Note: As of April 2003, this file will no longer be updated.
One outcome of the multilateral discussions on the peaceful settlement in the Middle East that took place in Madrid in 1991 was the formation of a working group on arms control and regional security (ACRS). The ACRS working group, along with four other multilateral working groups, was created to complement the bilateral negotiations between Israel and its immediate neighbors. Thirteen Arab States, Israel, a Palestinian delegation, and a number of extra-regional entities have participated in plenary and intercessional meetings focusing on both conceptual and operational confidence-building and arms control measures applicable to the Middle East.
Prior to the beginning of the ACRS process, the focus on the Middle East had increased because of the discovery of the scope of the Iraqi nuclear weapons program, the establishment of the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) to search for, monitor, and destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and missile programs, and President George Bush's 1991 Middle East Arms Control Initiative.
Since May 1992, the United States and the Russian Federation chaired six plenary sessions. From 1992 to 1995, the working group focused primarily on familiarizing the regional parties with arms control and also with one another. Expert-level meetings held between the plenaries focused principally on confidence-building measures (CBM). Quite a few military CBM, which include agreements relating to maritime issues (e.g., conducting search and rescue and incidents at sea exercises), pre-notification of military exercises and military information exchange, a regional communications network, and the setting up of three Regional Security Centers (RSC) were agreed upon.
By 1994, due to progress in the bilateral peace process, ACRS meetings moved from venues outside the region to locations within it; several regional parties like Qatar and Tunisia hosted meetings. However, at the close of 1995, due to complications in the peace process and the ongoing disagreement between Israel and Egypt over the question of when to place a discussion of a WMD-free-zone on the agenda of ACRS, the multilateral talks were put on hold indefinitely and some of the agreed measures have not been implemented. ACRS has not held a formal meeting since September 1995.
Middle East Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (MENWFZ)
The activities of the multilateral working group on arms control and regional security include also the establishment of a NWFZ. The long-standing proposal for a MENWFZ includes a United Nations General Assembly resolution, which was first introduced in 1974, and has been adopted every year since then. The resolution holds that, pending and during the establishment of such a zone, States in the region declare solemnly that they will refrain, on a reciprocal basis, from producing, acquiring, or in any other way possessing nuclear weapons and nuclear explosive devices. They will also refrain from permitting the stationing of nuclear weapons on their territory by any third party. They also agree to place all their nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, to declare their support for the establishment of the zone, and to deposit such declarations with the UN Security Council for consideration.
The Chairman's Factual Summary of the second session of the NPT Preparatory Committee held from 28 April-9 May reaffirmed the importance of the 1995 Middle East Resolution and expressed states parties' support for the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons as well as other weapons of mass destruction. It also called on Israel to accede to the NPT as soon as possible and to place its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards.
The Factual Summary referred to the road map, the initiative by the United States, the United Nations, European Union and the Russian Federation to promote peaceful resolutions to the Palestine crisis. A view was expressed that the road map could be an important step in the direction of the establishment of a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction. In response to the reference to the road map, Egypt stated that "the importance of a nuclear weapon free zone and a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East should not be underestimated or tied to specific kinds of regional or political developments." Syria also objected to the reference to the road-map saying that "fulfillment of the NPT must not be conditional on anything else."
At the First Committee of the 58th General Assembly held from 6 October -7 November, Egypt again submitted a resolution "Establishment of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the region of the Middle East." The draft resolution was adopted without a vote.
A draft resolution on the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East was submitted by Egypt on behalf the League of Arab States. Calling the draft blatantly one-sided, contentious, and divisive, Israel argued that draft's bias stemmed from the failure to acknowledge that the real risk of nuclear proliferation came from countries that, despite the treaties they had signed and ratified, were not complying with their obligations as parties. The draft resolution was approved by a recorded vote of 146 to 3 against (Israel, Federated States of Micronesia, and the US), with 10 abstentions. It reaffirmed the importance of Israel's accession to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and placement of all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
At the NPT Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) held on 8-19 April in New York, Israel in particular was spotlighted as a stumbling block to the Middle East establishment of a NWFZ.
At the UN General Assembly First Committee held 30 September-1 November, Egypt again submitted a resolution "Establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region of the Middle East" and another that calls upon Israel to accede to the NPT. While expressing reservations regarding the language of the resolution, Israel attached great importance to the annual endorsement of the idea of a NWFZ in the Middle East. Israel also noted that a MENWFZ can only be accomplished in the context of the establishment of a "comprehensive peace" between Israel and its neighbors.
During the 2000 NPT Review Conference, Israel was singled out as the only Middle Eastern State that had not signed the pact. Egypt has focused attention on Israel, arguing that the NPT "cannot have any credibility with the States of the region as long as one State is exempt from its provisions." As a non-signatory, Israel does not have the obligation to open its nuclear facilities for international inspections under IAEA regulations. This prohibits international experts from clarifying the extent and impact of Israel's nuclear research and defense capabilities.
During a February meeting in Moscow, the Madrid Process was reopened, with the renewal of four out of the five working groups. The working group on arms control and regional security was not re-established.
The third two-week session of the PrepCom for the NPT Review Conference in 2000 took place. The conclusion of this meeting was an agreed report written to create the framework for the 2000 NPT Review Conference. This report included the possible creation of "subsidiary bodies," including one dedicated to the examination of the implementation of the 1995 Middle East Resolution. In addition, the UN Secretariat was instructed to prepare documents relating to the implementation of the 1995 resolution on the Middle East, "reflecting developments since 1995 with a view to realizing fully the objectives of the resolution."
The UN Secretary General initiated a study on effective and verifiable measures that would facilitate the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East. The report suggested that the zone geographically could include all member states of the League of Arab States, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Israel. The UN report did not propose explicit language for a zone treaty, but did suggest a catalogue of measures to serve as CBMs and as steps to prepare for a regime that would finally become a NWFZ.
The NPT Review and Extension Conference adopted a resolution on the Middle East, which specifically made reference to UN General Assembly Resolutions from 1981 to 1995 supporting the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East, and to IAEA General Conference resolutions regarding the application of safeguards to the Middle East. The resolution included a specific endorsement of the peace process, and linked the establishment of a MENWFZ to this process.
President Mubarak of Egypt proposed establishing a zone free of WMD in the Middle East. The proposal, known as the Mubarak Initiative, was intended to be pursued in parallel with the earlier Egyptian proposal and stated that all WMD without exception should be prohibited in the Middle East.
ACRS was created in 1991; it is a forum in which thirteen Arab States, Israel, a Palestinian delegation, and several other entities focus on confidence-building and arms control measures.