Peace must precede the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free Middle East and not the other way round.
The IAEA report published this week has provided conclusive evidence that Iran has been engaged in activities designed to enable it to produce military nuclear devices.
The findings not only confront the international community with a clear challenge as to how it must respond to the fact itself; it also substantiates the now undeniable claim that Tehran has systematically violated its commitments to the international community for many years. It has shamelessly lied, consistently, both to its own people and to the world at large when its leaders have repeatedly stated that Iran is not engaged in this activity and that its policy is to develop nuclear capabilities for peaceful purposes alone.
This has now been publicly proven to be an outright lie. Dealing with a confirmed serial liar will be no easy task.
This issue will now move to center stage on the background of exchanges of ever-harsher rhetoric emanating from Tehran, Jerusalem and Washington, and last minute, frantic efforts by Moscow and Beijing to prevent publication of the document, arguing that it would push the Iranian regime into a corner.
Precisely this, pushing Iran into a corner and forcing it to confront the ultimate dilemma of “going nuclear,” has been the policy of those who hope to convince the leadership in Tehran that the international community will not permit them “to get away with it.”
Before we become engulfed in the immediate battle over this report, it will serve us well to examine a few of the fundamental predicaments that are involved in the larger issue. Another, seemingly minor, development provides us with a unique opportunity to do so.
> Map of Iran
In May 2010, a conference of the 189 members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (the NPT) met at the United Nations in New York, and its final document called for convening a conference in 2012 on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction.
More than a year later, last month, the UN secretarygeneral, the United States, Russia and Britain announced that Finland would host this conference and that a senior Finnish diplomat, Jaakko Laajava, would serve as facilitator to the process.
His first task is to consult “the countries of the region” on his mission. Indeed, the very first issue facing the Finnish official is to determine the geographical contours of the Middle East.
He will quickly find that this is no simple matter. If the Middle East has in the west, in the past at least, included Libya, which was once involved in nuclear military efforts, then surely it must also include Pakistan in the east.
This must be true, not only because of the very close relations Pakistan has with key countries in the heart of the Middle East, but because it has been the major supplier of military nuclear technology and knowhow to Iran, Iraq and Syria, to mention only three key players in the region.
This is a key aspect of the problem this conference will have to face, since Pakistan has launched a renewed nuclear program that, if implemented, might, some argue, transform Islamabad into the third-largest nuclear power on the planet, following the United States and Russia.
Obviously, such an approach will raise serious issues for the conference, such as if and how it is possible to deal with Pakistan, apart from India, and if not, will including the Indian subcontinent “overload the circuit.”
That may be so, but excluding Pakistan and for that measure North Korea might mean that the conference would try and close the front door to WMD in the Middle East while leaving the back door wide open.
One must assume that Turkey will be a major player in such a conference, should it convene. Yet Turkey is also a respected and important member of NATO and a staunch ally of the United States, and the problem will surely arise as to whether nuclear arrangements that Turkey has in those contexts will also come under and be removed to conform to “Free Zone” provisions.
A detailed statement by the then-national security adviser to President Barack Obama, Gen. (ret.) James L. Jones, on May 28, 2010, specified, inter alia, that “the conference, to be effective, must include all countries of the Middle East and other relevant countries.”
It would therefore appear that the issues surrounding the proliferation of military nuclear technologies into the region cannot be effectively addressed without serious attention being given to those who have played a key role from without the Middle East in this sphere.
North Korea is one key player, alongside Pakistan.
Beyond resolving the procedural issues, a few of which we have just mentioned, the facilitator will surely search for international precedents to guide him in crafting options and provisions. Alas, he will find none, and he might well ponder why it is that other regions have not created a WMD-free zone.
Immediately, the example of his own continent, Europe, will come to mind.
Indeed, why is it that Europe, that has experienced so many wars, two world wars in the past century alone, has not taken that route. This is all the more remarkable given the fact that over scores of years the European continent has created and nurtured an impressive array of systems and contacts that have been designed to promote cooperation on strategic security issues.
Notable among them has been the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which now has 56 member states from Europe, North America and the former Soviet Union, including the United States and the Russian Federation. There is a long history of cooperation, both bilateral and through this multilateral organ, so why has the OSCE not been used to create a nuclear-free zone in Europe that could serve at one and the same time as a pilot project and a role model for other regions and continents. Twelve states in the Middle East and Asia maintain special relations with the OSCE; they include Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Japan and Thailand.
Israel enjoys this status; Iran does not.
Indeed, if we look around the globe, there is a plethora of regional networks; North and Latin America, and South East Asia, are the first to come to mind.
Why would we think that of all the world’s areas, that where there is no regional platform of any sort at all, and where there are incessant rounds of major confrontations, might be the first candidate where the experiment of a WMD free zone could be tested? I suppose that the reason for trying this out in the Middle East of all places is due to the enmity and hostility between nations of the region; there are those who would like to use this initiative to focus on Israel in an attempt to isolate her; Obama, aware of this very motive, has publicly stated that the United States would not permit a move “to single out Israel,” but so far, this has not deterred those who would wish to do just this.
So, given the potential threat, what might be the basic and preliminary requirements for proceeding to attempt an Middle East WMD-free zone? I believe we must seek the knowledge and sagacity of those who in the past have labored hard to reduce nuclear arms arsenals, the big two – the United States and the Russian Federation (previously the Soviet Union).
A few weeks ago together with other Israelis, I had the privilege of participating in a conference held by Global Zero that marked the 25th anniversary of the Reykjavik Summit between then-presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, where the first understandings on halting the nuclear arms race were forged between the two superpowers.
The conference which was held in the Ronald Reagan Library, near Los Angeles, brought together individuals from many nations. Former secretary of state George Shultz, who played a key role in the negotiations, delivered a memorable address at the event and former secretary of state James Baker also graced the proceedings.
Ambassador Richard Burt, who led the American team for the first START negotiations that resulted in the first treaty of this kind ever to have been signed and implemented, was the guiding spirit at this Global Zero happening. On hand was Joseph Matlock, who served as American ambassador to Moscow at the time, and he gave a sparkling account of some of the rare moments at that summit.
Of all the many wise thoughts expressed at the meeting, I came away with the following salient points that I think should become both public knowledge and preliminary guidelines to anyone attempting his luck at defusing coming crises.
First and foremost I quote George Shultz, who echoed the first rule in the game – every understanding must be subjected to the test of “Trust and Verify.”
It is essential that trust be created, and this trust must be maintained and vindicated at all times. That is why, to the initial shock of the negotiating teams, Reagan shunned the drafts prepared by his advisers and experts. To their initial consternation, the expert teams were seemingly relegated to a very junior role; dealing with the core principles had to be the ultimate mission of the political masters themselves.
Reagan had, first and foremost, to see Gorbachev and test him personally and reach profound understanding and a feeling of trust in him. And he had to set in place a verification system and methodology that would enable both sides to verify the other’s ongoing performance. Nothing less would do. And, of course a credible procedure for enforcement and compliance had to be firmly established Once trust was established there was almost no limit to what could be accomplished.
The upshot of this was aptly defined by Obama in a statement on the notion of establishing a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems that he issued after the review conference of the NPT on May 28, 2010: “A comprehensive and durable peace in the region and full compliance by all regional states with their arms control and nonproliferation obligations are essential precursors for its establishment.”
In simple words, peace must precede the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free Middle East and not the other way round. It must be founded on irrevocable mutual acceptance of the parties and ironclad mutual commitments that they are resolved to live side by side in a nonbelligerent environment.
There is no “quick fix” in this game and there are no acceptable or durable substitutes to “Trust and Verify.”
The Finnish facilitator will make his first visit to the Middle East in circumstances that were not anticipated when the review conference that led to his appointment concluded its deliberations in 2010.
The region is in turmoil the like of which it has never experienced before. Three leaders, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya have been forcibly removed from office. The masses in Cairo are still taking to the streets and the current military council temporary regime is uncertain as to which way to go.
The streets of Syrian major cities have been the scenes of daily bloody confrontations as the armed forces of Bashar Assad shoot to kill in a frantic effort to save the regime. Iraq is as yet unstable and with the departure of the last American active units by year’s end will be left to try and work out some modicum of cooperation between the Shi’ite majority and the Sunni and Kurdish minorities.
And, apart from the nuclear issue, the Iranian leadership is locked in an internal battle royal between Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with the Revolutionary Guards waiting in the wings to finalize a takeover of the country. On such a backdrop, forging trust will necessarily be a very long and tortuous process, and since this is a prerequisite for everything else, this must become the focal sine qua non of any facilitator.
The challenge to all sides to the disputes in the Middle East are becoming tougher and probably harder to resolve. The IAEA report this week is one further ominous indicator of how far we still have to go. And yet, all may not be lost. The powers that be in Tehran have been known at least once in the past to do a major Uturn when they realized that the alternative was a very dark one. The founder of modern-day Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, reversed his refusal to accept a cease-fire with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein at the height of the eight-year Iran-Iraq War in the late ’80s when SCUD missiles began raining down on Tehran.
When asked for the reason for his turnabout he is reported to have answered simply, “But this is God’s will.”
There has been a hidden duality in the Islamic Republic’s approach to Israel. At an international gettogether last summer, the senior Iranian present, Ali Asghar Soltanieh – the Iranian official accredited to the IAEA in Vienna – denied Israel’s right to exist as a state, following the traditional line of his superiors, but simultaneously demanded that Israel join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, an act that only recognized states could do.
When I challenged him on this very contradiction, he was bereft of any response to the conundrum he had created.
This does not mean that all have to do is to simply emulate the words of the John Milton, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
The Finish facilitator might take his time to impress upon his Iranian interlocutors that whatever the current conditions are, nothing whatsoever can materialize before the basis of trust is firmly created. Needless to say, trust cannot reign without mutual respect and acceptance.
This is a tough call. And yet as the crisis between Iran and the international community hurtles on, on the verge of its spinning out of control, the options of destruction and unprecedented loss of life on all sides must loom higher in the calculus of all the players.
And one last thought – Global Zero was founded on the basis of an original statement made by the four horsemen – Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry and Sum Nunn – five and more years ago when they promoted the lofty target of ultimately freeing the globe of military nuclear capacities. Not one of them is a starry-eyed day dreamer. Neither is President Barack Obama, who adopted the Global Zero agenda in the address he delivered in Prague during the first months of his presidency. In the statement made by Gen. Jones on May 28, 2010, he also said: “Just as our commitment to seek peace and security of a world free of nuclear weapons will not be reached quickly, the United States understands that a WMD nuclear-free zone in the Middle East is a long-erm goal.”
The Reagan-Gorbachev meeting 25 years ago was a culmination of vigorous efforts made over a long period of time to impress upon the minds of the Russians what their true options were and what they would gain if they went along and what they might lose if they turned the other way.
So there is much to be done in the months and years to come so that in the final analysis not only Barack Obama and/or, ultimately Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, will each be able to meet Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but they will look into each other’s eyes and start to tread the difficult path of cementing trust.
This will be the only way to turn the corner and walk in the footsteps of Reagan and Gorbachev, who, after leaving office, has become a patron of Global Zero. A daydream – a fantasy maybe – or maybe when gazing into the abyss, Iran will emerge saying, “This is God’s will.”
Efraim Halevyis head of the Shasha Center for Strategic Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a former head of the Mossad and the National Security Council.