Half-time at the NPT
Amid talk of good atmospherics behind closed doors, proposals for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East is still the pivotal issue
We are half-way through the negotiating marathon that is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference and the crunch is approaching. The speeches have been made, the working groups set up, and drafts assembled. There are now two weeks left for the tough bargaining between the nuclear haves and have-nots over what the global arms control regime should look like.
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) has a very useful summary of the positions of various key countries, from which two main themes emerge: there is an Obama-effect at play, and the idea of a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East is becoming a make or break issue.
The non-aligned and non-weapons states are saying that the atmospherics are much better than last time around five years ago, largely because of Obama’s influence. His Prague speech last year, the changes in the US nuclear posture review and the New Start treaty, have all been credited to the account of the weapons states, and defused some of the us-versus-them friction that torpedoed the last review conference in 2005.
But the feel-good factor does not necessarily imply there will be a meaningful agreement at the end of the month on what should be done about disarmament and non-proliferation. The weapons states are not going to sign up for a timetable for disarmament, and non-weapons states are not going to accept tougher IAEA inspections, known as the Additional Protocol, as obligatory.
A key area of possible compromise is the Middle East zone. Egypt, which plays a central role at the head of the non-aligned movement states, and the ‘new agenda coalition’ (also including Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden) has made concrete steps on the zone its minimum demand in return for helping forge a broader consensus (and isolate Iran).
According to ISIS, the US delegation:
Sees two possible positive outcomes of the conference: a short final document, or something longer, which could be obtained through reaching agreement with Egypt on the Mideast NWFZ issue
Russia and the US put together a draft proposal on the eve of the conference but it was rejected by the Arab League as too vague and non-committal. The Egyptians want a negotiating conference next year and a standing committee set up to arrange it. That is too much pressure on Israel for Washington and its other allies. A compromise is possible but not preordained.
Meanwhile the focus on the issue has triggered a debate inside Israel over its policy on nuclear ambiguity, as ArmsControlWonk.com noticed. The old taboo is clearly being tested. Earlier this month, Uzi Even, a chemistry professor and ex-politician, had this to say about the policy:
“The policy of nuclear ambiguity, by which we fool only ourselves and nobody else, is not good for us any more”