‘Now Is The Time’ For Middle East Nuke-Free Zone

By Jaya Ramachandran | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BERLIN (IDN) – The eminent Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has revived the issue of a Middle East nuclear weapon-free zone (NWFZ), first proposed in 1962. Discussions on the subject have been frozen since the last quarter of 2012, when a planned United Nations conference on the region came to naught in the face of Israel’s opposition.

In fact, if further proliferation is to be prevented in the Middle East, and regional security enhanced, “now is the time to convene the conference mandated by the 2010 NPT Review Conference,” says Tariq Rauf in an essay posted on the SIPRI website.

“The process for establishing a NWFZ in the Middle East will not be easy,” he cautions, “but the experience of other regions with such zones suggests that political will and leadership are crucial.”

NWFZs have already been established in Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, South East Asia, Africa and Central Asia, with a view to reducing the role of nuclear weapons in international security and preventing the emergence of new nuclear-weapon states.

“These established NWFZs are of particular relevance to an examination of the material obligations to be included in the verification regime of a future NWFZ in the Middle East,” states Rauf.

He is of the view that a Middle East NWFZ would require the dismantlement of Israel’s nuclear weapon capabilities under international verification. “Compliance by states with CSAs (Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement) will also need to be assessed,” he adds.

He recalls: “The 2010 Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) agreed that the United Nations Secretary-General, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States should convene a conference in 2012, to be attended by all states in the Middle East, on establishing a zone free of nuclear weapons, and other weapons of mass destruction, in keeping with the mandate of the resolution on the Middle East adopted by the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference.”

However, in November 2012 the USA unilaterally announced that it would not be convened due to the situation prevailing in the region.

Rauf points out that all states of the Middle East region except for Israel are parties to the NPT and have undertaken to accept comprehensive IAEA safeguards. Arab states of the Middle East maintain that the establishment of a NWFZ would contribute to the conclusion of a peace settlement in the region.

However, Israel takes the view that a Middle East NWFZ, as well as other regional security issues, cannot be addressed in isolation from the establishment of a lasting peace and stable regional security conditions.

These issues, according to Israel, should be addressed within the framework of a regional multilateral security and confidence-building process, says Rauf, an internationally respected authority on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation issues and currently the director of SIPRI’s arms control and non-proliferation programme. From 2002 to 2011 he headed the Verification and Security Policy Coordination Office at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In that capacity he dealt with high-priority verification cases involving Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, South Korea and Syria. He was also the Alternate Head of the IAEA delegation to NPT conferences from 2003 to 2010, and the IAEA Liaison and Point-of-Contact for a number of multilateral control regimes and United Nations Security Council committees.

Rauf writes: “Effective verification is an important measure of arms control agreements that aims at creating confidence between states. In the Middle East, with a legacy of fear and mistrust, the creation of such confidence would require verification arrangements that are far-reaching and comprehensive. NWFZs are of relevance not only to the parties directly involved, but also to states bordering the region and to the wider international community.”

According to Rauf, this underscores the need for a verification regime that creates the necessary confidence among the parties to the NWFZ agreement and in the international community at large.

“Verification arrangements under existing NWFZ agreements, which provide for international inspection through the IAEA and for regional structures that may be invoked in specified circumstances, can be replicated in a NWFZ in the Middle East in order to help meet both regional and global concerns,” he adds.


Rauf is of the view that in a NWFZ in the Middle East, each state party would be required to conclude and bring into force a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA. “In a non-nuclear-weapon state with a CSA in force with the IAEA pursuant to a NWFZ agreement and the NPT, any undeclared reprocessing or enrichment would constitute a clear violation of the provisions of the CSA.”

The eminent expert considers the verification of nuclear fuel cycle activities essential in order to ensure their exclusively peaceful use. This is because technologies that enable the enrichment of uranium and the separation of plutonium are regarded as sensitive because they can be used to make both fuel for nuclear power reactors and the generation of electricity, and nuclear weapons.

According to Rauf, the cost and effort required in the application of IAEA safeguards at declared reprocessing plants can vary from almost no cost for decommissioned or abandoned facilities to continuous inspection costing tens of millions of dollars.

The SIPRI expert adds: “Reprocessing operations normally involve the release of gaseous fission products into the atmosphere and the release of particulates, some of which are deposited at significant distances from the facility.”

It is possible to detect clandestine plants through enhanced information analysis, complementary access and environmental sampling. But the safeguards approach for an enrichment plant will also depend on the operational status of the facility, he adds.

“The methods used to detect undeclared enrichment plants are essentially the same as for undeclared reprocessing. Enrichment operations normally result in the release of aerosols – especially at locations where connections to the process piping are made, but also through the plant ventilation system. These aerosols may not travel very far, and thus environmental sampling is only likely to be effective close to such facilities,” writes Rauf.

According to him, the difficulty in finding emissions from clandestine enrichment plants is further compounded by advances in enrichment technology that greatly reduce the size of plants and reduce their electrical power requirements.

The SIPRI expert assures that verification measures applied in a Middle East NWFZ would benefit from a system that parallels the existing strengthened IAEA safeguards system based on CSAs supplemented by an Additional Protocol.

Such measures are designed to track all nuclear material in use in a state taking account of current and future technological developments, which may help increase the level of assurance of non-proliferation provided by safeguards practices. In addition, they provide increased assurances with respect to the detection of undeclared facilities and fissile material.

The SIPRI expert concludes that in order to provide states party to a NWFZ in the Middle East with a level of assurance analogous to the assurance provided by the IAEA under comprehensive safeguards agreements, the verification system would have to apply to the entire nuclear fuel cycle in those states and be geared to the detection of undeclared production facilities and nuclear material, through the supplementary verification tools provided by an Additional Protocol. [IDN-InDepthNews – March 2, 2014]

Photo: The Dimona Reactor Dome Credit: Mordechai Vanunu

2014 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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