Priorities of States in the Middle East regarding Peaceful Uses

presented to the Working Committee of the Conference to Establish a Nuclear Weapon and other WMD Free Zone in the Middle East
7 May 2024
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Mohammadtaghi Hosseini

Priorities of States in the Middle East regarding Peaceful Uses, presented to the Working Committee of the Conference to Establish a Nuclear Weapon and other WMD Free Zone in the Middle East

 

The Treaty on the Non- Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons has established a framework for the members to take benefit from the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and nuclear technology and knowhow in favor of their socio-economic developments, and at the same time to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons and also to take action to materialize nuclear disarmament. Therefore, in summary this treaty which is a cornerstone on the subject and widely adhered to by the members of the international community, is based on three main pillars: non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The balance in these three areas is vital for the efficiency and effectiveness of the treaty. Besides the letter and the spirit of the treaty which is clear in its purpose, all treaty review conferences that have been successfully concluded, have maintained a balance between these three pillars of the treaty in their final declarations. These facts manifested that international community emphasizes the value of these three sectors simultaneously.

Article IV of the NPT explicitly considers the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy and related technology and knowhow as an inalienable right of the member states, would not be affected whatsoever by the Treaty. Parties to the Treaty have the full right “to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty”.

To strengthen cooperation in the field of nuclear energy, Article IV goes much further to express “All the Parties to the Treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Parties to the Treaty in a position to do so shall also co-operate in contributing alone or together with other States or international organizations to the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially in the territories of non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty, with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world.”

The main concepts expressed in article IV of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) can also be found in the Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Peaceful use of nuclear energy is a right for humanity that predates and legally supersedes the NPT itself, and must remain protected and enforced accordingly, without conditions, qualifications or strings attached. Long before the NPT came into being, the Statute of the IAEA introduced very important principles to foster cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy among all nations, and particularly emphasized on the use of nuclear energy and knowledge to the benefit of less privileged and less developed people. The IAEA often presents to the outside world as an organization in which the control activities loom large and the activities to promote the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes appear as a bit of thin icing on a "safeguards" cake. That is not the fact.  A closer look at the Agency and its Statute altogether would convince any observer that peaceful uses of nuclear energy and the related technical cooperation  no less vigorously than the watchdog aspect of the organization.

The issue of establishment of Nuclear Weapon Free Zones in different parts of the world including one to be established in the Middle East is in harmony and consistency with these globally recognized principles. a nuclear weapon free zone in conformity with the Article VII of the NPT is to prohibit and prevent in the region the testing, use, manufacture, production, or acquisition by any means whatsoever of any nuclear weapons, by the parties themselves, directly or indirectly, on behalf of anyone else, or in any other way, and secondly to prohibit the receipt, storage, installation, deployment, and any form of possession of any nuclear weapons, directly or indirectly, by the parties themselves, by anyone on their behalf, or in any other way. Members of the Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in the Middle East should undertake to refrain from engaging in encouraging or authorizing, directly or indirectly, or in any way participating in the testing, use, manufacture, production, possession, or control of any nuclear weapons. 

The primary assumed purpose of a nuclear weapon-free zone is considered an effective measure in fostering of non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament. But basically and considering the importance of maintaining internal balance in actions, the issue of peaceful use of nuclear energy for the purpose of sustainable development and achieving the prosperity, welfare and further progress of societies is also taken into consideration and thus would be facilitated.

 It is expected that the perceived nuclear and other mass destruction weapons free zone to be established in the Middle East will greatly contribute to the security and stability of the region and creates the atmosphere of cooperation and facilitates further the application of nuclear energy, technology and knowhow for the development and welfare of the countries in the region. In addition, within the framework of the established zone, cooperation between countries can be strengthened based on the provisions contained in the International Atomic Energy Agency Statute and the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Countries in the Middle East has increasingly shown interest in the application of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Each country's priority may be different from the others. But according to their development needs, some priorities in this field are the same for all.

It is true that some of the countries in the region are among the biggest energy producers in the world, with large reserve of oil and gas. But there are several reasons why nuclear energy is of their interest for development of sustainable energy sources, namely cost-effectiveness, reliability, and strict regulation of construction procedures. Peaceful uses of nuclear energy can uniquely contribute to medicine, public health, agriculture, food security, water resources management, sustainable energy and the environment, to name only but a few areas.

Cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear energy requires resources, sharing of knowledge, know-how, technology, information and best practices. This is an area that can gain greater momentum and relevance in the framework of Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in the Middle East, including with the collaboration of the IAEA.

Currently, there are 440 nuclear power reactors in operation and 51 more under construction around the world. States from the Middle East are also making a dynamic progress in this regard. Iran as the pioneer state in the region in the field of using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes started to operate the first nuclear power plant in 2011 in the region and has a defined plan to construct more reactors. It goes without saying that due to unnecessary problems and crisis-making by some powers, Iran accomplished this task with a significant delay. Otherwise, according to the country's development plan, the country's nuclear power plants should have been completed years before. It is worth mentioning that Iran is not a newcomer in the field of application of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The country's peaceful nuclear program is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to the 1950s.

Iran has extensive knowledge and experience and very good manpower resources in the field of peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The country has accumulated valuable experiences and great knowledge in various branches of peaceful application of nuclear energy, such as electricity, medicine, public health, agriculture, food security, water resources management, sustainable energy and the environmental protection.

Iran, as a country with significant activities in chemical, petrochemical, biological as well as pharmaceutical and food industries and other related fields, has well-known capabilities and experiences. The country has a lot of regional and international cooperation based on these potentials. Therefore all these fields would be in the area of Iran’s priorities for cooperation in the framework of a Middle East Free Zone of Weapons of Mass destruction.

The nuclear weapon-free zone that will be established in the Middle East must provide the necessary conditions for cooperation and peaceful use of nuclear energy and other related materials and knowhow in conformity with the international regulations and arrangements. This issue has requirements which to be taken into consideration. In other words the Middle East Zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction is not going to born in vacuum. Other realities around it should be considered as well.

Existing and ongoing international treaties, conventions, organizations and arrangements will play an important role in the formation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. In other words, a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction will be established in the Middle East in conformity and consistency with the existing international documents, including the NPT, CWC, BWC, as well as the Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Safeguards and regulatory arrangements of the Agency. The established zone will not carry any contradiction with the existing instruments. Therefore all the members of such a zone must ratify the above mentioned international treaties and conventions, so as to guarantee the universality of those international instruments in the region. They also have to bring as non-nuclear weapon states all their nuclear activities, installations and facilities under the comprehensive safeguards of the IAEA. The zone should also receive security assurances against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. Considering these obligations and the list of relevant commitments and activities, it is obvious the full implementation of requirements needs to be carefully verified.

The members of the zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East will strengthen cooperation within its framework. Creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction with the above mentioned specifications provides favorable environment for cooperation. This environment can help member countries to achieve more success through cooperation. Participation in strengthening the safety of facilities and also spreading the culture of safety, expansion of training and exchange of technical information, development of science and technology are just examples to be mentioned.

As interest in the region to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes increases, so does the need for institutional arrangements. In the effort to create a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, this issue should be taken into account. Today, some international organizations have this responsibility all over the world. Providing organizational arrangements for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction deals with areas that are the subject of many treaties and convention and many international organizations are assigned for their implementation. Countries will decide whether they need to create new mechanisms or they prefer to use existing global mechanisms in this purpose. Anyway the role of global institutional arrangements will not weaken anyway.

One final issue that can contribute to effective implementation of the Middle East free zone of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction is to use the experience of nuclear weapon free zones that have already been created in other regions of the world. Several decades of experience accumulated in this regards is now available. It is possible to benefit from this experience and apply the best practices of other regions in the endeavors to establish a nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East.

Mohammad Taghi Hosseini, Vice-President of the IPIS for Training and Education

(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS) 

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