From May 3 to May 28, the members of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty will meet at the UN Headquarters in New York to review the 40-year-old treaty and tackle the nuclear issues that loom large in today’s world. It’s no mystery that many of these issues concern the Middle East.
Certainly one of the most prominent actors in nuclear affairs today is Iran. Though President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insists that the country’s nuclear program is being used only for peaceful purposes (say, for nuclear energy), there is considerable suspicion that Iran aspires towards creating its own nuclear arsenal. From Western perspectives, this is unacceptable. From Iranian and regional perspectives, it is simply a defense mechanism.
From the United Nations perspective, the question isn’t whether building a nuclear arsenal is right or wrong but rather how to create an environment where nations who have had nuclear weapons and those who have never had such weapons feel secure enough to forgo stockpiling completely. The purpose of the Non Proliferation Treaty, certainly, is to bring the numbers of nuclear weapons to a plateau. That is, if they do not decrease, at the very least keep them from increasing.
Despite the current nuclear situation, this aspect of the treaty seems relatively successful. Only a handful of signatories who have previously signed the treaty have significantly violated its terms (ex. Iran and North Korea), and three of the countries that have confirmed arsenals of nuclear weapons (Israel, India, and Pakistan) have not signed the treaty. Though the issue of nuclear proliferation is delicate, most nations have exhibited a solid conviction to follow the terms of this treaty.
However, another arm of the treaty is dedicated towards disarmament. This is the arm that will become the most important during this conference and over the following years. Though a considerable portion of this year’s conference will be dedicated to encouraging Israel, India, and Pakistan to sign the treaty, participants cannot forget how essential this second arm is, for one simple truth: As long as states with nuclear weapons (like the U.S. and Russia, for example) hang on to their stockpiles of weapons, it will be difficult to convince non nuclear nations that they will be secure without their own nuclear arsenals.
This is especially true of states in the Middle East. Considering the volatility of the conflict between Israel and Palestine (backed by the Arab states), Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons presents a significant threat to regional powers. As necessary as it is to monitor Iran’s use of nuclear energy, it is just as essential to give Iran (and other states, like Syria and Egypt) reason to believe that a nuclear weapon will not be needed for its safety. Though the Non Proliferation Treaty itself is difficult to change—and though the results from the recent conference will most likely be abstract—it is essential that the United Nations and its member states continue to lay a foundation for a world in which nuclear weapons have no appeal whatsoever. As long as nations feel threatened by those who already have nuclear weapons, it will be impossible to curb proliferation.