9 May 2012, No. 7

Editorial: Selective compliance
Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

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On Tuesday morning, the conference room went quiet when the facilitator of the 2012 conference on a WMD free zone in the Middle East (MEWMDFZ) took the floor to report on progress on the eagerly awaited conference. However, it was not a very detailed report that Mr. Jaakko Laajava presented. There is still no agreement on the dates of the conference, nor has he yet received confirmation that all states in the region will participate. Mr. Laajava reported that he had carried out over one hundred consultations with all stakeholders, such as states in the region, conveners of the conference, nuclear weapon states, relevant international organisations, civil society, and other interested parties. He indicated that December seems like a possible time for the meeting and stated that logistics were in place to host the event in Helsinki. In conclusion, he noted that further and intensified efforts were needed from the conveners, the states in the region, but also from the facilitator himself.

No such self-reflection was found in any of the statements on the topic following Mr. Laajava’s report. Most delegations focused on what others should do to ensure success.

While statements from the Non-Aligned Movement, the Arab Group, and individual states from the region highlighted the importance these governments put on implementation of the 1995 resolution on the Middle East, they mostly argued that Israel should renounce its nuclear arsenal and join the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon states and that efforts by the facilitator, the UN Secretary-General, and the three co-sponsors (United Kingdom, United States and Russia) must be accelerated. They made very few concrete suggestions or proposals for ensuring success of the 2012 conference.

The three co-sponsors of the 1995 resolution delivered a joint statement that basically only noted that all states in the Middle East should be represented at the conference and that it’s ultimately those states that are responsible for “creating and establishing the political and security conditions that will provide a sustainable foundation for such a zone” and the success of the conference. That the primary responsibility for the conference lays with the states in the region was reiterated by the US in its national statement, although that didn’t stop it from proposing a detailed and comprehensive agenda and stipulating that the conference must operate by consensus.

In addition to this, the US reiterated its usual caveat that regional peace is a necessary prerequisite to the creation of a MEWMDFZ. It also warned countries against singling out Israel, while at the same time emphasizing that “two states in the region, Iran and Syria, are currently in noncompliance with their nonproliferation obligations”. A few hours later, the US statement on other regional issues only called upon India and Pakistan to “restrain” their nuclear arsenals, but did not ask them to disarm or join the NPT, leaving no doubt that no concrete initiatives for promoting the universality of the treaty is currently taking place. The US also did not ask the Israel to take any action on nuclear disarmament or non-proliferation, further undermining universalization of the Treaty as well as prospects for all countries to be treated equally at the MEWMDFZ conference—which is another of the US caveats for the success of the conference.

When comparing statements by the co-sponsors on the 1995 Middle East resolution to those on from cluster one on disarmament, a clear pattern emerges. As the 1995 resolution was adopted in exchange for the indefinite extension of the NPT, it simply creates another “bargain” of the Treaty. Just as with the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation obligations of the Treaty, this issue puts in place immediate binding requirements on one part, while the other part can be left un-implemented for a long time. And just as is seen with disarmament, conditions and external circumstances are used as an excuse for not achieving the goals of the commitments and for not fully implementing previous decisions.

In addition, just as with the disarmament obligations of the Treaty, failure by states to achieve progress on the 1995 resolution, a consensus-decision by the NPT itself, is never described as non-compliance with the Treaty. Instead, the 1995 resolution is still described as “pending implementation” or “not yet fulfilled”. Such rhetorical choices clearly highlights that certain obligations are not taken as seriously as others, despite such obligations being instrumental for the existence of the NPT.

The success of the 2012 conference will be crucial for maintaining the trust in the NPT by states in the region. And strong support and willingness to engage in constructive negotiations by both states in the region and the co-sponsors, in particularly the Unites States, remains essential for progress. Currently, there is a significant risk that each country continues to voice support for a WMD free zone while blaming other countries and issues for standing in the way of its success.

The co-sponsors must not allow the conference to derail and need to make constructive efforts to get all states to come to the table; otherwise the credibility of the NPT regime and its effectiveness in the Middle East will be seriously undermined. 17 years after the resolution was adopted, progress on the Middle East is not just important for the region, but for the entire NPT regime’s ability to provide security for parties to the Treaty.

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