A Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East: Fathollah-Nejad

Ali Fathollah-Nejad writes in a guest column for Informed Comment

A Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East
Why It Would Be in the Long-Term Interest of Both Iran and Israel

The conflict in Western Asia (the “Middle East”) is escalating. In order to escape its dead-end logic, a nuclear-free zone should be established – since the conflict between Israel and Iran is primarily geopolitical in nature.

More than ever before, the endless spectacle surrounding Iran’s nuclear programme is marching the world toward war. While most security policy debates incessantly sway between the devil (war) and the deep blue sea (sanctions), it is clear that neither option can eliminate concerns for nuclear proliferation and the well-being of civilian populations.

The only sensible way forward would be to abandon such a policy choice, which has proven counterproductive and, not surprisingly, has pushed the conflict to the brink of war. Instead, it would be best to focus efforts on achieving regional disarmament and ultimately a nuclear weapons-free zone. Contrary to widespread assumptions, it can be argued that both Tel Aviv and Tehran have a long-term strategic interest in such a zone.

The only way forward is that of regional disarmament

For Israel, the danger would lie in the nuclearization of other important countries in the region (such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey). Such a “threat balance” would then have an unfavourable impact on its security and definitely curtail its military deterrence capability towards its neighbours. Since the “military solution” against the nuclear armament of a larger country – as can be observed in the case of Iran – is hardly considered a sustainable one by Israeli strategists, the only solution would consist in regional disarmament as a way to effectively provide for security.

For its part, if Iran over time were to become a nuclear weapons state, that development would almost certainly trigger the nuclearization of its geopolitically weaker neighbours (especially those on the Arabian Peninsula). In turn, this proliferation of nuclear weaponry in the region would cause Iran abruptly to lose its natural, geographically determined power position in Western Asia. Thus, in the medium to long term the possession of nuclear weapons would constitute a great disservice to the grand strategic interests of the country.

If decision-makers on both sides are far-sighted, it is hard to see how they can avoid coming to the conclusion that fragile short-term security calculations are no guarantee of a secure future. That goal can only be achieved through a zone free of nuclear weapons.

The situation necessitates alternative approaches

The above considerations are not meant to obscure potential difficulties with this approach. They are intended to underscore that a mature view of national interest might offer an exit from the current impasse. After all, the centuries-long, bloody arch-rivalry between France and Germany has unexpectedly been overcome in the post-war period. History shows us that the Iranian–Israeli rivalry is of geopolitical nature and as such it is by no means immune to a resolution.

The current situation in the region calls for alternative approaches in order to avoid a disastrous war with global ramifications. The spiral of armament and hostility can ultimately only lead into an abyss.

As a reported by the East-West Institute outlined last month, it is high time for a regional security architecture in Western Asia. Both the U.S. and the EU should actively be engaged in assisting such a process, which would require nothing less than a paradigm shift. In order to lay a first foundation stone and at the same time send out de-escalating signals to Tel Aviv and Tehran, active political support from the West will be crucial to calling a UN Middle East WMD-Free Zone Conference and making it a success. If the security dilemmas afflicting the region continue to be dealt with only through escalating sanctions and ultimatums, it is only a matter of time before a conflagration turns Europe’s doorstep into an inferno.

________
Ali Fathollah-Nejad is a political scientist educated in Germany, France and the Netherlands. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in International Relations at the universities of London (School of Oriental and African Studies, SOAS) and Münster (Germany). In 2010, Fathollah-Nejad was a Visiting Lecturer in Development and Globalization (with a focus on the Middle East) at the University of Westminster in London. He is the author of The Iran Conflict and the Obama Administration (in German), published by Potsdam University Press in 2010 (reprinted in 2011). He is also a member of the working group on Security Policy of the civil-society initiative for a Conference for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East (CSCME).

15 Responses

  1. …and then someone will break out a guitar and all the Iranians and Israelis will sing kum ba ya!

    • Maybe the ordinary people might actually do that, if their “leaders” were not such sh*tes, ruling people by inflaming their passions…

    • A better reader would notice that the thesis of the essay is based on the assumption that hostile relations between Israel and Iran is a given.

      • Maybe the careful reader would notice this part of the text:

        The above considerations are not meant to obscure potential difficulties with this approach. They are intended to underscore that a mature view of national interest might offer an exit from the current impasse. After all, the centuries-long, bloody arch-rivalry between France and Germany has unexpectedly been overcome in the post-war period.

        History shows us that the Iranian–Israeli rivalry is of geopolitical nature and as such it is by no means immune to a resolution.

        Seems to me that only people who see the future as just more of the present, with more efficient weapons, have put on some pretty dark glasses. But then the current model is so very “profitable” for some of us… So the “neos” in France and Germany (and of course our own set of testosterone-poisoned Epsilon-minuses) are incubating the demon eggs of future ego-(or is it id-)satisfying “conflicts.”

  2. Without nukes Israel would eventually become a country with the influence and weight of a country with the population of 5 to 7 million people. No more visits every 3 months in the White House, no more VIP treatment in other capitals. A country with the influence equal to that of Finland’s or Denmark’s. A relative wealthy industrially developed small country, but nothing much else. Without conflicts and US “donations” Israel can’t afford to keep up its traditional military strength. The internal relations among Israeli Jewish subgroups are already tense and without the Palestinian “punch bag” would become too tense especially if the West Bank is emptied of settlements and Palestine formed. Will the Zionists ruling elite satisfy with such future, I doubt that. Wars and conflicts are Israel’s business idea and the only glue to keep the Jewish subgroups together.

    Iran on the other hand has enormous raw material resources, very important strategic location and a population of 75 million. To use its full potential Iran needs only peace and time.

    • “Without nukes Israel would eventually become a country with the influence and weight of a country with the population of 5 to 7 million people.”

      Not with regard to the U.S. Israel’s support in the U.S. has nothing to do with nuclear weapons and everything to do with an ethnic lobby that punches far above its weight in numbers. Contributions to favored Congressmen and Senators and a well-financed public relations machine would continue to guarantee Israel’s outsized influence in the U.S.

      • US citizens, other than those favoring AIPAC ETC, are getting very fed up of our being bullied into supporting everything the Zionistas want, at being at the beck and call of the Israeli elites, and especially annoyed that they control our foreign policy in the Middle East.
        Yes, our Congress is bought and paid for, but this has to stop. Independent voters are rethinking a lot of dysfunctional current policies and ideologies…I predict that Congress will get a lot of newbies come the next election. If we can’t throw out the appeasers of Israel, we’re sunk.

  3. Good column. Along these lines I’ve heard floated the idea of a US security umbrella, as a intermediate step. But the only way to do such a deal is to do it as a single deal between everyone in the region….no putting off the messy details to later.

    And Israel would have to give up its military (ultimate meaning nuclear) hegemony. And given how their state was acquired and maintained, they’d be right in seeing that as a non-starter.

    We’re on nature’s course as it is. Israel cannot stop someone local with animus toward them eventually gaining a nuclear capability precluding their current freedom of action. At that point, the balance of power will get closer to an equilibrium and there’s a glimmer of hope in reaching a fair and lasting modus vivendi with the Pals and their neighbors. The only thing they can do to disrupt the momentum of events is to start major wars with whomever’s up next, which will only speed their decline.

    • At that point, the balance of power will get closer to an equilibrium and there’s a glimmer of hope in reaching a fair and lasting modus vivendi with the Pals and their neighbors.

      Has it generally been your experience, Travis, that countries which feel themselves to be threatened and declining in relative power become more eager to make peace with their neighbors, and more respectful of internal minorities seen to pose a security threat?

      It seems to me that the reverse is true – that countries which feel secure are more willing to accommodate and treat with competitors.

      • Might I offer that “countries” don’t feel ANYthing? Those convenient reifications, so comfortably raised up by Wiser Heads in offering Great Truths about the fundamental nature of the universe according to the Game of RISK! ™ have no more ‘feelings’ than large coprorations (sic intentional). It’s the ‘feelings’ of sets of people, which of course are way too complex and ineffable and ineluctable and mutable to account for in even the longest “findings” and “white papers” and such, that drive net behavior. And a very few rotten apples can so easily spoil the whole barrel.

        My fave take is the last frames of the last “Planet of the Apes” movie, where Moses Heston, shot, falls across the Lucite ™ plungers that trigger the Doomsday Machine built by ‘humans’ in the good old days. Next fave is David Niven, tracing the wire to the explosives set by Early Special Forces in the footings of the Bridge Over The River Kwai, built at such enormous expense of pain, shot and falling on the plunger to the detonator…

      • My corporeal experience is limited. HOWEVER, countries that are secure would have the option, whether or not they use it fairly. Hence, our problem.

        In the matter of brute, realpolitic, what I gather is powerful people/s do what they want to do and can get away with (rationalizing all the way: nobody thinks of themselves as a bad guy. And the poor smucks on the short end of the stick pretty much have to go along with it.

        It was the wisdom of Thucydides, (5.84-5.11, this was the Athenians pointing out the facts of life to the Melians, who they were proposing to colonize peacefully, and how they needed to just get over their little problem with independence), “…you know as well as I do that [what is] right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do as they can and the weak suffer as they must.”

      • Forgot to address that “declining in power” phase. That would be the interesting question here, as my read is that Israel is declining in relative power.

        It’d make sense for them to want to reach a LASTING, and ENDURING peace while they still held some strong cards and there was some degree of motivation on the other side.

        However, time is on the other side, and the prior state of regional equilibrium did not include Israel at all (lets forget, for a moment, that 3000+ year old title they like to wave around).

        Given the sordid history of the last 60+ years I’m not optimistic they can back-peddle far enough to reach a long term and enduring peace locally. My read is that if they really get with the program their odds are slim, versus zero with their current attitude.

  4. Formally, Israel has no nuclear bomb and she won’t be the first to bring nuke into the ME. See no problem to delete Iranian nuke infrastructure by a vast army strike and to deter any other state to hold one.

  5. Is part of Iran’s rationale for a nuclear weapon to prevent a U.S. action similar to the invasion of Iraq? That would upset the idea of a nuclear-free zone, since then Iran would be vulnerable to the U.S.

Comments are closed.