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The fundamental idea behind the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] that was implemented in 1970 is trade-off between the five official nuclear countries, i.e. those that are recognized, which are also the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and the rest of the world. The latter is committed to not seeking to posses nuclear weapons whilst ensuring its right to access nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in return for the five nuclear states committing to reducing their nuclear weapons with the ultimate goal of nuclear disarmament. This might be seen as unfair in the international system because what is available to some is not available to others; however, by virtue of the threat of nuclear weapons to humankind, and the destruction these weapons can cause to human life, 189 countries in the world accepted the NPT in the hope that there would come a day when the world would be free of these destructive weapons. This treaty has lasted decades by virtue of the reality of the situation; many of the countries did not possess the technology or resources to challenge this system whilst at the same time the five countries have not moved much towards reducing their nuclear weapons. The biggest achievement was the agreement to stop nuclear testing. That changed in the last two decades as there are two new nuclear powers that are not party to the treaty, India and Pakistan, both of which carried out nuclear explosions. There is also Israel, which is also not party to the treaty, and it adheres to a policy of nuclear opacity whilst there are estimations that it has between 100 and 200 nuclear heads. There is also North Korea, which withdrew from the treaty and said that it carried out nuclear tests and is believed to have a number of nuclear heads. However, the current heated issue is that of Iran, and it is thought that it wants to reach a level whereby it is able to produce a nuclear weapon with the missiles required for that and there are suspicions regarding its intentions and whether or not it will produce a nuclear weapon.

Just as the Middle East was present in the last review [conference] of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it is also strongly present at the conference that began yesterday in New York and months of difficult negotiations will continue.

Despite that one of the aims of the conference is related to the treaty itself and consolidating it, it has been obvious for a while that the Iranian nuclear file would be a key issue at this conference, and the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad chose to be the only president in attendance and he has his reasons for that. In the same building, i.e. the UN headquarters, negotiations are taking place regarding new sanctions on Iran because of its lack of cooperation regarding its uranium enrichment program. From these discussions, it seems that the United States succeeded in bringing together efforts to convince the rest of the superpowers that had reservations about issuing a new Security Council resolution against Iran. All of that overlaps with the project that has been adopted by Egypt, which currently chairs the Non-Aligned Movement, to free the Middle East region of nuclear weapons and this is a project that is fundamentally targeting Israel, so Iran is able to use the pretext that it is party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty despite suspicions that it contradicts the treaty whilst Israel is not a member at all and yet no one says anything to it in this regard.

The question that must be asked is why this focus on the Middle East region when there is almost international acceptance of an arms race in South Asia between the two nuclear neighbors, India and Pakistan. Perhaps the answer lies in the amount of conflict and tension in the Middle East region as not a decade goes by without a war or two, not to mention the extremist or irrational trends that emerge within it, which increases the threat of using these kinds of weapons. In addition, a nuclear arms race would almost be certain if a state in the region declared that it is a nuclear power. Practically and logically, the ideal solution in order to prevent such a terrifying scenario lies in the existence of an understanding and a regional security system that everyone is committed to, and the technology is available, regardless of the guarantees, just as we are seeing in Iran today, which basically clings to its desire to reach a specific status in the region at the expense of others. This regional security requires a solution to the fundamental conflicts and prevalence of a rational vision for the future of the region.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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