President Barack Obama’s nuclear summit of 47 world leaders last week aimed to address a major flaw in the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT): namely, its neglect of non-state actors. In this regard, the summit was a success, as it laid the foundation for creating safeguards against non-state actors’ acquisition of weapons-grade nuclear material. However, the other major flaw of the NPT–its inability to achieve universal membership–remains unattended to.
The Washington nuclear summit contributes to re-establishing US leadership in the nuclear nonproliferation business, especially after the signing of the ‘New START’ treaty and the release of a more engaging Nuclear Posture Review. President Obama can now capitalize on these successes and take steps to improve the universality of NPT. That would affirm US leadership and at the same time improve global security significantly.
The fact that India, Israel and Pakistan remain outside the scope of the NPT and exempt from any kind of international inspection of their nuclear activities has been a major obstacle in expanding the nonproliferation treaty. India and Pakistan have found a modus operandi, regulated to a large extent by an active US involvement. In a way it is both easier and less urgent to integrate them in the NPT.
In the Middle East, however, the situation is more troubling and continues to generate serious risks for the world as a whole. Iran seems like the most compelling case at hand, but it is important to remember that Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity also stands in the way of establishing a regional security regime in the region. In the multilateral security talks that followed the 1991 Madrid Conference, Israel adamantly refused to discuss its nuclear program unless conventional and unconventional threats of its neighbors were addressed first (including those posed by Iran and Saddam’s Iraq). Conversely, Arab states insisted on including Israel’s nuclear weapons in the discussion before any security arrangement could be agreed. As a result, the talks collapsed and were never revived in the years since. Had the US intervened 15 years ago and led Arab states and Israel towards overcoming their tit-for-tat attitude, a Mideast security regime, with confidence-building measures, safeguards and verification mechanisms, would probably have emerged by now.
Both the US and actors in the region need to start a dialogue on all security concerns in the Middle East that includes the nuclear issues. And they need to start this dialogue now, and urgently.
Such a dialogue would help address a number of challenges at the same time. First, it would lay to rest the complaints about double standards in the nonproliferation community and relieve the US – and Israel – from the untenable claim that Israel’s nuclear arsenal should somehow be treated as exceptional (a claim that nobody outside Washington and Tel Aviv gives serious consideration). The double-standard argument has been the most successful weapon against nonproliferation, especially in mobilizing public support for nuclear projects like those of Saddam’s Iraq, Ghaddafi’s Libya or Iran (and you will hear a lot about it in the coming weeks leading up to the NPT review). Second, such a dialogue would significantly decrease the pressure on Arab governments to start their own nuclear programs and abort what could be the beginning of a nuclear race in the region. Third, this dialogue would pave the way for the establishment of a Middle East security regime, which could be the vehicle for addressing a wide range of security hazards in this troubled and troubling region. Finally, such a dialogue might offer a framework for addressing Iran’s problematic nuclear activities, especially if accompanied by a package of stabilizing confidence-building measures.
What is needed here is a non-ideological, non-divisive, practical approach to the nuclear issues in the Middle East that takes into account legitimate security needs of all players. Rhetoric aside, the security concerns of Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the Gulf States, Iran, Syria and Turkey are mutually dependent and cannot be addressed separately. A comprehensive regime can offer each party the assurances that are vital to its own security, and require it to provide assurances to others.
By pursuing this goal, the Obama Administration can lead the transformation of the security landscape in the Middle East. No other party has the strategic wherewithal to pursue this goal. And few other interventions could bring the US administration such comparable dividends in the short term.
Ezzedine Choukri Fishere is professor of international politics at the American University in Cairo and a former advisor to the Egyptian foreign minister and also to the UN’s Middle East envoy in Jerusalem.
Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy's award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. Lynch previously wrote Foreign Policy's Turtle Bay blog, for which he was awarded the 2011 National Magazine Award for best reporting in digital media. He is also a recipient of the 2013 Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Silver Prize for his coverage of the United Nations.
Before moving to Foreign Policy, Lynch reported on diplomacy and national security for the Washington Post for more than a decade. As the Washington Post's United Nations reporter, Lynch had been involved in the paper's diplomatic coverage of crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, and Somalia, as well as the nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea. He also played a key part in the Post's diplomatic reporting on the Iraq war, the International Criminal Court, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Lynch's enterprise reporting has explored the underside of international diplomacy. His investigations have uncovered a U.S. spying operation in Iraq, Dick Cheney's former company's financial links to Saddam Hussein, and documented numerous sexual misconduct and corruption scandals.
Lynch has appeared frequently on the Lehrer News Hour, MSNBC, NPR radio, and the BBC. He has also moderated public discussions on foreign policy, including interviews with Susan E. Rice, the U.S. National Security Advisor, Gerard Araud, France's U.N. ambassador, and other senior diplomatic leaders.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Lynch received a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985 and a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 1987. He previously worked for the Boston Globe.| Turtle Bay |
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |