Time for Arms Talks? Iran, Israel, and Middle East Arms Control

By Kaye, Dalia Dassa | Arms Control Today, November 2004 | Go to article overview

Time for Arms Talks? Iran, Israel, and Middle East Arms Control


Kaye, Dalia Dassa, Arms Control Today


The Middle East has all it takes to frustrate international arms control regimes. Key regional actors do not recognize one actor's right to exist, let alone share diplomatic relations. Countries in the region perceive their own security as requiring the insecurity of others, leading them to adopt offensive military postures. At the same time, there is virtually no regional arms control culture or constituency.

The ongoing showdown between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran is a case in point, underscoring the limitations of global nonproliferation norms in addressing regional proliferation. Despite Tehran's stated commitment to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), as well as the IAEA's success in uncovering a pattern of Iranian violations, the violations themselves raise many questions about the adequacy of the NPT in blocking determined states from acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities. Even strengthened verification measures under the Additional Protocol do not address the broader political and security context of proliferation problems in unstable regions such as the Middle East.

Without such consideration, even the best orchestrated international diplomatic efforts will fall short. Because effective arms control follows political relationships and is dependent on the broader security environment, current diplomatic efforts focused on Iran must take place in conjunction with attempts to create a more favorable regional climate for arms control. This will require altering political relationships and establishing new regional processes that focus not just on International disarmament goals but also on regional confidence-building measures.

Although solving current proliferation challenges such as Iran is not dependent on the creation of new regional security structures, strong political support for such processes by the United States and its Western allies could create a more favorable regional climate and provide some cover for regional actors to make concessions in the proliferation area. That said, the creation of a regional security dialogue should be viewed primarily as a long-term process to address the underlying motivations and security vulnerabilities that lead to the type of crises we are facing today with countries such as Iran.

Consequently, the United States and Europe need to work together, preferably in conjunction with Russia and other Western allies such as Japan, on three levels: first, rein in the Iranian nuclear program; second, involve Israel, the one nuclear power in the region, and its Arab neighbors more actively in regional and global nonproliferation efforts; and third, revive multilateral regional security talks. On none of these points are there reasons to be sanguine about the prospects for success, but neither are such efforts futile, particularly if international coordination and willingness to exert political capital on the Middle Kast proliferation problem increases.

Dealing With Iran

Iran's potential acquisition of nuclear weapons must be addressed quickly and resolutely. No other proliferation challenge would more dramatically disrupt the regional balance of power and escalate the regional arms race, not to mention undermine the credibility of the NPT, than an Iranian nuclear weapons capability. The potential for nuclear breakout among other Middle Eastern states, in addition to the horrifying risks of such technologies reaching terrorists, would create a proliferation nightmare several times worse than previous threats to the NPT regime.

Indeed, the prospect of a nuclear Iran is one of the few Issues currently generating transatlantic agreement, even if tactics differ. Compared to the Europeans, the United States considers sanctions against Iran more favorably and prefers a shorter timeline for imposing them if Iran does not comply with IAEA demands. Both sides are in agreement that Iran cannot be allowed to develop its own nuclear fuel cycle, which could enable Iran to produce enough weapons-grade material for a small arsenal within a short period of time.

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Time for Arms Talks? Iran, Israel, and Middle East Arms Control
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