International Security Studies
Experience and Challenges in Combating the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East
This meeting, jointly sponsored by the Center's International Security Studies and Middle East Programs, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was another in the ongoing Nonproliferation Forum series.
Ambassador Fahmy offered a personal assessment of the contemporary proliferation challenges in the Middle East region, drawing on his more than thirty years of work in Egypt's diplomatic service on arms control and nonproliferation issues. The backdrop of his analysis is the region's major wars and "sustained tensions," which has been the major driver of regional arms races, including for unconventional weapons.
During the 1960s, when concerns about the nuclearization of the Middle East initially arose, the immediate focus of attention was on Israel and Egypt. By the late 1970s and 1980s, two additional countries of proliferation-concern had emerged – Iraq and Iran. Prior to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saddam Hussein threatened to "burn" Israel, which responded with its own deterrent threat.
After the 1991 Gulf War and the ensuing Arab-Israeli peace conference in Madrid, Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) multilateral talks where launched as part of an effort to design a new security architecture for the region. But according to Fahmy, those talks floundered on the absence of Iran and Iraq from the ACRS process, as well as a lack of consensus among those states participating in the talks "about what the region should look like in the future." In particular, Egypt opposed Israel's efforts to preserve its qualitative and quantitative military edge.
Turning to the current crisis over Iran's nuclear program, Fahmy stated that Tehran's past resistance to addressing the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) concerns had generated distrust and questions about Iran's nuclear intentions. But, Fahmy noted, Iran is currently in compliance with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) commitments, with the exception of residual IAEA questions regarding Iranian activities possibly linked to weaponization. He stated that the problem with the European Union's proposals to Iran is that they seek to limit Iran's rights under the NPT, rather than address the motivations fueling Iran's nuclear intentions. Fahmy proposed that, in exchange for assurances, Iran should unilaterally cap its uranium enrichment program for a period of time – not indefinitely. During that interim period, a diplomatic effort should be made to revive a regional dialogue. This regional forum should address security motivations and concerns with the aim of moving toward a more intrusive inspection regime to ensure these states' compliance with nonproliferation norms. That will not happen, however, if a double standard persists.
Fahmy warned that the NPT increasingly could become "irrelevant." The treaty has not been useful in terms of Egyptian national interests since it has not constrained the countries of greatest concern to Cairo – Israel (which never joined the treaty), Iraq (which cheated from within the treaty), and Iran (whose current activities are ambiguous). "We're always asked to take the high road," Fahmy stated, "but there is not much oxygen up there anymore."