June 21, 2024

A Vision for Peace: Advocating for Disarmament in the Middle East

Mariana Fernández

The Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung–New York Office believes disarmament—particularly the abolition of weapons of mass destruction—is a key pathway to fostering positive peace. By eliminating these catastrophic weapons, we can not only reduce the immediate threat of large-scale devastation but also promote a global environment of trust and cooperation. Disarmament paves the way for sustainable development as resources previously allocated to arms can be redirected towards education, healthcare, and infrastructure. Moreover, it encourages nations to engage in dialogue and resolve conflicts through peaceful means, laying the foundation for a more stable and just world.

While today most of the world looks in horror at the war and destruction waged in Gaza and its implications for the region—such as the exchange of fire between Israel and Iran—, one fact has been particularly troubling: Israel is the only country with nuclear weapons in the Middle East.[1] This recent escalation has added further strain to a region already struggling with the devastating aftermath of Syria’s civil war, the Yemeni civil war acting as a proxy conflict for regional powers, and the turbulent and violent consequences of foreign military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Since the colonial wars of the mid-20th century, the Middle East and North Africa have been a hotspot of volatility and war. More than 45 armed conflicts are currently taking place throughout the region in Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Yemen, and Western Sahara.[2]

The war in Gaza, which is so brutal that the International Court of Justice is investigating whether Israel is committing genocide, is an urgent argument for the creation of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East. In addition to Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity[3] and its possession of chemical and biological weapons, one must also take into account Iran’s nuclear program in apparent pursuit of developing weapons, Assad’s use of chemical weapons during the Syrian civil war, and the involvement and interests in the region of nuclear powers such as the US and Russia.

The idea of creating a WMDFZ in the Middle East was first brought forth by Egypt in 1990, expanding on an earlier proposal for a Nuclear Free Zone, endorsed by the UN General Assembly with a resolution in 1974. In 1995, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference called for “the establishment of an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems.”[4] At the 2010 session, state parties reached an agreement for the first time on five steps to advance the implementation of the 1995 resolution. Since 2019, the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction has been held annually at the UN Headquarters in New York.[5]

The Middle East Treaty Organization (METO) is a “coalition of civil society activists and practitioners seeking to rid the Middle East from all weapons of mass destruction as a gateway toward regional security and peace.”[6] Co-founded by Emad Kiyaei from Iran and Sharon Dolev from Israel in response to the decades of stagnation on this idea, METO addresses the issue through “a treaty-based approach involving three key components:

1) A WMDFZ Treaty—a text freely arrived at by relevant governments and stakeholders through an inclusive process.[7]

2) A Regional Organization—to oversee the treaty’s eventual implementation, verification and compliance.

3) Civil Society Engagement—to advance a robust civil society movement ensuring governments deliver on their commitments to non-proliferation and human security.”

METO’s Draft Treaty will always remain in draft form, as a model for governments, individuals, and NGOs encouraged to propose modifications and improvements. The organization’s aim is not to achieve consensus on this Draft Treaty but to demonstrate that a process is feasible if there is political will.

Since 2019, RLS–NYC has supported the work of METO in various ways. With the belief that peace and security in the Middle East “can only be achieved with the widespread support of people all over the world,” METO combines lobbying activities with education and public outreach to raise awareness of the WMDFZ treaty process. It hosts expert meetings that bring together diplomats and experts to discuss technical aspects of the Draft Treaty, lobbies at major international disarmament conferences, and organizes seminars and courses aimed at training students and young diplomats on the topic. RLS NYC contributes to this work by facilitating international travel and meetings, co-organizing side events at UN conferences and other international and national spaces, sponsoring public events, and connecting with activists in other fields.

Our collaboration with METO supports their vision of a peaceful, integrated and prosperous Middle East built on human and environmental security. This is our vision too.

[1] https://rosalux.nyc/the-ultimate-violation-of-human-rights-the-nexus-between-weapons-of-mass-destruction-and-humanitarian-concerns/

[2] https://geneva-academy.ch/galleries/today-s-armed-conflicts

[3] The policy of deliberate opacity or ambiguity means that Israel does not confirm or deny the possession of nuclear weapons. It’s the only country in the region that is not a party to the NPT and it has not fully accepted the safeguards legal framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

[4] https://front.un-arm.org/wp-content/uploads/assets/WMD/Nuclear/1995-NPT/pdf/Resolution_MiddleEast.pdf

[5] https://disarmament.unoda.org/topics/conference-on-a-mezf-of-nwandowomd/

[6] www.wmd-free.me/home/about/

[7] The latest draft is from 2022 and can be found here: www.wmd-free.me/home/draft-treaty/dtv5/

Mariana Fernández is a project manager at RLS–NYC focusing on peace and security, disarmament, and nuclear abolition.

Top photo: AP Photo/U.S. Army, File