear research reactor at Inshass and enhanced it with the creation of a 22-megawatt research reactor procured from Argentina.22 Libya on the other hand, continues to maintain its 10-megawatt reactor, which was purchased from the former Soviet Union in the mid-1970s and has not halted its attempts to buy a 440-to-600-megawatt nuclear power reactor.23 By the mid-1990s, Israel was already in possession of both a forceful nuclear capability and the methods of delivering nuclear weapons. In an international study of nuclear capabilities carried out in 1993 by the New Times, Israel was described to be in possession of the world’s fifth-largest nuclear armoury. The survey approximated that “Israel had obtained between 50 and 200 nuclear warheads, in addition to advanced delivery methods, including the 1,400-km range Jericho-2 missile” (Shanahan 947).24 As a matter of fact, the estimates made by the American and Russian regarding Israel’s nuclear capability seem to agree with the survey. Khalilzad and Byman argue that “A 1993 report produced by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service–the KGB’s successor–estimated that Israel might have produced as many as 200 nuclear weapons and had uranium stocks to last it 200 years” (68).25

Nevertheless, with the exemption of Israel, it remains uncertain if any of the emerging nuclear programs in the Middle East could produce deliverable nuclear weapons. All nations in the Middle Eastern region that are presently attempting to develop their nuclear capabilities are members of NPT as well as IAEA. As a result, they are subject to the terms, conditions, and regulations put forward by these organizations. Moreover, Cummings argues that “lessons learned from the encounter with Iraq’s pre-Gulf War nuclear program have led to substantial attempts to close prior loopholes in IAEA monitoring and verification processes, making it more difficult for any country that might try to counter the safeguards” (53).26

Likewise, the lessons learned from Iraq’s nuclear attempts have led to a tightening of export regulations in the region and elsewhere. As a result, it has become a big challenge for states of the region to smuggle sensitive materials from advanced industrial states. There is the likelihood that the major powers will continue to hold Iraq firmly accountable to the present IAEA monitoring and verification standards. At the same time, substantial intelligence resources are likely to be dedicated to watching Iran’s nuclear attempts so as to avoid a nuclear surprise similar to that of Iraq. This may render Teheran’s attempts to gain a nuclear capability an exceptionally tricky task. Lastly, as a result of numerous national security concerns, Egypt and Syria may continue to abide by their long-standing planned resolves to abstain from trying to acquire nuclear weapons.27

Although the above-mentioned factors may continue to hinder the spread of original nuclear capabilities in the Middle East, there is a possibility of the existence of new opportunities for the region’s nations to illegally procure nuclear raw materials from Russia. There exists little reliable proof that the warnings given following the aftermath of the USSR’s dissolution concerning the probable seepage of warheads and fissile material have occurred. Russell argues that “by mid-1994, small quantities of plutonium or enriched uranium smuggled from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) had been intercepted by Western law enforcement agencies” (67).28 Although the materials seized in these cases were either of small quantity or of doubtful quality – and therefore mainly inappropriate for nuclear production – the smuggled quantities showed that leaks in Russia’s nuclear complex may have already developed and continue to develop. This therefore brings about the concern that greater volumes of plutonium or enriched uranium could be smuggled from Russia to other states.29

If a state in the Middle East region purchases smuggled fissile material, it might be able to manufacture a deliverable nuclear warhead in a matter of months. This is because nations that have aspirations of obtaining nuclear weapons can be able to conclude their nuclear weapons designs way before their attempts to acquire fissile material have been realized. As a result, their attainment of such material may result in a nuclear weapon capability almost overnight. Nevertheless, the chances that substantial amounts of such nuclear weapons-grade material can be smuggled and sold to interested clients like Iraq and Iran are largely doubtful. International Institute for Strategic Studies argues that, “in the former Soviet Union, a mixture of professional norms, a residual national security ethos, the continued activities of the KGB-successor agencies and the assistance provided by the United States for safe denuclearization–as well as some measure of pure luck–seems so far to have averted serious nuclear leakage.”30 But in light of the continued worsening of the economic environment of the former Soviet Union as well as the growing large demand outside of it, it is far from certain that the threat of “loose nukes,” or the potential seepage of weapons-grade material to the Middle East, has been and will be prevented.

Prospect for Concluding Durable Legal Restraints against the Proliferation Process in the Middle East

Detection of Nuclear Activities

The detection of covert nuclear activities has proved to be a practically unattainable mission. In the case of Pakistan, for instance, Schulte argues that “the national intelligence agencies took many years before piecing together an understanding of the illegal nuclear trafficking networks of Pakistani scientist A. Qi Khan,” (89).31 Libya’s activities of uranium fortification remained mysterious for a long while until a vessel transporting materials was intercepted at sea forcing the Libyan president to be honest about the country’s illicit dealings. Likewise, the covert nuclear reactor of Syria remained unknown until five years after the initiation of the construction.32

The performance record of the IAEA, the organization responsible for authenticating the acceptable utilization of nuclear technology, is discouraging. Shenna argues that “the agency failed to discover Libya’s and Syria’s secret activities and it was also unsuccessful in uncovering Iran’s uranium-enrichment facilities at Natanz and near Qpm” (349).33 The first facility was discovered by an Iranian dissident group while the second facility was discovered by U.S. and allied intelligence agencies. The IAEA’s professional and extremely proficient investigators cannot be blamed for the organization’s failures. The blame lies on the limitation of the agency’s effectiveness by its reliance on open-source information and the collaboration of member nations. In majority of the cases, the agency cannot put into effect access to suspicious locations and sensitive information but must instead depend on the support of both those subjected to investigations and the intelligence officers.

The challenges experienced in detection of nuclear activities were proved by “Syria’s building of a covert nuclear reactor between 2001 and 2007, before an Israeli air strike destroyed it” (Schulte 88).34 It was acknowledge that Syria was in possession of lethal chemical weapons for more than two decades, but the conclusion made by many experts was that the Syrian government had resolved not to pursue nuclear programs due to the huge costs and practical challenges entailed in the process. It therefore came as a shocking revelation when, in 2006, Syria was discovered to be constructing a nuclear reactor with no apparent reason besides the manufacture of plutonium for the sole purpose of producing nuclear weapons. Even at this moment, the origin of the program and the inspiration behind it remain unknown. Ross wonders “was Syria building the reactor to enhance its prestige or its security or was the project conceived by Bashar al-Assad, who had just become Syria’s president, in 2000, as a way to bolster his position domestically?”35 Stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons not only entails discovering nuclear facilities but it also necessitates an understanding of how local and regional deliberations can lead a country’s leaders to seek the nuclear alternative.

The incidence of the Syrian reactor caused another shocking revelation: that North Korea was actively involved in Syria’s program through its planning and actual building. The Syrian reactor was designed in the same manner as the reactor in North Korea, which at one point manufactured materials needed to produce nuclear weapons. Shenna argues that, “Iran, North Korea, and Syria have for a long time been known to manage a highly energetic military procurement network that deals in conventional weapons, such as missiles and their related technology” (356).36 Presently, technology in nuclear weapons is their newest acquisition. In the last decades, countries that were worried about proliferation only had to be concerned about locally manufactured nuclear weapons. Presently however, countries are also worried about multinational deals.

Potential success in the detection of similar endeavours depends mainly on the work done by national intelligence agencies. Intelligence organizations have to develop their success with Qpm and go beyond North Korea and Iran to states that have high potential of starting the next round of proliferation. The intelligence agencies also need to look out not only for facilities but also the reasons behind the activities, the interest parties involved, and considerations that could lead to decisions to take the nuclear option. The IAEA’s investigators can also play a key role in stopping a new generation of proliferation. The investigators have regular access to facilities and information that other people have no access to. As a result, they are in a position to piece together information that other individuals and organizations are not able to. In the case of Iran, for instance, IAEA investigators have been able to make sense of an assortment of incriminating information concerning its weapon activities, based on information from a number of states.37

Although the IAEA investigators once used to act as accountants by noting the nuclear material at identified nuclear facilities, they are more and more required to also play the role of detectives by searching for doubtful trends in. information given by different sources. To help in this task, Kumaraswamy argues that the “U.S. Department of Energy has initiated the Next Generation Safeguards Initiative, which is a plan for creating new techniques for fingerprinting nuclear materials, new approaches for monitoring nuclear facilities, and new tools for integrating and analyzing information from multiple sources” (63).38 The IAEA needs to be a fundamental recipient of this capable initiative.

The IAEA’s capability to discover covert activities would also be made stronger if state leaders enhanced the regular sharing of proliferation-related information with the investigators of the IAEA. Member countries may be unwilling to share information whose original sources are sensitive in nature. Such unwillingness can be eradicated by arranging for the protection of the information and provision of guarantees that the information will only be used to aid – rather than politicize – IAEA investigations. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the most sensitive information is not always the most beneficial. Ordinary data, for instance information obtained by a state to bring in sensitive technology, may offer crucial leads to the IAEA’s investigators.

Success in detecting future proliferation activities also relies on the power given to the IAEA. Ross argues that “Syria built its secret nuclear reactor at a desert location far from the facilities it had declared to the IAEA under its Safeguards Agreement, which places facilities and material declared to the agency under the scrutiny of its inspectors.”39 The ultimate discovery of the Syrian reactor strengthened a lesson that had already been taught by the encounters of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. The lesson is that states determined to engage in nuclear weapons production are highly likely to carry out their covert activities in undeclared locations. This highlights the significance of states’ signature to and implementation of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which mandates nations to give right of entry and information beyond their fundamental duties under their Safeguards Agreements. A nation that enforces the Additional Protocol would find it more difficult to conceal a secret nuclear program and would be more worried that its activities would be detected.

Improving the Detection of Nuclear Activities

Improving the detection of nuclear activities can aid in preventing another round of nuclear proliferation. However, this may not be adequate, especially if the governments of the states involved perceive nuclear weapons as fundamental to their nations’ security or their governments’ survival and are ready to take the risk of being caught. Because of such possibilities, efforts should increases to barricade the different channels of proliferation, such as limiting the transfer of nuclear-producing technology.

Ross argues that “the most sensitive nuclear-making technologies involve the fortification of uranium and the extraction of plutonium from used nuclear fuel.”40 Controlling the transfer of these technologies between countries becomes more crucial, and potentially more challenging, as more states seek to make huge investments in nuclear power. Aboul-Enein argues that “in 2004, President George W. Bush proposed that the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a 46-member organization dedicated to controlling the export of sensitive nuclear technology, agree to prohibit the transfer of technologies for uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing” (69).41 But even though more than half a decade of consultations has been held, the NSG has been unable to come to an agreement about this rational restriction – and even on a less strict strategy under which member countries would take considerations of transfers.

The NSG has transformed from a controlled alliance of nuclear technology producers to a huge group of suppliers, beneficiaries, and other interested parties, including nations in opposition to nuclear power. Instead of looking for means to limit sensitive technologies, the NSG has become entangled in unending discussions on theoretical rights and biased criteria. Some parties to the NSG, including close allies to the U.S. that have genuine non-proliferation records, have more interest in aiding the transfer of sensitive technologies than in limiting proliferation. Until the NSG can arrive at an agreement on these restrictions, efforts should be shifted toward the member countries that are in possession of these sensitive technologies. Schell argues that “Washington has already taken a step in this direction through the G-8, which has agreed to implement rules that are only in the draft stage at the NSG, pending approval by all 46 members” (51).42 One or a few member states should not be permitted to hinder international efforts to control the transfer of nuclear-producing technology.

Like-minded nuclear producers should also come together to assess whether their joint trade limitations could be more successfully targeted at the future round of prospective proliferators. Ross argues that “countries should evaluate whether current lists of sensitive exports, monitoring systems, and information-sharing mechanisms are enough to upset nuclear black markets, for instance the Khan Network, or transnational nuclear alliances, for instance, the alliance between North Korea and Syria.”43 The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) is another global initiative meant to put an end to proliferation proliferation. The program was introduced by the former U.S. government and authorized by the current government to prohibit illegal smuggling of lethal and related technology. In 2003, multiparty prohibition attempts interdicted a vessel transporting nuclear materials to Libya, thereby assisting in the disclosure of the full scope of Libya’s covert nuclear activities and establishing the conditions for reversing it.

Even though the PSI has had a remarkable number of supporters (approximately 95, if not more), it needs to be more forcefully executed. It also needs to be targeted especially at North Korea’s and Middle East’s proliferation activities. Additionally, some major nations such as China, Indonesia, and Malaysia are not members of the PSI thus making it easy for them to smuggle sensitive nuclear materials to Middle Eastern states. In line with the PSI framework, the trade in illicit smuggling of nuclear materials should not only be halted but it should go a step further by hindering the economic systems that sustain it. Schulte argues that “this action would make it easier for finance ministries around the globe to put into effect the type of targeted sanctions that the U.S. Treasury Department has used so effectively against proliferators” (89).44

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is still the sole global tool that not only tries to thwart the proliferation of nuclear weapons but that also represents a solid legal assurance of getting rid of these weapons. In 2000, the nuclear powers began a clear mission to abolish their nuclear armouries and all parties implemented a realistic plan to pursue nuclear disarmament. Since then, unfortunately, little progress has been made in attaining these aspirations and promises. It is thus time for the implementation of the explicit pledge made at the 2000 NPT Review Conference by the nuclear weapon states (NWS) to sincerely practice the abolition of their nuclear arsenals. Because these countries have the principal duty of taking the required actions to get rid of nuclear weapons, it is important for them to hasten the execution of their pledges to make progress toward attaining the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. Aboul-Enein argues that “double standards on matters as materially and psychologically important as nuclear weapons will produce instability and noncompliance, creating enforcement crises that increase the risk of conflict and nuclear anarchy.”45 It is important to keep in mind that any governmental system reflects the activities of the wider forces in the global system. The core achievements and failures of a regime are dependent on associations between the super powers, their deliberate aspirations, and their power equations. Thus said, it would be difficult to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East while other countries are in possession of the same weapons.

Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone in Middle East

For many years, the global community has strived to establish the Middle East region as a zone that is free of weapons of mass destruction. This objective is implemented on a yearly basis by an agreement in the United Nations General Assembly since the 1980s. The objective was made part and parcel of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSC) 687 following the emancipation of Kuwait and was restated by the Security Council in 1992 in the Heads of State and Government Statement from the Security Council. Christiansen and Plesch argue that “It was further reiterated in the Security Council Resolution (UNSC) 1540 on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation and most lately in UNSC 1883” (61).46 In addition, “the 1995 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) convention passed a decree on the Middle East asserting the objective of the Zone as the backbone of international stability, and this was reasserted in 2000 through an agreement of more than 180 nations” (Christiansen and Plesch 62).47

Although it is quite apparent that a large majority of experts and professionals are in agreement with the set of values and beliefs symbolized by the Zone (including greater regional peace and security as a result of the confirmed destruction and non-proliferation of all WMDs) there is dispute over the actions that should be taken by the major stakeholders toward the attainment of this goal. The politico-security challenges that continue to face the region ever since the introduction of the Zone could be improved through the cautious implementation of the yet-to-be-tried security plan. Nevertheless, this does not imply that all analysts and professionals are in consensus that the Zone would be a practical medium-term objective. A major debate is “the chicken or the egg.”48 Put differently, can a disarmament system effectively pave the way for a peace resolution in the region or should peace precede the disarmament effort? This would be tricky and would require that the strong cultural beliefs and insecurity problems be addressed first before any discussions for peace and disarmament are held.

Jones argues that “Israel, one of the chief stakeholders in the peace resolution and the sole regional nation producing nuclear weapons, would only agree to a solution which makes it to relinquish its nuclear weapons only if accompanied by far-reaching political and economic transformation,” (26).49 However, this may be the sole biggest hindrance to the success of a Middle East-wide NW/WMDFZ within these parameters. There are numerous other security problems that continue to hamper the region. For instance, if the developed world reacted and looked for reaffirmation from Iran of its previous suggestion to join the Beirut Declaration, it may be the foundation of a broader resolution.

The other side of the coin puts the Zone, its present confidence and security-enhancing measure as the chief solution to bringing a new force to the Arab-Israeli stalemate. In any case, Craig argues that “the current nuclear weapons-free zones have not only proved to be for the most part successful but also other agreements and conventions have potentially minimized tensions and created security systems which eventually have resulted in greater political and economic harmony” (45).50

Conclusion

Nuclear weapons have become an important tool for major states across the globe. Nuclear weapons narrow the gap between the super powers and the seemingly weak nations. As a result, countries in possession of nuclear weapons such as the United States try their best to stop other countries from attaining them so as to maintain their hegemony. On the other hand, countries without the possession of the nuclear weapons put in great efforts to possess them because of the potential the weapons carry. Middle East is a somewhat interesting region that needs to be studied extensively. First and foremost, the region is predominantly Muslim with strong cultural beliefs some of which promote conflict rather than peace. The spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East has been a slow and frustrating effort. Although Israel is the only country that possesses nuclear weapons in the region, other countries such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Libya have been making efforts to produce the weapons.

While some of these countries agreed to abandon their efforts altogether, others went ahead with their plans albeit covertly and through smuggling of the materials from nuclear power allies. Nevertheless, nuclear activities in states such as Iran and Iraq have been destroyed through wars carried out by the United States and its allies in an effort to stop the proliferation. Many legal attempts have been made to put a stop to this proliferation, for instance, through the formation of alliances and the signing of treaties. However, the proliferation of nuclear weapons is likely to continue. This is because of the fact that the states that are vehemently against the proliferation are in possession of the weapons. As a result, countries in the Middle East will continue to seek the nuclear option so as to enhance their nations’ security.

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Footnotes

  1. Bregory Koblentz, “Pathogens as Weapons: The International Security Implications of Biological Warfare.” International Security 28.3 (2003/04): 84-122.
  2. Joseph Cirincione, Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2002), 5.
  3. David Albright and Corey Hinderstein, “Unravelling the A.Q. Khan and Future Proliferation Networks.” Washington Quarterly 28.2 (2005): 111-128.
  4. Richard Falkenrath, Robert Newman, and Bradley Thayer, America’s Achilles’ Heel: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Terrorism and Covert Attack (Cambridge: MA: MIT Press, 1998), 15.
  5. Ariel Levite, “Never Say Never Again: Nuclear Reversal Revisited.” International security 27.3 (2002/03): 59-88.
  6. Peter Zimmerman, “Technical Barriers to Nuclear Proliferation.” Security Studies 2.3/4 (1993): 345-356.
  7. Scott Sagan, “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons? Three Models in Search of a Bomb.” International Security 21.3 (1996-97): 54-86.
  8. Avner Cohen, “The Nuclear Issue in the Middle East in a New World Order.” Contemporary Security Policy 16.1 (1995): 49-69.
  9. George Shultz, “Preventing the Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.” Department of State Bulletin 84.2093 (1984): 17-21.
  10. Gawdat Bahgat, “Nuclear proliferation and the Middle East.” The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies 30.4 (2005): 401-425.
  11. Gawdat Bahgat, “Nuclear proliferation and the Middle East.” The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, 30.4 (2005): 401-425.
  12. Feldman Shai, “Middle East nuclear stability: The state of the region and the state of the debate.” Journal of International Affairs 49.1 (1995): 205-231.
  13. Gawdat Bahgat, 405
  14. Feldman Shai, “Middle East nuclear stability: The state of the region and the state of the debate.” Journal of International Affairs 49.1 (1995) 205-231.
  15. Shlomo Aronson, The Politics and Strategy of Nuclear Weapons in the Middle East: Opacity, Theory, and Reality, 1960-1991 – An Israeli Perspective (State University of New York Press, 1992), 65.
  16. John Steinbach, Israeli Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Threat to Peace (New York: Center for Research on Globalization, 2002), 13.
  17. Shlomo Brom, “The War in Iraq: An Intelligence Failure?” Strategic Assessment 6.3 (2003): 1-43.
  18. Ephraim Kam, “Israeli Intelligence on Iraq: Sound Professional Assessment.” Strategic Assessment 6.3 (2003): 43.
  19. Rosemary Hollis, Iraq in Transition: Vortex or Catalyst? (London: Chatham House, 2004), 21.
  20. Uri Joseph, “The Hidden Debate: The Formation of Nuclear Doctrines in the Middle East.” Journal of Strategic Studies 5.2 (1982): 205-227.
  21. Imad Mansour, “Iran and instability in the Middle East.” International Journal 63.4 (2008): 941-964.
  22. Ofra Bengio and Gencer Ozcan, “Old grievances, new fears: Arab perceptions of Turkey and its alignment with Israel.” Middle Eastern Studies 37.2 (2001): 80.
  23. Kathleen Mclnnis, “Extended deterrence: The US credibility gap in the Middle East.” Washington Quarterly 28.3 (2005): 169-86.
  24. Rodger Shanahan, “Shia political development in Iraq: The case of the Islamic Dawa party.” Third World Quarterly 25.5 (2004): 943-54.
  25. Zalmay Khalilzad and Daniel Byman, “Afghanistan: The consolidation of a rogue state.” Washington Quarterly 23.1 (2000): 65-78.
  26. Bruce Cumings, Ervand Abrahamian, and Moshe Ma’oz, Inventing the Axis of Evil: The Truth About North Korea, Iran, and Syria (New York: New Press, 2004), 53.
  27. Dan Caldwell, “Flashpoints in the Gulf: Abu Musa and the Tunb Islands.” Middle East Policy 4.3 (1996): 50-58.
  28. James Russell, “Saudi Arabia in the 21st Century: A New Security Dilemma.” Middle East Policy 12.3 (2005): 64-78.
  29. Gwenn Okruhlik, “The Irony of Islah (Reform).” Washington Quarterly 28.4, (2005): 153-170.
  30. International Institute for Strategic Studies, Military Balance 2004-2005 (London: Oxford University Press, 2004), 354.
  31. Gregory Schulte, “Stopping proliferation before it starts.” Foreign Affairs 89.4 (2010): 85-95.
  32. Gregory Schulte, 85-95.
  33. John Shenna, “The case against the case against Iran: Regionalism as the West’s last frontier.” The Middle East Journal 64.3 (2010): 341-363.
  34. Gregory Schulte, 88.
  35. Douglas Ross, “Nuclear-weapons and American grand strategy.” International Journal 63.4 (2008): 847-73.
  36. John Shenna, “The case against the case against Iran: Regionalism as the West’s last frontier.” The Middle East Journal 64.3 (2010): 341-363.
  37. Scott Sagan, Kenneth Waltz, and Richard Betts, “A nuclear Iran: Promoting stability or courting disaster?” Journal of International Affairs 60.2 (2007): 135-53.
  38. Paul Kumaraswamy, “Non-conventional weapons proliferation in the Middle East: Tackling the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological capabilities.” Domes 3.2 (1994): 60.
  39. Douglas Ross, “Nuclear-weapons and American grand strategy.” International Journal 63.4 (2008): 847-73.
  40. Douglas Ross, “Nuclear-weapons and American grand strategy.” International Journal 63.4 (2008): 847-73.
  41. Sameh Aboul-Enein, “The 2010 NPT review and the Middle East: Challenges and Opportunities.” Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics, and Culture 16.3/4 (2010): 67-76.
  42. Jonathan Schell, The Gift of Time: The Case for Abolishing Nuclear Weapons Now (London: Metropolitan Books, 1998), 51.
  43. Douglas Ross, “Nuclear-weapons and American grand strategy.” International Journal 63.4 (2008): 847-73.
  44. Gregory Schulte, “Stopping proliferation before it starts.” Foreign Affairs 89.4 (2010): 85-95.
  45. Sameh Aboul-Enein, “The 2010 NPT review and the Middle East: Challenges and Opportunities.” Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics, and Culture 16.3/4 (2010): 67-76.
  46. Poul-Erik Christiansen and Dan Plesch, “Disarmament education and epistemic communities: A weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East.” Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture, 16.3/4 (2010): 57-66.
  47. Poul-Erik Christiansen and Dan Plesch 62.
  48. Jonathan Schell, The Gift of Time: The Case for Abolishing Nuclear Weapons Now (London: Metropolitan Books, 1998), 37.
  49. Peter Jones, “Arms Control in the Middle East: Is It Time to Renew the ACRS?” UNIDIR Open Forum 2 (2005): 1-34.
  50. Campbell Craig, Glimmer of a New Leviathan (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 45.

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DemoEssays. "Nuclear Weapons in the Middle East." February 18, 2022. https://demoessays.com/nuclear-weapons-in-the-middle-east/.