Achieving the Possible – a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East:

Vision, Process, the United Nations General Assembly and the 2018 Round Tables

 UN House in Scotland is to offer support for an initiative towards a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Middle East and for a Scottish Government contribution to this. The purpose is to ensure that this topic, and a way forward on it is on the agenda at the 2020 Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. The initiative is under the care of British American Security Information Council (BASIC), and led by individuals from within the Regiont.

Scotland’s part (in the first instance) is to facilitate and host an international closed door meeting under the Chatham House rule in a neutral location in January 2018.

Following the lack of progress on work for a WMD Free Zone in the Middle East at the 2010 NPT, in November 2013, the Israeli Disarmament Movement (IDM), alongside British and American Security  Information Council (BASIC)  and PAX,with the financial support of Green Cross, held a round table in Tel Aviv to consider possible ways forward. The objective of this first round table was to learn more about the language, rhetoric, thoughts, and even the fears of Israeli officials and others when it comes to this topic.

The round table was held with Israeli and international experts, Israeli foreign ministry staff, representatives of the Finnish and Swiss embassies, the Norwegian ambassador, and the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), a think tank with close ties to government staffed by former generals and government ministers, diplomats, and academics. This was the first time civil society had hosted such an event in Israel.

After a second, shorter round table event in Washington DC a year later, it was suspected that the main cause of the stagnation in the talks towards a WMD Free Zone is lack of good will and an inability to consider suggestions because of who was making them, rather than their actual content. It was decided to address this through an exercise of visualising what the region would look like, and how behaviours would change, if the treaty already existed. To this end a draft proposal for a treaty banning WMDs in the Middle East was written, without attribution, so that the ideas it contained could be considered on their merits regardless of where they came from or who had made them. This gave an opportunity to consider and describe the possible solutions to the difficulties usually aired, thus highlighting the need for dialogue instead of focusing on the obstacles.

A skeleton draft treaty, and an outline for an organization that could operate in the zone – The Middle East Treaty Organization (METO) – was delivered to international and regional experts during 2017 for discussion. Since any venue within the Middle East could be seen as holding a perspective, discussion should taking place outside the region was helpful. The UN sponsored meetings toward the negotiations for the new treaty on nuclear disarmament during 2017 provided several opportunities for this.

Bill Kidd, MSP and Co-President of Parliamentarians for Non proliferation and Nuclear Disarmament, was active at the negotiations for the Nuclear Prohibition Treatyand has actively presented a Scottish perspective to diplomats and other NGO representatives at the Non Proliferation Treaty Conference Review and its Preparatory Committee meetings. He has hosted and participated in meetings and events for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) at the Scottish Parliament. Scotland and the Scottish Government could usefully contribute to METO process.

Bill and I attended a meeting with BASIC, the Irish delegation at the TPNW Conference, the Israeli Disarmament Movement and the American Iranian Council in New York in July, at which the possibility of Scotland hosting the first round table outside of the region to consider the draft “Achieving The Possible” Treaty was welcomed. The Scottish Government cannot fund the event proposed, but it has given its imprimatur to the round table as a possible way forward in a seemingly intractable situation, and offers support and interest as far as is compatible with its obligations under the Scotland Act.

The combination of civil society organisations and both retired and active diplomats along with academics working together has been a highlight of the UN’s success in negotiating the TPNW and this is reflected in the process that is being adopted here. “Achieving The Possible” has the purpose of stimulating a positive, constructive conversation and keeping alive at the First Committee the vision of a WMD Free Zone in the Middle East. The draft treaty text is an initial basis to structure an inclusive and principled discussion of what may be possible once the political will is in place. The draft is not intended for negotiation but as a stimulus to replace indefinite debates about why progress can never happen with positive, constructive suggestions.

The Irish delegation at the United Nations General Assembly in New York hosted a Side Event for diplomats there in October which I attended with a remit from the Scottish Government. (thanks to a modest grant specifically for this purpose from Nuclear Non-proliferation Research allowed Scottish civil society observation at the event for the purpose of reporting back to the Scottish Government and to possible funders and other interested parties). It explained, launched and promoted the process of closed-door round-tables to take place outside the Middle East during 2018 where the draft will be developed and redrafted by high level regional experts with support from other diplomatic and academic experts. Speakers included Sharon Dolev of the Israeli Disarmament Movement, and Emad Kiyaei, Iranian policy adviser.

The Scottish Government is offering support for a first  2018 round tables scheduled for January , as it is seen as somewhere with a Parliament and Government that is interested in international peace and security. It is not at this time a UN member state and therefore does not have policies or any political agenda on security doctrines in the Middle East.

The task, in January 2018, is to provide support, and a neutral and safe space for delegates to map and address the obstacles and strengths that they see inthe draft treaty.

The Edinburgh-based UN House – established in 2012 through cooperation between civil society UNA Scotland/Edinburgh Branch and UN Agencies UNITAR, CIFAL, UNESCO and UN Women – has supported awareness raising on nuclear non proliferation, peace, security and disarmament. In 2013 UNA Edinburgh was instrumental in organising an International Conference on a Middle East Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction with speakers from Israel and Palestine,and high level diplomatic presence from Finland and Russia. UN House has an ongoing relationship with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in Scotland and is a partner organisation in ICAN and a member of the  Scottish Parliament Nuclear Disarmament Cross Party Group. It provides internships for young graduates and doctoral students with an academic interest in international relations, peace and security.

The round table is planned to take place behind closed doors at a neutral and safe space where delegates can meet and stay, and hosting organisations can provide facilitation. Scottish Government Ministers will be invited to meet and greet participants, and the follow- up media release (without quotations or participants’ names or titles, according to Chatham House Rules) will be issued from the Scottish Government office. A Scottish Parliament reception and Burns supper cand allow appropriate cultural exchange.

The Scottish round table is a significant step towards ensuring that by the time of the 2020 NPT Review Conference, there will be enough constructive attention, and official negotiation that will ensure the states in the region do not take dramatic steps such as leaving the NPT or claiming that achieving the free zone is impossible.

During 2018 the plan to continue the work already done requires a tight timetable.

January: The Scottish round table can map perceived obstacles and review possibilities arising from the TPNW;

February: Redrafting in time for a second round of negotiations in Switzerland in March;

April: further redrafting

May: new draft treaty presented to UN members at the NPT Preparatory Committee

Over the summer a final draft, establishment of METO and plans for verification processes to be presented at the UN’s  next year’s First Committee in October. aspects of the process, but are unable to respond quickly enough to help for January.

Further info: janet@wordsandactions.scot