Make the Middle East a Nuclear-Free Zone

The proposal for the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East was formally introduced by Iran and Egypt in a resolution submitted to the UN General Assembly in 1974. This UN resolution initiated the global push for nuclear disarmament in the region. In 1995, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference adopted a resolution which called upon states to take the necessary measures to ensure the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East. Despite officially supporting the creation of a NWFZ in the Middle East, Canada has consistently voted against resolutions that call upon Israel to sign the NPT and dismantle its nuclear weapons program. It has also repeatedly blocked resolutions calling for a regional conference on the establishment of a NWFZ. Canada should play a more active role in advancing negotiations on a NWFZ in the Middle East. Instead of blocking attempts to convene a conference on this matter, Canada should lead the push for disarmament in the region. Canada should leverage its relationship with Israel in order to encourage its participation in disarmament negotiations. 

Overview

The proposal for the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East was formally introduced by Iran and Egypt in a resolution submitted to the UN General Assembly in 1974[i]. This UN resolution initiated the global push for nuclear disarmament in the region. In 1995, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference adopted a resolution which called upon states to take the necessary measures to ensure the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East.[ii] This resolution was subsequently reaffirmed at the 2010 NPT Review Conference, where states also called for a regional conference to be held on this matter in 2012. The 2012 conference, however, was postponed indefinitely due to a lack of consensus on the agenda. [iii] The 2015 NPT Review Conference proved to be much of the same: no consensus could be reached on the conference’s Final Document, which included provisions for a NWFZ in the Middle East. The UN First Committee, which deals with disarmament, finally adopted a resolution in 2018 which vowed to convene a conference on the Middle East NWFZ in 2019.[iv]

Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity, along with regional tensions stemming from the Arab-Israel conflict, have made the negotiations towards a NWFZ incredibly challenging. Western governments have also failed to uphold their commitments toward the establishment of a NWFZ, often blocking proposals brought forward by Middle East states. Despite officially supporting the creation of a NWFZ in the Middle East, Canada has consistently voted against resolutions that call upon Israel to sign the NPT and dismantle its nuclear weapons program. It has also repeatedly blocked resolutions calling for a regional conference on the establishment of a NWFZ.

Questions for Federal Candidates

  • Do you believe that Canada should work toward the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East?
  • Do you believe that it is reasonable for Canada to vote down UN resolutions on the Middle East NWFZ simply because they condemn Israel’s nuclear program?
  • As a signatory of the NPT, do you believe Canada has a responsibility to advance disarmament negotiations globally?

If elected:

  • Will you work within caucus to raise awareness of Canada’s inconsistent record on the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East?
  • Will you consider encouraging Canada’s Permanent Mission to the UN to adopt a more balanced and principled approach to resolutions on the NWFZ?

Supporting Points

  • International Law. The nuclear disarmament regime is largely governed by the Non-Proliferation Treaty, an international agreement whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. As a global treaty, the NPT is considered a piece of international law. The NPT is the most widely-ratified disarmament agreement, with every state in the Middle East—except Israel—having signed the Treaty. Article VI of the NPT requires that states pursue negotiations in good faith towards nuclear disarmament. Article VII, in turn, affirms states’ right to conclude regional treaties in order to eliminate nuclear weapons in their respective regions.[v] Therefore, not only do states have the right to establish nuclear weapons-free zones, but they also have a responsibility under this treaty to work toward global disarmament. It is for this reason many regions around the world have pursued negotiations towards the establishment of nuclear weapons-free zones. For example, the Treaty of Pelindaba established a nuclear weapons-free zone in Africa. If a similar treaty were negotiated in the Middle East, this would mean that the international community recognized this region as nuclear weapons-free, and states in the region would be legally bound by that treaty under international law.
  • The UN Position. As aforementioned, the notion of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East was first introduced to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 1974. The resolution, presented by Egypt and Iran, called simply for the creation of a NWFZ in the Middle East.[vi] Since then, this same resolution has been re-introduced and passed in the General Assembly on an annual basis. In 1994, a resolution was introduced to the UNGA which went a little further; it demanded that all states in the Middle East sign the NPT and terminate any existing nuclear weapons programs. This resolution also specifically called upon Israel to sign and adhere to the NPT.[vii] The 1994 resolution, like the one presented in 1974, has been re-introduced and passed in the UNGA annually. In addition to these recurring resolutions, the UNGA also frequently passes resolutions on UN First Committee reports, which often call for the creation of a NWFZ in the Middle East. NPT Review Conferences, which are hosted by the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, also serve as a forum for discussion on the creation of a Middle East NWFZ. Since 1995, every Review Conference has included a resolution endorsing a NWFZ in the Middle East. The Final Documents produced at these Review Conferences consistently call upon countries in the Middle East to convene a regional conference in order to carry forward this initiative.[viii]
  • Canada’s Official Position. Canada’s official non-proliferation and disarmament policy is built around the NPT and other related initiatives and treaties. Its main objective is to prevent states from acquiring nuclear weapons, and to work towards the elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide.[ix] In keeping with this policy, Canada voted in favor of UNGA Resolution 3263 (1974), which called for the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East.[x] Since then, it has continued to vote in favor of this resolution annually. Canada has, however, consistently voted against or abstained from the other annual resolution, which was first introduced in 1994. Prior to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada regularly voted in favor of the 1994 resolution. The Harper government, however, chose to vote against or abstain from the resolution year after year. This negative voting record has continued under the current Liberal government. Why does Canada vote in favor of the 1974 resolution, but vote against the 1994 resolution? Both resolutions affirm the need to establish a NWFZ in the Middle East; however, the 1994 resolution includes a clause specifically calling on Israel to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. Therefore, despite purportedly supporting the creation of a NWFZ in the Middle East, Canada consistently votes against the 1994 resolution simply because of the language pertaining to Israel. Canada has carried this contradictory approach to the NPT review process, as well. For example, at the 2015 NPT Review Conference, Canada outright rejected the proposal in the draft Final Document relating to a NWFZ in the Middle East.[xi] [xii] The draft document called for the UN to hold a disarmament conference on the Middle East by 2016. Such a conference could have obliged Israel to publicly acknowledge that it is a nuclear power—something that it has never done. Canada, therefore, rejected this proposal, citing Israel’s security concerns. This move, which was met with praise by Israel’s Prime Minister, effectively blocked disarmament negotiations in the region until the next Review Conference in 2020.[xiii] [xiv] Paradoxically, in a report submitted to the Preparatory Committee ahead of the 2020 Conference, Canada continued to affirm its commitment to the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East.[xv]
  • Actions Taken by Canadian Allies. Canada’s voting record at the UNGA and at NPT Review Conferences puts it in a small camp with the U.S., Israel and a few Pacific Island nations. Most of Canada’s European allies have been more consistent in their support for the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East. Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Portugal are just some of the European states that have consistently voted in favor of key resolutions on a NWFZ in the Middle East.

Recommendations for Canada

  • Canada must do everything in its power to prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. In order to do so, it must adopt a more principled and consistent approach at the UN and at NPT Conferences. If Canada truly support the creation of a NWFZ in the Middle East, it must be clear in its condemnation of all states in the region who have nuclear ambitions. Canada must stop prioritizing the security concerns of a non-NPT member state (Israel) over those of all the other member states combined.
  • Canada should play a more active role in advancing negotiations on a NWFZ in the Middle East. Instead of blocking attempts to convene a conference on this matter, Canada should lead the push for disarmament in the region. Canada should leverage its relationship with Israel in order to encourage its participation in disarmament negotiations.

 

[i] UN General Assembly. (1974). Establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free-zone in the region of the Middle East: Resolution A/RES/3263/XXIX. Retrieved March 19, 2019 from http://unbisnet.un.org:8080/ipac20/ipac.jsp?session=F55320K11278S.13527&profile=voting&uri=full=3100023~!888475~!1&ri=2&aspect=power&menu=search&source=~!horizon

[ii] Arms Control Association. (2018). WMD-free Middle East proposal at a glance. Retrieved March 19, 2019 from https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/mewmdfz

[iii] Arms Control Association. (2018). WMD-free Middle East proposal at a glance. Retrieved March 19, 2019 from https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/mewmdfz

[iv] Arms Control Association. (2018). WMD-free Middle East proposal at a glance. Retrieved March 19, 2019 from https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/mewmdfz

[v] United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. (1970). Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Retrieved March 19, 2019 from https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/npt/

[vi] UN General Assembly. (1974). Establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free-zone in the region of the Middle East: Resolution A/RES/3263/XXIX. Retrieved March 19, 2019 from http://unbisnet.un.org:8080/ipac20/ipac.jsp?session=F55320K11278S.13527&profile=voting&uri=full=3100023~!888475~!1&ri=2&aspect=power&menu=search&source=~!horizon

[vii] UN General Assembly. (1974). The risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East (A/RES/49/78). Retrieved March 19, 2019 from https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N95/760/57/PDF/N9576057.pdf?OpenElement

[viii] Arms Control Association. (2018). WMD-free Middle East proposal at a glance. Retrieved March 19, 2019 from https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/mewmdfz

[ix] Government of Canada. (2018). Nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament policy. Retrieved March 19, 2019 from https://international.gc.ca/world-monde/issues_development-enjeux_developpement/peace_security-paix_securite/disarmament_policy-politique_desarmement.aspx?lang=eng

[x] UN General Assembly. (1974). Establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free-zone in the region of the Middle East: Resolution A/RES/3263/XXIX. Retrieved March 19, 2019 from http://unbisnet.un.org:8080/ipac20/ipac.jsp?session=F55320K11278S.13527&profile=voting&uri=full=3100023~!888475~!1&ri=2&aspect=power&menu=search&source=~!horizon

[xi] Wan, W. (2015). “Why the 2015 NPT Review Conference fell apart.” United Nations University Centre for Policy Research. Retrieved March 19, 2019 from https://cpr.unu.edu/why-the-2015-npt-review-conference-fell-apart.html

[xii] Rauf, T. (2015). “The 2015 NPT Review Conference: Setting the record straight.” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Retrieved March 19, 2019 from https://www.sipri.org/node/384

[xiii] Sanders-Zakre, A. (2018). “UN body seeks Mideast WMD-free-zone talks.” Arms Control Association. Retrieved March 19, 2019 from https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2018-12/news/un-body-seeks-mideast-wmd-free-zone-talks

[xiv] Blanchfield, M. (2015). “Canada cites defense for Israel in blocking UN plan to curb nuclear weapons.” CBC News. Retrieved March 19, 2019 from https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-cites-defence-for-israel-in-blocking-un-plan-to-curb-nuclear-weapons-1.3087073

[xv] Government of Canada. (2017). “Steps to promote the achievement of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East and the realization of the goals and objectives of the 1995 resolution on the Middle East.” Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Retrieved March 19, 2019 from https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/npt2020/prepcom2017-official-documents/

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