The Middle East at a Crossroads: How to Face the Perils of Nuclear Development in a Volatile Region

By Mallard, Gregoire; Foradori, Paolo | Global Governance, October-December 2014 | Go to article overview

The Middle East at a Crossroads: How to Face the Perils of Nuclear Development in a Volatile Region


Mallard, Gregoire, Foradori, Paolo, Global Governance


The global nuclear regime may have reached a crossroads: the states parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have called for the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems in the Middle East. Now that Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany have reached a deal in Geneva over a phased verification of the peaceful character of Iran's nuclear program, the international community needs to address broader regional issues. Failure to move forward could imperil the global nonproliferation architecture. At the same time, little thought has been given to how this regional arrangement would work both internally (with its member states) and externally (with other organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency). This article reviews the obstacles and windows of opportunity for a comprehensive regional nuclear settlement by drawing lessons from recent history in Europe. In particular, the history of the European Atomic Energy Community suggests how a future regional organization with jurisdiction in all aspects of nuclear development should articulate its functions with existing international organizations such as the IAEA. In Europe, regional institutions have played a crucial role in creating trust among former warring nations and in harmonizing the regional and global nuclear orders. A EURATOM-like organization would be a great step for the Middle East and a great model for other regions that must deal with issues of global legal complexity (e.g., how they can harmonize regional and global orders so that they can pursue the same goals with different but compatible means). Keywords: Middle East, EURATOM, weapons of mass destruction, regime complexity.

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NUCLEAR ENERGY IS ON THE RISE AND WITH THE DEVELOPMENT OF NEW nuclear power plant projects, especially in volatile regions like the Middle East, new security concerns are likely to dominate international affairs in the coming years. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimates significant growth in the use of nuclear energy worldwide--between 23 percent and 100 percent by 2030--although the agency's projections for 2030 are 1-9 percent lower than projections made in 2011. (1) The spread of nuclear energy primarily involves some fast-growing Asian economies, but it also concerns the Middle East region, whose countries cite several "good" reasons for this Middle East "nuclear renaissance," including: the need to diversify energy sources to meet growing domestic demands for electricity and address environmental concerns: the possibility for maximizing exports of oil and gas resources; the exploitation of nuclear technologies for water desalination; and national prestige. Over the past five years, at least thirteen countries in the region--from Morocco and Egypt to Qatar and Saudi Arabia--have announced new or renewed plans to explore the use of nuclear energy. The United Arab Emirates is at the forefront and is progressing successfully with its program to have four nuclear reactors in operation by 2020, while Egypt has announced its intention to boost its nuclear ambitions.

Under normal circumstances, the spread of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes should not be cause for particular concern, and, in fact, Article 4 of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) encourages it. But in the complex, unstable, and problematic Middle East context, a possible "nuclear renaissance" represents a potential nonproliferation challenge. The problem is well known and has to do with the inherently dual-use nature of sensitive nuclear technologies, whereby knowledge and technology necessary for peaceful uses of the atom are essentially the same as those used to produce a bomb. For instance, Iran's neighbors see with distress the country's slow but steady advances in its nuclear program, which include heavy investments in nuclear fuel cycle technologies that--like uranium enrichment centrifugal technologies--are essential to master for a country with nuclear military ambitions. …

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