Egypt, Syria and Israel: Disarmament in an Arab



Egypt, Syria and Israel: Disarmament in an Arab
 Egypt, Syria and Israel: Disarmament in an Arab Summer Mart Stewart-­‐Smith September 2011 1 | P a g e Acknowledgements Special thanks to Global Green USA for affording me the resources and support to produce this report. I would like to thank Dr. Paul Walker, Director, Security and Sustainability; Marina Voronova-­‐Abrams, Program Associate; and Jonathan Hunt, Program Fellow, for their guidance throughout the process. About the Author Mart Stewart-­‐Smith was a Research Fellow at Global Green USA’s Security and Sustainability Office in Washington, DC in the summer of 2011. He is an undergraduate at Portland State University, and will receive an honors BS in Political Science with a minor in Arabic in June 2012. Point of Contact Dr. Paul F. Walker Security and Sustainability Program, Global Green USA 1100 15th Street, NW, 11th Floor Washington, DC 20005 Phone: 202.222.0700 Email: [email protected] 2 | P a g e Any views expressed in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Global Green USA or its staff.
3 | P a g e Abstract
This paper analyzes disarmament negotiations, primarily regarding chemical weapons, in the Middle East and the prospects for advancement under the changing security relations in the region. Negotiations have yielded impasse after impasse since the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) entered into force in 1997 and Egypt established its “coupling” policy. The advent and persistence of widespread protests in the Middle East presents the greatest opportunity in decades to rework the conditions that historically impede disarmament. Already, the transitional regime in Cairo is moving to alter its position in the region by distancing itself from Israel and reestablishing ties with Iran; both Syria and Israel face similarly dramatic policy shifts. The paper approaches the question of disarmament negotiations in two distinct ways. First, an examination of the precedent established by regional security agreements in other parts of the world, and the strengths and limitations therein. This helps in understanding what goes in to formulating the Confidence Building Measures (CBM) and treaty provisions that prove to be so problematic in the Middle East. Second, an analysis of the specific security concerns of Egypt, Syria, and Israel, and how they influence both official government negotiations (Track I) and those of non-­‐governmental organizations (NGOs) (Track II). The conclusion includes a discussion of a proposed NGO summit in the Middle East in mid-­‐2012, the primary objective of which is to develop new CBMs.
4 | P a g e Introduction
This report examines disarmament efforts in the Middle East by focusing on three of the
region’s most influential actors: Egypt, Syria, and Israel. The first section explains the
underlying political foundations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Chemical
Weapons Convention (CWC), and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC). The
next section identifies the dominant political and security-related impediments to disarmament.
The penultimate section analyzes how recent protests have affected the political situation in the
Middle East and evaluates their implications for disarmament prospects in the region. The
recommendations at the end of the report address how “Track-II” negotiations involving nongovernmental organizations can provide the foundations for future negotiations between
governments in the new security climate.
The greatest barrier to disarmament in the Middle East is the fragility of international
law, norms, and institutions in a region where realist policies predominate and rhetorical
posturing serves to intimidate regional competitors and bolster popular support for each
respective regime. More generally, this concept could be understood as a “cultural defense
posture” – the interplay between security policies, public opinion, and political leadership.
International efforts to develop a disarmament framework have tried to overcome this barrier by
conducting private negotiations in which government officials are supposedly free from public
scrutiny to speak reasonably and constructively. No matter how controlled the negotiating
environment is, however, the perceived threat of regional actors and enemies looms large,
quashing each new disarmament framework. Before disarmament can become reality, cultural
defense postures must change.
5 | P a g e Overview
It is necessary to review the origins of the treaties governing the nonproliferation or
destruction of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation
of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) entered into force on March 5, 1970. Today, there are 189 states
party to the treaty, including five states known to possess nuclear weapons: the U.S., UK,
France, Russia and China. India, Pakistan, and Israel have never been party to the treaty, and
North Korea withdrew its membership in 2003; each of these four non-party states possesses
nuclear weapons. The NPT stands on three pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament, and the
peaceful application of nuclear technology.
Although the NPT is arguably the most successful arms control treaty in history, it is not
without its weaknesses. The NPT’s main purpose is to stem the tide of nuclear weapons
proliferation, known informally as the “first pillar.” In quantitative terms, exceptions to the first
pillar’s success are rare, and will likely remain rare because of the international stigma now
associated with new military nuclear programs (the notable examples being Iran and North
Korea). Nonetheless, there are four critiques of the NPT worth mentioning. The first critique of
the NPT, put forward by Jim Walsh, centers on potential “cheating by NPT member states.” In
short, it is possible for states to use their membership in the NPT as a ploy to deflect attention
from covert weapons programs. The Iraqi and North Korean nuclear programs have exemplified
this critique. Nevertheless, the IAEA inspection regime, the abandonment of the Iraqi program,
and the potential that North Korea may soon follow suit, indicate the tenuous empirical support
for Walsh’s critique.1 The second critique maintains that the NPT fails to address qualitative
developments in nuclear weapons technology. This has the effect of undermining genuine
Walsh, Jim. “Learning from Past Success: The NPT and the Future of Non-Proliferation,” 2005.
6 | P a g e disarmament and non-proliferation efforts. According to Jacqueline Cabasso in her remarks to
the 2005 NPT Review Conference, it is necessary to end the nuclear arms race definitively,
manifest today in the form of ongoing technological enhancements to existing stockpiles, in
order to halt weapons proliferation indefinitely.2
The third critique holds that the NPT does little to prevent the transfer of nuclear
technology by, and to non-state entities.3 This thread of the non-proliferation debate remains
theoretical without reliable case studies in which non-state actors (without sponsor-state support)
sold or developed nuclear technology. Nevertheless, the potential danger of an eventual success
perpetuates debate. The fourth and final critique of the NPT, hereafter referred to as the
“defense-posture critique,” is the struggle to supplant the strategic value of nuclear posturing in
order to achieve complete disarmament.4 The members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)
are the most likely to voice the defense-posture critique. Non-aligned states consider themselves
independent from any major power bloc, and include nearly every state in Africa and West Asia.
NAM members often propose and support UN resolutions that uphold freedom from the threat of
nuclear weapons use.
Signed on April 10, 1972, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC)
entered into force on March 26, 1975. Many of the CWC’s precedents also laid the legal
foundation for the BTWC. The use of poison in modern warfare being not only abhorrent, but
also militarily problematic, the path to a convention on biological weapons was significantly
shorter and less treacherous than that of its chemical counterpart. Despite its head start, the
BTWC enjoys less support than the CWC with only 165 states party to it and 13 signatories
“Non-Governmental Organizations' Statements to the States Party to the Seventh Review Conference of
the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” 2005, NPT Review.
P.22, Ibid.
P.10, Ibid; Burroughs, John. “The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,” in Nuclear Disorder or
Cooperative Security?
7 | P a g e having yet to ratify.5 States not party to the convention include Israel. Both Egypt and Syria are
members. The BTWC is subject to the most glaring deficiencies of the three regimes; it has no
governing body, and thereby no capacity to verify or enforce its disarmament programs.6
Of the three classifications of WMD, chemical weapons have the most prolific history of
military use. However, modern militaries have lessened their reliance on chemical munitions,
more than likely because of the natural distaste humans have for the use and consequences of
chemicals in warfare.7 The earliest recorded legal precedent for the CWC was an agreement
between France and Germany in 1675 that prohibited the use of poison bullets.8 The ranks of
chemical weapons treaty law expanded with the 1874 Brussels Convention on the Law and
Customs of War, and the 1899 Hague Peace Conference. Following the widespread use of
chemical weapons during World War I, including the first deployment of chlorine and mustard
gasses, the international community produced the 1925 Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of
the Use of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gasses, and Bacteriological Methods of Warfare.
The rest of the twentieth century saw further negotiations on the issues of chemical and
biological weapons, with a number of draft resolutions and treaties establishing the legal
framework for the CWC. In January 1993, 130 states signed the CWC, and in 1996 Hungary
became the 65th state to ratify it, bringing the convention into force on April 29, 1997.9 Today,
Arms Control Association. (2011). “Biological Weapons Convention Signatories and States-Parties.”
Retrieved on June 21, 2011 from
Kahn, Laura H. “The Biological Weapons Convention: Proceeding without a verification protocol”
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 2011; Sims, Nicholas A. “Strengthening structures for the Biological and
Toxin Weapons Convention: options for remedying the institutional deficit.”
Tucker, Jonathan B. (2007). War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to Al-Qaeda.
Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. “Genesis and Historical Development.”
Retrieved July 12, 2011 from
8 | P a g e there are 188 states party to the treaty, with Angola, Burma/Myanmar, Egypt, Israel, North
Korea, Somalia, and Syria remaining outside the convention.
In similar fashion to the NPT’s three pillars, the CWC includes three annexes; the
chemicals annex, the verification annex, and the confidentiality annex. The chemicals annex
describes the criteria for chemicals to fall under the authority of the CWC. It divides the
classification scheme into schedule 1, 2, and 3 substances. The Verification Annex describes the
verification procedures for states party to the convention and the operations of the Organization
for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Finally, the confidentiality annex establishes
the standards for what constitutes sensitive information in recognition of the convention’s
requirement that states release information relating to national security.
The CWC has weaknesses similar to the NPT, especially with respect to the defenseposture critique and the non-state-actors critique. The defense-posture critique is key to
understanding the disarmament climate in the Middle East. Moreover, while there are few
examples of chemical weapons proliferation by non-state actors (as is the case for nuclear
weapons), the threat posed by such potentialities is still a subject of serious concern. The
technology behind the production of chemical munitions is overall much simpler than that of
nuclear weapons. As a result, tracking the spread of small-scale industrial equipment and
chemical ingredients by the OPWC under the CWC is of immediate and worthwhile concern.
Notwithstanding these two critiques, the most common and pressing critique of the CWC
concerns the monitoring of dual-use materials. Schedule 3 substances are those “produced in
large commercial quantities” and are not prohibited by the CWC. They are nonetheless used in
the production process of Schedule 1 and 2 materials. The OPCW conducts inspections of both
Chemical Weapons Production Facilities (CWPFs) and Other Chemical Production Facilities
9 | P a g e (OCPFs). Around the world, there are approximately 5,000 OCPFs, but the 2011 OPCW budget
only accommodated 127 inspections of such facilities. This number represents an increase by
two over the previous fiscal year. Meanwhile, the OPCW only made 29 Schedule 3 inspections,
representing a decrease of one.10 Dual-use technologies are of particular concern because the
growing role they play in commercial enterprises makes them ever more difficult to monitor.
Technological advances by the private sector continue to increase both the ease of production
and productive capacity in the pursuit of new beneficial applications.11
Horner, Daniel. (2011). “CWC Members Debate Inspection Distribution,” Arms Control Association.
Retrieved July 12, 2011 from
Trapp, Ralf. (2008). “Advances in Science and Technology and the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
Arms Control Today.
10 | P a g e Advantages and Disadvantages of Disarmament
The sensitive nature of security policy and disarmament negotiations in governmental
and nongovernmental forums presents a significant barrier to the up-to-date analysis of policy
developments among Egypt, Syria, and Israel. However, whereas specific policy initiatives are
opaque, the region’s geopolitical dynamics are often equally telling and more observable. The
main challenge to Middle East disarmament is the depth and breadth of security policy and
infrastructure reforms needed in the region. Although identifiable, each demands considerable
risk on the part of the government undertaking them. To understand this debate more clearly, it
is useful to consider three arguments against disarmament, and three arguments for disarmament.
The first and most widely discussed barrier to disarmament is the coupling or linkage
policy established by Egypt when Israel declined to become a party to the NPT. Coupling refers
to the position that nuclear and chemical weapons cannot be considered independently from each
other, and so the decommissioning of one arsenal cannot reasonably be expected without the
decommissioning of the other. This policy kept Egypt and Syria out of the CWC, although most
of their neighbors have joined the treaty and are actively engaged with the OPCW. The opacity
of the Israeli nuclear program, which is ultimately the sustaining force behind “coupling,”
undermines many of the confidence-building measures (CBMs) that are deemed crucial (and for
good reason) by disarmament experts. Furthermore, given the security climate of the Middle
East, it is diplomatically and strategically naïve to expect Egypt and Syria to become party to the
CWC and open themselves to the ensuing inspections and weapons-destruction initiatives
without a preceding or reciprocal move by Israel. From the Egyptian perspective, a chemical
arsenal is the only deterrent against Israeli aggression. It would be unwise for them to open
11 | P a g e themselves to the threat of nuclear weapons use without comparable deterrence in the world’s
most volatile region.
In acknowledgment of the legitimate security concerns of the Arab states, a common
policy proposal has been the extension of the US “nuclear umbrella” to its allies in the Middle
East. However, this approach is inherently imperfect. The direct participants, especially in the
Middle East, should negotiate disarmament agreements with limited involvement from extraregional actors. Although the US should play some role in bringing regional parties together, the
product of negotiations should not be dependent on US foreign policy as it introduces an
unpredictable variable. Any sort of unforeseen shift in US defense policy, be it a month or a
decade from the agreement’s signing, would upset the security equilibrium. A report by Jozef
Goldblat from 1999 takes a similar position.12 The nuclear umbrella approach nonetheless
remains a subject of considerable debate.13
The second barrier to a disarmament agreement is the Israeli perception of Middle
Eastern security dynamics. In an article from 2008, Nilsu Goren explains Israeli security
concerns in terms of four concentric circles.14 At the center of Goren’s model is the IsraeliPalestinian conflict, followed by broader political conflict with neighboring states over territory.
The two outermost layers are the ideological conflicts between Zionism and Arab nationalism,
and “Jewish aspirations confronting Islamic political doctrines.” The outer two layers are less
useful for our purposes then the two innermost. The inner two layers provide the scope and
stakes for disarmament talks, and their effects on both bilateral and multilateral negotiations
Goldblat, Jozef. (2004). “Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaties: Benefits and Deficiencies.” Building a
Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East. United Nations Institute for Disarmament
Global Security Newswire. (2011). “Experts Mull Potential Middle East Nuclear Umbrella.” Retrieved
Aug. 5, 2011 from
Goren, Nilsu. (2008). “Weapons of Mass Destruction: Challenges Towards Nonproliferation in the
Middle East.” Journal of Peace Education and Social Justice.
12 | P a g e should be taken into account. In developing a negotiating framework, it is vital to recognize that
disarmament, especially from an Israeli perspective, entails more than one weapons type or
nation. Thus far, efforts by the OPCW to “decouple” chemical and nuclear weapons have failed,
not only because it is difficult to determine which state should begin the disarmament process, as
noted by Daniel Feakes, but also because the multi-front force postures of the regional powers
are rooted in the unresolved Palestinian conflict.15 Decoupling efforts have thus failed because it
is unreasonable, as argued by many Israeli supporters, for Israel to begin gradually reducing any
part of its security establishment while the conflict that prompted its development persists.
The third and most important negotiating barrier is the ease of inaction.16 Acceding to an
arms control treaty, especially as a possessor state, requires substantial changes to a state’s force
posture. As the most successful disarmament treaty to date, the CWC can serve a useful model.
The OPCW spends much of its resources working with states to establish disarmament programs
that will be politically acceptable and still maintain the integrity of the security infrastructure of
the states seeking accession. Littlewood cites Libya and Morocco as examples of states with
“core security concerns” that acceded to the CWC and BTWC.17 It is nonetheless difficult to
draw credible parallels between Libya or Morocco, and Syria or Egypt. Although their relative
geographic proximity might invite such an easy comparison, the political circumstances of each
state are decidedly different. The political stakes are significantly higher for the regimes in Egypt
and Syria. Remaining outside the CWC is easier politically than accession because Syria, and
especially Egypt, have positioned themselves as the regional opposition to Israel. As a result,
Feakes, Daniel. (March, 2008). “Getting Down to the Hard Cases: Prospects for CWC Universality.”
Arms Control Today. Retrieved Aug. 1, 2011 from
Littlewood, Jez. (2004). “Chapter 3: Strengthening the Role of the BTWC and the CWC.” Building a
Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East: Global Non-Proliferation Regimes and
Regional Experiences. United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research.
13 | P a g e much of their legitimacy is attached to upholding the coupling policy and continuing their
staunch opposition to any disarmament agreement that does not include Israel's accession to the
NPT. Passivity to disarmament negotiations is thus politically shrewd in the short term and the
most assured means of upholding the regional balance of power.
Although the recent security history of the Mideast displays clear barriers to
disarmament, there remain compelling factors in support of such efforts. A 2004 report
produced by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) included a
chapter by Jez Littlewood that cataloged six international trends favorable to the achievement of
significant gains in disarmament negotiations. 18 However, for the purposes of this analysis,
Littlewood’s six points can be trimmed to just three. First, international opinion is set firmly
against both the use and possession of chemical and biological weapons, and those states that
choose to remain outside the CWC and BTWC are increasingly viewed as pariahs. The
desirability and utility of chemical and biological weapons is greatly reduced because any state
choosing to use them will undoubtedly face economic and legal sanctions, if not military
intervention. Second, protective measures in case of a chemical attack have become common
military practice since the first large-scale use of chemical weapons during World War I. This
prevalence of defensive measures greatly diminishes the combat utility of chemical weapons.
They would only be effective in a first-strike attack against a military force, or if they were used
against civilian populations. Nonetheless, disarmament protocols remain crucial to reinforce the
diminishing efficacy of chemical weapons. Political disincentives appear to play a greater role
in controlling and inhibiting negotiations than any identifiable strategic concerns.
Finally, the effectiveness of verification measures is increasing, thereby improving the
soundness of disarmament treaties. Verification regimes must strike a balance between
14 | P a g e encroaching upon strategically vital information and actually increasing the security awareness
of overseers. Moreover, verification regimes are subject to the paranoid sentiment that states
parties may be pursuing covert development programs, using their professed compliance to
appease the international community. As verification schemes become stronger and more
comprehensive, they will enhance the integrity of international law. Today, verification
measures are primarily a formality with only limited benefits to confidence building. As
organizations such the IAEA and the OPCW grow older and become more integrated into
national legal systems, their inspection capacity will become institutionalized, more credible, and
more supportive of the expansion of verification measures.
For any number of reasons, disarmament negotiations in the Middle East are unique.
Extra-regional disarmament accords cannot serve as templates for a Middle East treaty, at least
with regard to negotiating the most contentious political and security issues. The differences are
many and manifest themselves in every facet of regional dynamics from culture and religion, to
history and conflict. In the Middle East, it is necessary to address the conditions that give rise to
conflict, and for the time being, leave the weapons that both enable and deter conflict to the side.
The “Arab Spring” civil protests that shook much of the Middle East in the early months of 2011
are the most widespread and dramatic display of public power in recent history. They introduce a
novel and evolving factor in regional security development that must be understood in order to
assess the prospects for disarmament in the near future.
15 | P a g e The Regional Security Climate after February 2011
Decades of negotiations in the Middle East have failed because the conditions are absent
that would permit compromise without significantly disadvantaging one or more states. It is clear
after so long that the problem is not the treaty or the confidence-building measures designed to
support the treaty, but the political climate in which the treaty is negotiated. If the political
conditions are significantly altered it will be possible to reach an agreement that will satisfy both
the states in question and the international community as a whole. This section discusses the
changing political conditions in the Middle East and the potential implications for how states,
most notably Egypt, conceptualize and assess their security policy, their foreign policy agenda,
and the potential to foster regional rapprochement.
It was clear by the first quarter of 2011 that the protests shaking the Arab world would
leave a lasting mark on the political society of the Middle East. Following the February exit of
now-former President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt began a process of political reform that portends
interesting and dramatic shifts in the regional balance of power. However, as protests in Syria
and Egypt continue, it is difficult to anticipate how conditions may change further, or if proposed
reforms will be more than superficial.
Preliminary observations and conclusions are nonetheless warranted. Egypt is
experiencing the most profound political changes in the region. Since it is a key negotiating party
to any disarmament effort, Egyptian developments are of critical importance. There are three
broad categories of potential outcomes for the new Egyptian government: a power vacuum; an
Arab nationalist revival; or diplomatic consensus-building. The first eventuality would see
Egypt weakened by the power vacuum left by Mubarak’s abdication, and the ensuing failure of
the military leadership to establish a healthy new and democratic regime to provide at least a
16 | P a g e sense of national stability, hopefully as a result of elections. The second option would be for
Egypt to work to so reposition itself regionally as to regain the popular support of the Arab
peoples and states by putting some political distance between itself and Israel, which it is seen to
have tacitly supported since the 1978 Camp David accords. Third, in hopes of reasserting
regional influence, Egypt would pursue a Turkish-style foreign policy. As we will see, the first
and second options are likely to polarize and impede disarmament talks, whereas the third could
provide the most promising conditions in decades for successful disarmament negotiations.
The ongoing protests and violence in Cairo could potentially weaken Egypt both
politically and in terms of security. There is some suspicion of instability on the security front
from regional networks of Islamist groups.19 There is also increased potential for this presence to
grow if the government loosens the hold established under Mubarak on terrorist activities,
especially those of Islamic fundamentalists. However, these concerns seem relatively
unsubstantiated. George Friedman, a leading proponent of this alarmist interpretation, points to
the “close timing of events in three distant and dispersed countries,” referring to a series of
attacks on churches in Egypt, Iraq, and Nigeria. Despite the fact that no concrete ties appear to
have existed between the attacks, this sort of unrest has been met with public outrage from
Egyptians. Moreover, isolated attacks hardly spell the collapse of the Egyptian security
apparatus. Egypt’s new government is also constrained by public opinion from becoming less
Islamic than it was under Mubarak. In anticipation of impending elections, Islamic organizations
such as the Muslim Brotherhood have expanded their activities and will potentially play a
legitimate role in the new Egyptian political system. Political violence of the sort Friedman
adduces would only undermine the progress political Islam stands to make. The incredible inertia
Friedman, George. (2011). “Egypt and the Destruction of Churches: Strategic Implications.” Retrieved
Aug. 17, 2011 from
17 | P a g e of the Military Council, rather than resurgent Islamic extremism, is the primary short-term drag
on Egyptian politics. Egypt needs a legitimate government free from Mubarak’s shadow. Most
of the officials currently running the country were appointed by Mubarak and either need to
become part of a newly elected leadership, or be replaced altogether.
Egypt appears, at least for now, to be defensively weak both in an international and
domestic sense, an inevitable consequence of the revolution and the unstable political status quo
that has ensued. However, a revitalized faith in government as advanced by participatory
democracy and a populist political narrative may compensate for these weaknesses.20 Egypt has
also attempted to stave off societal instability by modifying its regional foreign policy. The most
dramatic policy shifts concern Israel and Palestine. Egypt is working to normalize ties with
Fatah and Hamas, and is reportedly considering opening the border with Gaza, thereby relieving
the Israeli blockade.21 Secondly, in an effort to boost public opinion of the transitional
leadership, Egypt recently approved a bridge that would cross some 20 miles across the Strait of
Tiran. Planning for the project began in 1988, but construction was reportedly halted by
Mubarak in 2006 due to security concerns from Israel.22 The bridge will greatly increase
economic traffic between Egypt and Saudi Arabia and provide an alternative to Israel as the
gateway between Egypt and the rest of the Middle East. Such efforts aim to garner support for
the slow-moving transitional leadership, and may go a long way towards stabilizing Egyptian
Hokayem, Emile. (2011). “The War of Narratives.” International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Retrieved Aug.3, 2011 from
Kirkpatrick, David. (2011). “In Shift, Egypt Warms to Iran and Hamas, Israel’s Foes.” The New York
Times. Retrieved Aug. 5, 2011 from
Abdellatif, Reem. (2011). “Egypt launches new studies on Saudi-Egyptian bridge.” Retrieved Aug. 11,
2011 from
18 | P a g e Under the conditions presented in the first outcome for Egypt, the implications for future
disarmament negotiations are not positive. In the unlikely circumstance that Egypt’s security
apparatus is significantly weakened by external threats from state or non-state actors, the odds
are unlikely that Egypt would be more willing than before to take serious steps towards
eliminating their alleged chemical weapons stockpiles. Although states in the region such as
Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, and Morocco have taken steps to bring their defense postures into
accordance with the CWC, the geopolitical significance of these states is relatively minor in
comparison to Israel, Egypt, and Syria. Although a weakened Egypt will have less regional
influence and be less strategically important, it is weak contention that a state in the process of
decline or destabilization will be more open to disarmament. Of much greater concern is the
more likely possibility that Egypt is entering a period in which the people’s support for their
government will diminish. A politically weak Egypt would find it harder to entertain
disarmament talks involving Israel, since being seen as solicitous to Israel is politically difficult
enough with a strong Egyptian regime. It might be politically impossible for a weak, new
The second possibility for Egyptian foreign policy presents by far the most worrisome
implications for disarmament negotiations and regional diplomacy. Egypt's foreign minister,
Nabil Al-Arabi, stated recently that Egypt would no longer maintain “a special relationship” with
Israel.23 In a later statement from Ambassador Bakhoum, Egypt assured the international
community that it would maintain its peace treaty with Israel while doing “a better job
complying with some human rights protocols.” A statement from April 5, 2011, that Egypt is
“prepared to reinstate full diplomatic relations with Iran,” sheds further light on this shift away
Kirkpatrick, David. (2011). “In Shift, Egypt Warms to Iran and Hamas, Israel’s Foes.” The New York
Times. Retrieved Aug. 5, 2011 from
19 | P a g e from a modus vivendi with Israeli.24 This repositioning of strategic relationships seems to
indicate that Egypt hopes to reclaim its position as a leader in the Arab world, a title to which it
lost its claim under Anwar Sadat and his protegé Mubarak following the 1979 peace agreement
with Israel. Under Mubarak, Egypt was generally seen as pro-American, pro-Israel, and antiPalestinian.25 Although this may be somewhat of an overstatement considering the tensions
illustrated in this essay over disarmament concerns, when more broadly considered the sentiment
is more or less accurate.
Although strengthening ties with Iran is economically beneficial to Egypt, repercussions
for the long-term security picture are unclear. It is likely that Iran’s nuclear program will stop
short of producing a functional weapon, and will instead come just close enough to create a
“break-out capability” enabling Iran to develop a weapon in a short period of time. Even without
a functional weapon, a robust nuclear infrastructure in Iran in combination with a closer
relationship with Egypt would be a strong counterbalance to the more advanced Israeli military.
That being said, this is where the strategic benefits end. The further alienation of Israel is
an imprudent direction in which to take Egyptian foreign policy. Even more detrimental for
Egypt would be a shift to the “wrong” side of the proliferation debate. For years, Egypt has been
an outspoken advocate of universal nuclear disarmament, albeit with an implicit focus on ending
Israel’s strategic opacity. Egypt has, for example, staunchly supported nuclear disarmament as
the current rotating chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). By positioning itself closer to
Iran on security matters in the Middle East, Egypt would erode some of NAM’s credibility as a
Iskander, Elizabeth. (2011). “Does Egypt’s Iran Opening Signal Regional Shift?” Retrieved Aug. 5,
2011 from
Young, Jeffrey. (2011). “Egypt and Iran Thaw Once Frosty Relations.” Retrieved Aug. 5, 2011 from
20 | P a g e leading advocate of disarmament. Although Iran is a NAM member with the movement’s
support to the extent that it pursues peaceful nuclear technology, NAM stands to suffer a loss of
credibility if Iran becomes the next nuclear-weapon state. The organization’s legitimacy would
be further undermined if Egypt were to persist in its strategic shift towards Iran. Consider the
following excerpt from the report on the XV Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, taken from
a section discussing the purpose and objectives of the summit:
To continue pursuing universal and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament…to
prohibit their development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer,
use or threat of use and to provide for their destruction.
To encourage…the establishment of a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle
East. The establishment of Nuclear Weapons-Free Zones is a positive step and
important measure towards strengthening global nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.26
It is clear from these statements that NAM is primarily concerned with Israeli nuclear opacity.
Their position is for negotiations on nuclear armaments at the expense of those of chemical or
biological composition. Nevertheless, NAM is cognizant of the stakes, especially as another
troublesome party, North Korea, has recently renewed talks on the removal of its nuclear arsenal.
NAM under Egypt’s leadership could achieve significant gains so long it does not allow Iran to
replace North Korea as the blemish on its non-proliferation record.
Fortunately, NAM has issued a statement encouraging “diplomacy and dialogue…to find
a comprehensive and long-term solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.”27 Depending on how
closely Egypt will associate itself with Iran, Egypt could gain short-term strategic advantages in
the region and thereby bolster public support for the post-Mubarak regime. However, the long 26
Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, Sharm El Sheikh. (July, 2009). Retrieved Aug. 23, 2011 from
BBC News: Middle East. (2011). “Q&A: Iran nuclear issue.” Retrieved Aug. 23, 2011 from
21 | P a g e term picture of an Iranian-Egyptian partnership is less favorable considering the overwhelming
international disdain for proliferating states.28 An Egyptian government that actively pursues
closer ties to Iran while distancing itself from Israel would be disinclined from participating in a
disarmament dialogue at which its alleged chemical weapons stockpile were on the table.
It is easy for observers to frown at Egyptian overtures to Iran. An international pariah,
Iran is frequently at odds with the global community, most especially the United States and
Israel. However, this sort of opinion will likely prove shortsighted. Although Egypt is clearly
pursuing relations with Iran, it may be unwise to make too much of it. Egyptian Ambassador
Bakhoum was correct when she pointed out that “all the world has diplomatic relations with Iran
with the exception of the United States and Israel;”29 though the point may seem banal, it helps
to alleviate hawkish tendencies with regard to relations with Iran. The normalization of Egypt’s
relations with Iran could even be a positive step, so long as it does not poison relations with
Israel. The ideal position for the Egyptian national interest would be for Egypt to maintain an
open relationship with Iran and Israel, as well as ties to both Fatah and Hamas. This would
position Egypt as a regional intermediary able to host negotiations between conflicting parties.
By positioning itself as a regional diplomatic hub of which Iran, the Arab states, and Israel might
avail themselves, Egypt could maximize its influence and help to moderate regional tensions.
This would entail Egypt modeling itself after the so-called Turkish model, and represents
the best possible outcome both for disarmament prospects and for regional stability more
generally. By serving as a regional intermediary, Turkey has expanded its regional and
Hokayem, Emile. (2011). “The War of Narratives.” International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Retrieved Aug.3, 2011 from
Kirkpatrick, David. (2011). “In Shift, Egypt Warms to Iran and Hamas, Israel’s Foes.” The New York
Times. Retrieved Aug. 5, 2011 from
22 | P a g e international influence, while maintaining a strong domestic base. Turkey’s legitimacy,
especially as concerns its international position, is more closely associated with high-minded
diplomacy than the militarism exhibited by many Middle Eastern regimes. A compelling
argument can be made that if Egypt seeks to emulate this diplomatic approach, it will be
necessary to make amends with Israel. Turkey maintains stable relations with Israel, thereby
currying favor from the international community, which looks to Turkey as a mediator between
regional actors. For the last three decades, it has been impossible for Egypt to entertain ideas
about occupying this cooperative role in the Mideast because the 1979 peace treaty with Israel
undermined Egyptian legitimacy in the eyes of much of the Arab world. The exit of Hosni
Mubarak and the formulation of new foreign policies under a new regime present Egypt with an
opportunity to remodel itself in a way that would bolster its status among Egyptians and the
international community. Through rapprochement with both Iran and Israel, Egypt also stands to
further the objectives of NAM in a way that would lend international prestige to its members and
their agenda. An Egyptian government that sees itself as diplomatically strong will have more to
gain in disarmament negotiations than from the posturing that is now commonplace. The
challenge is to bring the Egyptian people and their Arab neighbors on board with a disarmament
Before making policy recommendations, it is necessary to discuss briefly Syria and Israel
in light of the shifting political tides in the Middle East. The continuing conflict in Syria
between protesters and the Assad government make attempts to anticipate state behavior more
difficult and uncertain than usual. Whereas the transitional government in Egypt has already
begun to establish its own foreign policy, enabling observers to gain a sense of the new regime’s
priorities, conditions in Syria are far more open-ended. Not only is the Assad regime still in
23 | P a g e control of the military and police forces and thereby able to maintain power despite broad
opposition, the efficiency and brutality with which government forces are combating protesters
has largely prevented the development of a coherent and organized opposition. Unlike the
recently triumphant revolution in Libya, where the sheer vastness of territory limited the
government’s ability to maintain its authority in the East (the initial headquarters of the rebel
Transitional National Council), the Assad government for now has too much control for such a
well-organized opposition to coalesce. For this reason, it is not useful to speculate about the
future of Syrian disarmament if the Assad government falls. However, observers can be certain
that, if the Assad government stays in power by arresting the current wave of protests, the
prospects for disarmament will be dire for years to come. An unstable regime will be unlikely to
give up key security assets such as a chemical weapons stockpile.
When discussing Israeli decision-making, it helps to clearly differentiate between the
internal and external components of their policy calculus. The external influences on Israel are
in flux: a transitional Egyptian leadership who may be distancing itself from Israel and moving
closer to its adversaries, an unstable Syria, and the potential for still more regional protests.
Some have already declared that the so-called “Arab Spring” will be either definitively good or
bad for Israel, but such generalizations are premature. For example, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri
Kamal al-Maliki warns that protests will benefit Israel since they destabilize the region, whereas
Israel Kasnett of the Jerusalem Post cautions that some Islamist opposition factions in Syria
would pose a greater threat to Israel than the current Assad regime.30 Both views have valid
points, but both are also subject to distorting biases based on the region’s ethnic fault lines. In
Schmidt, Michael. (2011). “Iraq Leader Says the Arab Spring Benefits Israel.” The New York Times.
Retrieved Aug. 24, 2011 from; and
Kasnett, Israel. (2011). “Beyond the façade.” The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved Aug. 29, 2011 from
24 | P a g e light of the level of uncertainty among the region’s Arab regimes, it is difficult to grasp the shortand long-term effect of regime change on Israel’s national security. Furthermore, there is little
room for new analysis with regard to regional disarmament so long as Israel maintains it position
that peace must precede arms control. Uncertainty in Palestine will continue to be a more
powerful and proximate concern for Israelis than regional protests, at least until the new regimes
solidify their policy with regard to relations with Israel.
The internal influences on Israeli policy have greater potential for shaping the future of
disarmament negotiations in the Middle East. Although it would be immoderate to suggest that
the “Arab Spring” has spread to Israel, there does seem to be a growing sense there that public
protest is an effective means of addressing public concerns. Thousands of Israelis protested in
late July 2011 against the rising cost of living in parts of Jerusalem, and across the border,
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza held protests with reinforcements from returning
members of the regional Palestinian diaspora.31 Israel’s militarized borders have not staved off
the growing belief that protests can yield results. Nonetheless, it is too early to tell if the protest
atmosphere will influence the peace process, let alone regional disarmament. Even if Palestinian
protests stay strong and nonviolent, they are unlikely to yield much concrete progress. However,
if the protests are mirrored across the border by Israelis who are invested in the establishment of
peace on mutually satisfactory terms, then what started in the Arab world may yet have an
important and lasting effect on Israeli relations with their Arab neighbors.
Los Angeles Times. (2011). “Israel: Is the Arab Spring Spreading to the Jewish State?” Retrieved Aug.
29, 2011 from; and Beinart, Peter. (2011). “Israel’s Palestinian Arab Spring.” The Daily Beast.
Retrieved Aug. 29, 2011 from
25 | P a g e Moving Forward: Recommendations
It is difficult to know precisely what Jez Littlewood meant in his report on CWC and
BTWC universality in the Middle East when he concluded that a “national political decision”
was needed to advance the cause of disarmament.32 Naturally, the business of acceding to a
disarmament treaty is that of a national government, but the sentiment behind a national political
decision carries with it domestic implications that are regularly overlooked by advocates of
Mideast disarmament. More so than perhaps any other region, changes to security policy can
undo a Mideast government. The persistence of nationalist and ideological rhetoric in the region
has made rabble-rousing rather than prudent policymaking the region’s modus operandi.
Although national political decisions to pursue disarmament are necessary for regional progress
to be made, their long-term viability depends on receiving a favorable public reception on the
Arab and Israeli streets.
At this juncture, the immediate work will fall to NGOs concerned with achieving the
universality of disarmament treaties and the stabilization of Middle East relations. The
paramount goal of interested NGOs should be the exploration of public opinion on security
matters, and along those lines, the assessment of public opinion’s potential to reform security
policies in ways beneficial to Mideast disarmament talks. At present, there is a joint effort by the
CWC Coalition and the OPCW to host a conference in mid-2012 that will bring international
NGOs together to discuss the status of CWC universality, its potential as a precursor to broader
disarmament negotiations, and the implications of protest movements on regional disarmament.
Littlewood, Jez. (2004) “Chapter 3: Strengthening the Role of the BTWC and the CWC.” Building a
Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East: Global Non-Proliferation Regimes and
Regional Experiences. United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research.
26 | P a g e To address the feasibility of a WMDFZ in the Middle East and the role of CWC
universality as a precursor to WMD elimination, the conference will need to address four key
issues: the political and security connectivity between varying types of WMDs; the integrity of
regional trust and the corresponding feasibility of confidence-building measures; the
involvement of international actors in developing confidence-building measures; and, finally, the
continuing role of NGOs in disarmament negotiations and supporting programs. The following
is a summary of these four points, as they ought to be addressed by the conference.
• Years of negotiations clearly indicate that regional defense policies usually link chemical,
biological, and nuclear weapons in the broader framework of disarmament talks. It is vital
that the conference address the role of each type of weapon in the defense postures of
states not party to the CWC, BTWC, and NPT. By better understanding these security
matters, conference participants will be able to explore the “if-then” relationship between
WMD policies in the region, which will provide a more comprehensive framework for
future negotiations toward a Middle East free of WMD arsenals.
• The conference should serve as a venue to explore trust levels between regional actors,
including inter-governmental relations, regional NGOs, and the public. Confidencebuilding measures are partly feasible given the present security situation in the Middle
East. The failure of measures that do not accurately accommodate political and security
conditions can hinder the cause of disarmament. By exploring the interconnectivity of
Mideast security postures, the conference will be able to provide effective confidencebuilding measures that engage the appropriate actors by the appropriate means.
• There is considerable debate over the appropriate role of the international community in
disarmament talks in the Middle East. The conference will engage international and
regional NGOs in a discussion of this role and how each organization is best suited to
contribute. One of the most important goals of the conference will be to foster new
interregional and international partnerships to sustain the development of an international
network dedicated to the cause of CWC universality and a Middle East WMDFZ.
• Most important, conference participants will discuss the role of NGOs in creating the
conditions needed to restart comprehensive disarmament negotiations. It is difficult to
anticipate how rapidly changing conditions in the Middle East will influence disarmament
efforts. However, NGOs have the potential to play a significant role in improving the
region’s security prospects as states undergo the most significant reassessment of their
strategic outlooks in decades. The Arab Spring and Summer have furnished a unique
opportunity for regional dialogue on disarmament, security relations, and confidencebuilding measures. The NGO community should seize the chance to foster a fertile
environment for reform and disarmament.
27 | P a g e The purpose of this report is not to advocate for particular negotiating tactics or
confidence-building measures. There is no silver-bullet policy for nuclear, chemical, and
biological disarmament in the Middle East. When looking for an appropriate track towards
disarmament, the international community should first explore the intricacies of public opinion
so as to understand what policies are capable of obtaining broad public approval. Gauging public
opinion is difficult, especially in many Middle Eastern nations; however, a coalition of NGOs
dedicated to this task is capable of accomplishing it. While security postures in the region
continue to shift, regional NGOs and their extra-regional partners need to exploit a fleeting
moment of public activism and social change. It should be noted that to some degree this is a
gamble – public opinion could come out staunchly against disarmament and the confidencebuilding measures proposed by the 2012 conference. However, it is better to engage the public
in the debate—even a public reportedly hostile to disarmament—than to accept the status quo.
Disarmament must be popularized in order for it to be accepted as a reasonable means to
ease regional tensions in the pursuit of peace. The Middle East needs less propaganda and less
pandering to public fears; it needs a constructive debate. This approach can ascertain what
arguments are most likely to be accepted by the newly empowered Arab public sphere.
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