How can countries which failed to keep the nuclear genie in the bottle, at least keep it close to the bottle? This question will be the subject of an international conference which meets this month to decide the fate of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), first ratified in 1968.
If the Cold War threatened a global nuclear confrontation between the superpowers, at least it kept the weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a relatively few. The post-Cold War disorder presents a different type of threat. As nervous gazes shift to North Korea, Iraq and Iran, the possibilities of regional devastation and nuclear terrorism seem more immediate than once they did, especially when we are speaking of non-democratic regimes.
Clearly, the non-conventional threat varies with the political landscape. Non-proliferation arrangements have to account for this.
The Middle East presents a unique case. Host to more rogue states than any other region. Birthplace and hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism. Home to Hamas, Hizballah, Islamic Jihad, and numerous other terrorist organizations.
In this region where dictatorship, fundamentalism and terrorism hold sway, some countries have proven demonstrably lax in fulfilling their commitments under the NPT.
Case in point number 1: Iraq. Signature notwithstanding, Iraq embarked on a nuclear weapons development program that was interrupted only by Israeli action in 1981, the Gulf War ten years later, and the UNSCOM regime established in the wake of the war.
Case in point number 2: Iran. Not satisfied with spreading Islamic revolution through conventional terrorism alone, Iran's program to develop a nuclear arsenal is well under way. This, despite its signature on the NPT. US and Israeli intelligence project that even without outside help, Iran will hold a nuclear bomb in its grip within five to ten years.
Attempts to force Israel to join the NPT regime seem incongruous in light of this. Even more so, considering Israel's unqualified support for the principle of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, support for the indefinite and unconditional extension of the NPT, and consistent advocacy of the establishment in due course of a mutually verifiable nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ), freely and directly negotiated, encompassing all states of the region.
Israel has to honestly assess its own security situation. We cannot ignore the fact that some states in the region (among them, Iran, Iraq, and Libya) consider themselves in a state of war with us and still openly advocate our destruction.
The demand that Israel sign the NPT without taking this reality into account goes against all notions of common sense. Nuclear arms control cannot be addressed in a vacuum. Fundamental questions of war, peace and security must first be addressed, and the solutions will have to rest primarily on political accommodation.
Nuclear non-proliferation is best addressed in the full context of the peace process, following a logical, step-by-step approach. First, build the confidence that undergirds peace. Then establish peace agreements that prove their durability over time. Follow this with complementary conventional and non-conventional arms control arrangements. Finally, as the crowning achievement, negotiate a credible, mutually verifiable nuclear-weapon-free zone that encompasses all states of the region.
Arms control is supposed to enhance security, not encroach on it. We have formulated our non-proliferation policy with this in mind, always conscious of the neighborhood we live in.
Peace is the truest security. There is no substitute. A nuclear-weapon- free zone in a peaceful Middle East is our best hope to ensure that our children do not grow up with a nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.