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Ali Asghar Kazemi
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Friday, November 8, 2013

Prospects for Peace and Security in the Persian Gulf


Prospects for Peace and Security in the Persian Gulf

Ali Asghar Kazemi*


Keywords: Persian Gulf, Security arrangement, threat perception, arms race, regional balance of power, Iran’s regional strategy, United States global strategy, regional integration, security community, limited bipolarity, regional multi-polar system…


The main questions addressed in this paper are the followings:

· What are the sources of threats perceived to endanger the security and stability of the Persian Gulf in the new strategic environment, particularly in the post-Saddam period?

· What is the optimum policy alternative in order to preserve peace and stability in this strategic region?

It will be argued that the best option is a policy based on the following premises:

· There is no consensus on the threats endangering the stability of the Persian Gulf among regional and non-regional actors;

· The security business of the Persian Gulf should be left solely to initiative of coastal States;

· Any forced security and defense arrangement under the patronage and tutorship of an outside power would tend to be counterproductive and may further stir-up insecurity in the region;

· The best alternative would be the creation of a “security community,” based on political, economic, commercial, environmental, and cultural cooperative interaction of the coastal States, in such a way that all would benefit from it and none of them would feel threatened by the others.


Unlike the period of the cold war and the bipolar era, today, after the second American military intervention in Iraq, there is no consensus among the Persian Gulf States that the security of this important strategic region is threatened by any major regional or extra-regional hostile power. Furthermore, the global threat of terrorism seems not be deterred by conventional security arrangements. Therefore, the need for a regional defense pact and security deal, especially under the patronage and tutorship of any outside power, especially the United States, is not widely felt or appreciated by the interested States of this strategic region.

With the victory of Barrack Obama as a democrat President in the United States, there seems to be a perplexing commitment by the U.S. administration to continue on the achievement of American strategy in the greater Middle East, including the Persian Gulf. Furthermore, with the continued U.S. entanglement in Iraq and Afghanistan, stalemate in the Palestinian peace negotiations, and the rising threat of radicalism in the region, prospects for peace in the Middle East and security arrangement the Persian Gulf seem to be more complex and less promising than before.

At the outset, in order to devise an adequate security arrangement, it should be determined: first what is the threat and who needs a security and defense arrangement in the Persian Gulf for what purpose? And second, what is the best alternative to maintain peace, stability and order in this region?

It will be argued here that: it seems only the United States of America perceives its self-proclaimed vital interests and its worldwide superpower position are challenged and threatened in this strategic region. Furthermore, it is suggested that the main threat to the security and stability come from within the nations of the region and therefore the best alternative for the present day Persian Gulf is to build a “security community” based on economic, commercial, cultural, and environmental cooperation among coastal States that could ease the path to friendly relations and gradual process of “democratization.” Otherwise, any forced security arrangement, oriented toward defense matters like: military build-up, “balance of power,” leading to arms race, particularly when it is initiated from outside the region, will be susceptible to become an unwanted source of instability.

Changing Security Perception after September 11

Security is a multifaceted relative concept that can have different meanings for different people and in different contexts. It is perceptual and therefore, depending on whose view we observe it, can lead to diverse implication. When we speak of national, regional, or global security, we usually have in mind some sort of threat or risk that could endanger the established order and status quo.

During the cold war, international and regional security had a more or less concrete meaning. The United States of America and the defunct Soviet Union, as two opposing superpowers, representing two divergent ideologies, were at the forefront of a worldwide conflict and competition, with enormous capability of annihilating each other from the surface of the earth. They were in permanent state of alert about any move from the other side, which could threaten the balance, security and interests of the rival camp. Thus, came about various paradigms and theories conceptualizing such strategies and doctrines as: balance of power, deterrence, balance of terror, Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), institutional paranoia… and a number of other stratagems devised to contain one of the opponenat from expanding its influence in the sphere of the other.

The results of such permanent conflicts and competitions were a number of security arrangements by the West, which included a virtual security belt by the United States around the Soviet territory, starting from NATO in Europe, linking to CENTO in the Middle East, and SEATO further to the East, ending up to ANZUS. On the other hand, the Warsaw Pact, including almost all ex-Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe, was considered as a major rival to the NATO.

With the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union, as the main ideological and military rival of the United States, many of the security arrangements and defense pacts had become useless. Since, one side of the power balance and supposedly the main source of threat to the free world had totally disappeared. Expectations of a world free of tensions and crises after the cold war, led to the belief that following the dismantling of the Warsaw Pact, its rival in the West (i.e. the NATO) would have to experience the same happy ending. But unfortunately, this anticipation proved to be wrong in the new world strategic configuration and with the emergence of quite new sources of threats, namely “terrorism,” as non-state actor in international relations.

September 11 experience has undoubtedly changed the conventional security perceptions, not only in the United States of America, which was the direct victim of an unprecedented terrorist attack, but also throughout the world, including the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. Today it is crystal clear that conventional wisdom and rational strategic thinking about enemy, threats, security, force structure, balance of power, deterrence, and a host of other terms and theories have been drastically affected by new events.

In the new world power configuration, though the United States became the sole superpower, with a host of functions and responsibilities to be fulfilled throughout the world, only after the September 11 this opportunity was legitimately put into action. The events were indeed a tremendous occurrence for the US to plan its world security policy and strategy in that direction. Meanwhile however, there emerged a major division of opinion among Americans in the field of international relations and politics between those who felt that US national strategy in the post-cold war era should be limited to its continental interests. The argument was that a single nation- no matter how powerful- should not relate its national interests to the requirements of collective (global) or selective (regional) security.

The proponents of this latter view justify their position by saying that the US should not extend its security perimeter to regions far beyond its territory, merely on abstract and ambiguous principles, such as coping with terrorism, maintaining global security, forceful democratization, etc. To them, a regional security arrangement that does not genuinely serve the interests of states of a region, such as the Persian Gulf, is not likely to survive or to be effective in the long run. This is the case of many regional military alliances, like the CENTO, which ceased to exist after the revolution in Iran.

Problem of Security in the Persian Gulf Region

Historically, the Russians aspirations and interests in the general area of the straits and the Persian Gulf were the primordial source of preoccupation for the West. After World War II, the United States took an increasingly keen interest in the area. Since 1950’s the Americans concentrated on organizing the defense of the region against communist oriented destabilizing forces. As mentioned above, American efforts in the past (from 1945 on) to organize the defense of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf were rationalized by reference to aggressive strategy of the ex-Soviet during the cold war. However, the justification is no longer valid now, unless, it is proved by hard evidence that any of the local or regional States are becoming a source of threat.

The end of bi-polar era and the cold war was a break time for strategic planners and policy makers who were so much anxious with the perennial problem of security interests in the Persian Gulf. Yet, they had no time to revise their plan, when the new phenomenon of religious radicalism emerged as a very serious challenge to the peace and order of the region. This time, the antagonizing forces directly targeted US interests and military presence in the region.

Interestingly, these radical forces mainly come from the heart of American allies in the region, namely Saudi Arabia, as one of long time US friends. Many observers believe that American military presence in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region was an incontestable factor, which led to the rise of anti-American sentiments in this Moslem country. As we well know by now, almost all the planners and those who actually executed the 9/11 attacks were Saudi nationals. Therefore, US security interests, as viewed and pursued by American policy makers, are primarily threatened by unconventional low-level violence directed by radical Moslem zealous scattered around the region. They have not necessarily any national identity or any headquarters or even any identifiable leader. They are omnipresent and ready to die for the cause they believe just and legitimate. Indeed, it is quite difficult to face such a bizarre enemy and to cope him with conventional means.

To this situation we should add the new emerging conditions in Iraq, which is susceptible to threaten the overall regional security in the Middle East. As we are observing these days, Iraq is becoming a fertile ground for such a seemingly irrational behavior of those who were once subjugated by Saddam Hussein and then cherished his downfall by American forces, but now fiercely fight their saviors. Perhaps Moslem people, disregard of their religious schisms, are unique in this respect; and indeed this makes it difficult for an outsider to fully understand and realize such characteristics. Those who perform such savage and outrageous acts as beheading the innocent hostages in Iraq cannot be judged by conventional standards of human rights or any religious principles. One must go deep into their heart and inner-self in order to comprehend their hatred and revulsion with regard to American and foreign forces in their land.

Elsewhere in the region the situation is not better. The lives of all foreign contractors in littoral Arab States of the Persian Gulf are exposed to permanent daily threats. Nobody can feel safe in these countries and nobody is immune from the danger of being kidnapped or terrorized by radical groups. Though the number of these zealous radicals might be very small, but the impacts of their deeds are widespread and very frightening for those foreigners who live and work in these territories. Sooner or later this will have negative impacts on the economy and internal stability of these countries, paving the way either for further despotism or total collapse of the incumbent regimes.

Besides the threat of terrorism, as non-state actor, performing by unconventional means and tactics, there seems to be no other state directly threatening the security of the region. In the past two decades all fingers were pointed to Iran and Iraq, as two revolutionary antagonistic regimes, with the capacity of threatening the stability of the Middle East. Now that Iraq’s regime was overthrown by US military intervention, the only remaining state on the chess game, potentially capable of challenging the US presence in the Persian Gulf, seems to be Iran. But the question is whether and in what circumstances Iran might be a source of threat to the stability of a region upon which itself is very much dependent? In fact, as we well know, Iran’s economy and its very survival are very much dependent on the oil revenues for which the Persian Gulf is a real artery. Therefore, a common sense approach to the question may not easily support the argument.

Iran and the Security of the Persian Gulf

Since the British withdrawal from the Persian Gulf in late 1960’s, a number of speculations have been made by defense analysts about Iran’s role in filling the power vacuum created in this strategic region. Shah’s strategy supported by the West was to build a viable maritime power in order to supplant the vacuity hence produced. Iranian naval build-up, along with other forces from various sources, especially the United States, throughout the mid 1970’s was a good indication of Iran’s assertion to replace the British void. But, with the advent of the revolution, the dream did not come through and the new regime canceled all defense contracts, merely out of revolutionary fervor. But, soon after the war with Iraq in 1980, the need for a strong navy was felt.

Nonetheless, the Iranian Navy was able to dominate the Persian Gulf and to deny the enemy from any access to the sea, even during the first stages of the war, thanks to the advanced ships and well-trained Navy personnel. It was during this period that the coastal States of the Persian Gulf formed a coalition (the GCC) with the help and support of extra-regional powers, in order to contain the belligerent States (Iran and Iraq) from threatening their security. The global strategy then was that none of the antagonistic powers should be victor in the all-out war. Since, the would-be-winner might endanger the stability and order of the region upon the conclusion of the hostilities. Nevertheless, Iraq invaded Kuwait soon after the termination of active hostilities and establishment of cease-fire with Iran in 1988.

The first US military intervention in Iraq in 1990 forced this country out of Kuwait, but left the so-called butcher of Baghdad and the Baath regime to remain in power, fearing that the revolutionary Iran might take advantage from the occasion to expand its supremacy over region. Now, upon the second US military intervention in Iraq, and the downfall of Saddam and the collapse of Baath regime, we are again at the first square. The downfall of Saddam Hussein and the Baath regime was indeed a miraculous blessing for Iranian religious leaders and average Iranians combatants who fought so zealously to liberate the sacred Shiite holy shrines in Iraq. In fact, the United States has fulfilled the long dream of overthrowing the atrocious regime of Saddam, for which about half a million of Iranians had sacrificed their life during the 8-year war.

With the fall of Iraq’s regime, Iran has become naturally the sole regional power, with more or less strong military capacity and war experience, supposedly capable of threatening the stability of the region. Iran’s quest to acquire nuclear technology has added a new dimension to the belief, which in the view of the United States, is susceptible to become a nuclear actor. Iranians leaders, while denying their hostile intention in acquiring nuclear technology, just the same, do not conceal their objective of securing the Persian Gulf from outside interventions. Since, they claim, they have legitimate interests not only in the Persian Gulf, but also all around the land territories, where the US forces are stationed, namely in Afghanistan and Iraq. In other words, Iran perceives real threat from the US military presence in the region, and will eventually use any means and leverage to contain such hostile posture near its territory.

Iran has always followed the dictum, both during the Shah’s regime and after the revolution, that the Persian Gulf should be secure for all or for nobody. This means that any security arrangement that guards vis a vis Iran’s genuine interests in the region, may find its way to total disillusionment.

Iran, like other States, with extended coasts, territorial waters and offshore resources, with a population well beyond those of all Arab States of the Persian Gulf, claims to be pursuing its legitimate interests in the region. Despite the fact that Iran may have divergent views with its neighbors, nonetheless, it has many common interests with them as far as the American presence in the region is concerned. To be explicit, almost all Arab States of the Persian Gulf, while cherished the downfall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Talibans in Afghanistan, now perceive a real threat from the American policy of democratization of the greater Middle East. This feeling, which is sometimes concealed under the surface and is not expressed openly, makes it very difficult for the United States to embark on any collective security arrangement in the region, particularly if Iran is excluded from the equation.

On the other hand, Iran has a lot of common interests with the coastal States of the Persian Gulf that, if properly pursued, can lead to cooperative behavior of mutual interests. Otherwise, a competitive and aggressive conduct could create suspicion and further misunderstanding. Such situation may stir-up antagonism in the region and thus necessitating foreign powers presence and intervention.

Who Really Needs a Security Arrangement in the Persian Gulf?

The Persian Gulf, which has always been referred to as the perennial dream of Peter the Great Russian Tsar, became the pivot point of American strategy after the second World War, especially during the cold war. But, no special security arrangement has ever been envisaged for this important strategic waterway, which still is considered as the jugular artery of the Western and far-Eastern economy. The coastal States of the region also have never been able to create an all-inclusive regional security pact together with two rival powers, Iran and Iraq, neither during the pro-West Shah nor after the revolution in Iran.

With the fresh victory of Republicans in recent US elections, the chances for conservative elements to continue to assume American worldwide strategy are very high. This means that the United States will be committed to the stability and security of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. This is indeed a formidable task for which neither the U.S. on the one hand, nor the Persian Gulf States are ready to perform, particularly in the light of the fluid situation in Iraq and the wider Middle East.

As we stated above, when we speak of security arrangement in a particular region, we usually have in mind some kind of threat coming from a particular source for which individual or group of states are not prepared to face. And therefore, the need for a collective initiative to alleviate the preoccupation of the perceived threat is felt. That was the case during the cold war and bipolar system, in which the danger of communism was regarded as a major threat to the peace and security of the free world.

Iraq- Iran war in 1980 in a way expedited the Arab States of the Persian Gulf to conclude the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) pact, excluding the two hostiles countries, fearing that they might be dragged to an undesired alliance, which could threaten their very existence. But the GCC has never had the capacity of assuming any meaningful and efficient security function during tensions and crises in the region.

A number of impediments can be identified for this lack of efficiency, among which perhaps the most critical was too much reliance on outside powers, namely American forces stationed in the Persian Gulf. While, as we all know, in recent years, especially after the first US invasion of Iraq, during the Kuwait crisis in 1991, the American military buildup and presence in the region gradually became a major source of security concern in most traditional conservative States of the region. After the second American military intervention in Iraq, which ended up to the collapse of Saddam’s cruel regime, and the message of the so-called democratization plan of the greater Middle East, the apprehension of almost all States of the region became much more alarming, to the point that some now consider the United States as the primary threat to them.

Indeed, it is not a secret now that the main threats to the very existence and stability of most regimes in power in the region come from within. This is to say that if someday the democratization process somehow gets started, the first victims would be the regimes now in power. Since, they would have to adapt themselves to democratic values, as understood by the West, which undoubtedly give way to their opponents; a scenario that is considered as a disaster for the region.

Thus, realistically speaking, any security arrangement in the Persian Gulf, on the initiative of the United States, and on the assumption of fictive enemies and threat perception, would be doomed to failure. Unless the Americans explicitly declare that the objective of such a security apparatus is mainly directed to secure U.S. self-declared “vital interests,” as sometimes affirmed by policy statements in Washington, in which case the matter would be looked at quite differently inside the region. In other words, we have to define first whose security is intended to be protected against what threat in a presumed regional arrangement in the Persian Gulf?

Nevertheless, if the true intention is to prepare the ground for mutual and collective cooperation in the Persian Gulf region, with a view to promote stability and friendly relations among the coastal States; there are other schemes that can be devised without outside intervention. Such design, in which all regional and non-regional parties could benefit, will hopefully help to eradicate the roots of terrorism, emanating from hatred, revulsion and greed. “Security community” is one such scheme, which both in theory and practice, has proven to be useful in other regions of the world and can be applied in the Persian Gulf without much difficulty.

Toward a “Security Community” in the Persian Gulf

“Security community” is a regional system in which none of the neighboring states feels threatened by the others. The concept was originally identified by a number of political and international scientists belonging to the “communication school.” [1] This approach seeks to measure the process and the degree of regional security integration by promoting the flow of transactions in the fields of trade, tourists, and economic and cultural exchanges. This may gradually include cooperation and coordination in other domains of mutual benefits and interests such as immigration, terrorism, environmental pollution, narcotic substances, piracy, search and rescue at sea, etc.

The main characteristic of a security community in this approach is that countries involved in this system need not to conclude a formal military security arrangement in order to secure their national interests. Since presumably, there are so many mutual interests involved in such a community that individual actors are reluctant to do any thing that may change the status quo. In other words, this is a situation in which nobody would be better off by using forces in order to settle its disputes with others. NAFTA and European Community (EU) might be cited as successful examples of such communities.

Of course, the Persian Gulf shall go a long way in order to reach that stage of security integration. But this does not mean that states involved in this geo-strategic region could not embark in such direction. Given the fact that it is awfully hard to initiate a military security arrangement without preparing the ground from various point of views, especially if a non-regional power takes the lead, the establishment of a security community, which is based on gradual and incremental process of integration, seems much more accessible and useful. Because in the course of increasing interactions, states will have a chance to test each other and attract mutual confidence, and gradually go from low-politics (i.e. trade, immigration, environment, etc) to high-politics (i.e. security, terrorism, military alliance, etc).

Unlike the ordinary security arrangements in which permanent preoccupation prevails with respect to immense problems, the security community will not have to bother with such consideration as the followings:

· The tentative parties to the agreement,

· The financial and material resources to be allocated to such arrangement,

· The level of forces required for neutralizing a potential threat,

· The balance it should preserve with respect to the would-be enemy,

· The place the forces should be stationed and trained for eventual deployment,

· The command and control to be assumed for efficient use of the forces,

· The structure, combination and posture of such forces,

· The role of outside powers in the formation, organization and management of such forces,

· Others.

A tentative security community can include all coastal states of the Persian Gulf as the core members, and may at a later stage enlarge its membership by inviting other interested states in the contiguous regions. It can be envisaged that the gradual success of a security community will pave the way for effective cooperation to eliminate roots of intolerance, hatred and terror in the region. Since, as many believe, religious fanaticism and radicalism seek their source in unequal distribution of wealth, undemocratic oppressive regimes, lack of civil societies, corruption, and the like, which hold back the social, economic and political development of traditional societies.

Any artificial arrangement initiated from outside the region with any real or assumed security pretext may have a number of negative impacts such as the following, which in the final account will be counter-productive to the region and the world order as a whole:

· Unnecessary waste of resources in order to form a military security coalition which would be an unjust burden to states of the region,

· Risk of rising the level of hostilities between regional states and outside powers for their meddling with the internal affairs of the region,

· Risk of setting aside a particular state from the security arrangement, and thus opening the door for new misunderstanding and animosity,

· Risk of some individual state to engage in some kind of arms-races, leading to total economic and political bankruptcy,

· Risk of inviting new forms of terrorism in the region, using unconventional means to cope with foreign presence in the Persian Gulf,

· Increase the level of internal threats against the security of undemocratic traditional states, hence causing further destabilization in the region,

· Other unknown impacts for which the Persian Gulf region cannot afford the risks.


Though it is rather risky to reach a conclusion from recent developments in the region, there seems to be no consensus among regional states on the source, magnitude and direction of threats that could give reason for American presence and endeavor for a defense and security arrangement in the Persian Gulf. While observers from outside the region might argue convincingly for a military coalition and security arrangement with the US assistance and partnership, especially in the wake of American entanglement in Iraq and Afghanistan, a realistic view from inside the region would warn against such venture. Therefore, the main conclusions that can be derived from this short paper are as follow:

· There is no consensus on the threats endangering the stability of the Persian Gulf among regional and non-regional actors,

· The security business of the Persian Gulf should be left solely to initiative of coastal States,

· Any forced security and defense arrangement under the patronage and tutorship of an outside power would tend to be counterproductive and may further stir-up insecurity in the region,

· The United States military presence and partnerships with some parties in the Persian Gulf against specific state, such as Iran, would undermine peace and security of the region,

· The best alternative would be the creation of a “ security community,” based on political, economic, commercial, environmental, and cultural cooperative interaction of the coastal States, in such a way that all would benefit from it and none of them would feel threaten by the


* Dr. Kazemi is Professor of international law and Politics at the Faculty of Law and Political Science, Islamic Azad University (Science and Research Branch). For more detail please consult

[1] Karl W. Deutsch and his associates

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Strategic Implications of WMD Proliferation in the Middle East

Strategic Implications of

WMD Proliferation in the Middle East

Ali-Asghar Kazemi[1]


Keywords: Middle East, arms race, WMD proliferation, Non-Proliferation Treaty, Israel’s WMD capability, Iran’s nuclear project, CWC and BWC Conventions.
The problem of arms race and military competitions in the Middle East is not a new subject. During the cold war and before the revolution in Iran, we experienced harsh rivalries between oil-rich states. Western great powers, which were the main source of arms deals, also competed among themselves to sell more arms to the region. The pretext in those days was to counter the communist threats. But, during the years of bloody hostilities in the region[2], those arms and military equipment were used by Moslems against Moslems.
Today a new kind of rivalry is shaping in the Middle East. This is mainly due to deep-rooted hostilities in the region and the increasing concern about the stockpiles of WMD in the Israeli arsenal. Adding Iran’s endeavor to acquire nuclear technology to this strategic equation, many of the Middle Eastern states are showing growing interests to acquire some kind of WMD. Considering the fact that acquisition of nuclear weapons is almost impossible under the present circumstances, interests for highly lethal but easier to acquire substances for use in chemical and biological weapons, are rising. Besides that, the Middle East continues to be on the top of the list for acquisition of conventional weapons and missile delivery systems.
How far WMD proliferation and arms race in the Middle East are due to Iran’s endeavor to acquire nuclear technology and long-range missile capability? How much Israel’s quest for building a hegemonic power through the acquisition, construction and possession of unconventional weapons or long–range missiles is susceptible to prompt other oil rich states of the Persian Gulf and the larger Middle East to embark on an arms race in the region? What are the consequences of such competition and rivalry for the overall Middle East and the entire international community?
The main arguments in this paper are:
  • There is no consensus in threat perception in the Middle Eastern and thus each state has its own motives and incentives to go for WMD,
  • It seems that Israel’s WMD capability is the main source of concern in the Middle East,
  • Iran’s endeavor to acquire nuclear technology is only marginally affecting arms race in the region,
  • Non-proliferation initiatives have proved ineffective in the Middle East,
  • Great powers are themselves inducing competition and arms race in the Middle East region.
A number of policy options are suggested at the end of this paper for further thoughts and consideration.
The Proliferation Security Initiative
The problem of WMD proliferation in the world in general and in the terror-ridden Middle East, has now become a major preoccupation of the international community. Ever since the September 11th unprecedented terrorist attacks on American targets in the heart of commercial and political centers of the United State in New York and Washington, the issue of terrorist using WMD has become a strategic obsession for security experts and policy makers. [3]
In May 2003 a number of states, with the United States at the lead, launched what is known as “The Proliferation Security Initiative” (PSI) with the objective to prevent the spread of WMD through a combination of legal, political, and security means.[4] The center of the attention in this modus vivendi is the interdiction and prevention of unconventional weapons, including biological, chemical and nuclear, from states and regimes which are known to have some kind of dubious links or sympathy with terrorist groups around the world. The implicit perception in this initiative is that with the emergence of fundamentalist movements, radically at odd with the prevailing norms and order, the world is becoming a too dangerous place and all peace loving nations are morally obligated to cooperate against the proliferation of these weapons. The initiative even went as far as to permit the use force in order to prevent or intercept any such weapons wherever they are smuggled, including the territorial waters, airspace and land territory of the PSI member states. [5]
The Proliferation Security Initiative seems to be based on the assumption that the conventional regulatory instruments and regimes on non-proliferation of WMD, including the NPT and its additional protocols, have not been responsive to world expectation due to a number of limitations and bottlenecks. The most recent examples of such preoccupation may be related to attempts by Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Iran to acquire nuclear technology through third parties and international black market.[6] In the domain of chemical and biological weapons the problem is much more subtle and confused. Because a vast number of substances used in these fields have dual utilization as pesticides in agricultural uses and bug killer at home. Therefore, it is very difficult to prohibit the export or imports of these agents merely on the assumption that they will be used for hostile purposes.
Causes and Incentives for WMD Proliferation
Experts in arms race and proliferation, particularly chemical and biological weapons in the Middle East, believe that one important cause of competition and rivalry in the region is Israel’s possession of a nuclear arsenal. Given that Israel has so far refused to acknowledge the fact, it is rather hard to pass a realistic judgment on the matter[7]. Nevertheless, the strategic implications of such phenomenon are quite important. It is believed that the pursuit of chemical weapons development in the Middle East was originally prompted when it became known that Israel worked on nuclear weapons. Countries such as Syria and Egypt, with limited economic and technological capacity to counter Israeli threat, would eventually prefer to have a much cheaper and accessible deterrent capability, such as chemical weapons in their munitions stores. [8]
It is not a secret that Middle Eastern states fear Israel’s military capability, and believe that it has not only nuclear but also chemical and biological weapons as well as very accurate delivery systems, which altogether constitute “the ultimate guarantor of its survival.[9]” Of course, the prerequisite to have such deterrent capability is the vehicle or the long-range missile system capable to carry the WMD warhead to the opponents. In this respect, Israel has been very active since the 1960’s and it is believed that it has developed a range of missiles even more sophisticated than those in use in the West.[10]
It is interesting to note that from a legal point of view, contrary to widespread publicity with respect to the overall WMD regime, Iran has acceded to the NPT in 1970 and [11] has been periodically subjected to inspections by the IAEA. While Israel still refuses to sign this document. Israel has been more ambiguous than Iran in declaring its nuclear status and strategy. As regards the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Biological and Toxin weapon Convention (BWC), while Iran has ratified both, [12] Israel has only signed (but not yet ratified) the first but refuses to sign the second.[13]
Syria and Egypt are two other important states of the region whose approach and status with respect to the WMD are worth to be considered. Syria has signed the NPT in 1968 and ratified it in 1969, but so far has refused to sign or ratify the CWC. Egypt acceded to the NPT in 1981 and has been implementing the comprehensive safeguards under the IAEA inspection regime since 1982. However, since the 1995 Review and Extension Conference, Egypt has been one of the NPT’s most vocal critics. Irritated by Israel’s ambiguous nuclear status, Egypt is frustrated by the international community’s inability to pressure or punish Israel for refusing to sign the NPT.[14]
Iran’s Ambiguous Nuclear Strategy
Despite the current belief that Iran is perceived as a potential threat to the region because of its nuclear ambitions and pursuit of long-range missile technology, concrete facts fall short of proving the truth of the contention. As a non-Arab state situated in a hostile environment with bitter memory of long hostilities with its neighbors and outside powers, Iran’s strategic preoccupation for the survival of the Islamic regime should not surprise anyone. Furthermore, there is no tangible indication that increasing incentive for WMD in the Middle East is to any extent related to Iran’s military posture in the region. With respect to the overall balance of power and defense expenditure in the Middle East, statistics bear witness that Iran has been lagging even much behind the smaller states of the Persian Gulf.[15]
Far from trying to be apologetic of Islamic regime’s controversial behavior, we should realize that this country is totally encircled by nuclear powers; Pakistan and India in the East, Israel in the West, Russia in the North and Americans, including their allies, in the South. Iran is indeed in a very delicate geo-strategic position which should rationally dictate its strategic and security posture vis-à-vis its neighbors and foreign powers. This is to say that even if Iran had the slightest intention of acquiring nuclear capability in such a fragile strategic setting it would be a legitimate cause. As a member of the NPT, there is no explicit indication that Iran’s nuclear endeavor has any place in its overall military strategy, while controversial statements by high ranking political figures about Iran’s future plans have put the whole matter in the shadow of ambiguity and suspect.
Furthermore, Iran’s intransigence to forego its pursuit of nuclear capability, claimed to be for peaceful purposes, along with other threatening declarations by the new-conservative hardliners, is becoming a source of anxiety in the Middle East and in particular for small, traditional and strategically vulnerable states in the Persian Gulf. Other states such as Israel and Turkey which are strategically tied through some sort of defense pact also are becoming more and more alert of the Iranian endeavor. Iran’s recent arms deals with Russia[16] and some other countries[17] have been received with concern in the region and elsewhere in the world.
The suspicion that Iran might be developing nuclear capability under the guise of peaceful technology for the purpose of power generating plants, has created an atmosphere of distrust in the region on the real intention of Iranian policy makers and strategic planners. Since the time Iran’s nuclear undertakings have been revealed by opposition groups, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a number of leading world powers which, not coincidently happen to have monopoly in nuclear capability, have pressured Iran, as a member of the NPT, to suspend all activities and give up a number privileges which according to the text of this treaty are legitimate rights of all member states.
During the progressive administration, some negotiations have taken place between Iran and the European Union (EU3) and an accord was reached in which Iran agreed to suspend voluntarily and temporarily its nuclear activities for the purpose of confidence building. However, with the coming into power of the hardliners new-conservatives in Iran, the whole perspective suddenly changed and the previous negotiating team was accused of selling out the country in the negotiations and therefore a new strategy was adopted by the new president and his new appointees.
Since I have examined elsewhere the development of the nuclear issue after the new government took charge and the position of the IAEA and other interested parties, there seems to be no need to repeat the matter here.[18] What is important to remember is that the new hard line administration in Tehran seems to have opted for a strategy of challenge and confrontation instead compliance and confidence building. [19] Obviously, this strategy would not help to alleviate the atmosphere of mistrust. It could even lead to the point of sparking further regional arms race, and pave the path for a concerted action against Iran in the U.N. Security Council in the weeks and months to come[20].
Policy Options for WMD Restrictions
As said in the introduction of this paper, arms race and military rivalry are perennial issues in the Middle East. During the past three or four decades we have witnessed many wars and armed conflicts in this region. The existence of huge oil reserves and resources in the Middle East has contributed to its vital geo-strategic importance and thus its vulnerability. Religious, cultural and ethnic variances are also significant factors that exponentially augment the fragile strategic environment of the region.
Given that various schemes have so far failed to bring about peace and quiet in this hostile strategic region, future policy options should be aimed at a more realistic and pragmatic direction; otherwise idealistic decisions, accords or security map may be unproductive and abortive. To this end the following suggestions are just outlined here for the purpose of further thoughts and assessment. Some of these options may nonetheless seem naïve and impracticable, but we should not leave them aside without attempting to approach their examination. [21]
· Settlement of Palestinian conflict with Israel through bilateral and multi-lateral efforts,
· Establishment of a WMD free zone in the greater Middle East and adjacent regions,
· Prohibition of arms sales ( conventional major equipments and weapons of mass destruction and related materials) to all states of the region through existing or new international agreements,
· Imposition of severe sanctions and enforcement measures against states, multinational corporations and companies that violate rules and regulations regarding WMD proliferations,
· Promotion of democratic values compatible with indigenous norms, culture and beliefs,
· Abstention to intervene in the internal affairs of states and gradual withdrawal of all foreign forces from the region,

[1] Ali-Asghar kazemi is Professor of Law and International Relations at IAU, Science and Research Branch,
Tehran, Iran. See:
[2] For example: Iran-Iraq war which lasted 8 years; Iraqi aggression against Kuwait and other hostilities and armed conflicts in the region.
[3] Containment or prevention of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is not a new issue. However, the increasing prominence of international, organized terrorism and the use of WMD by international terror - have converted the perception of terrorism and use of WMD into a global strategic threat. The very fact of potential use of WMD by terrorists, as well as the increased need for development of military capabilities to defend against extreme nations’ anticipated capacity for employment of such systems (i.e., the evolving US global missile defense system), speak volumes of the limitations on effectiveness in countering proliferation over the past decade. A prominent example in this regard is the “Missile Technology Control Regime” (MTCR) instituted by the United States and its allies in 1987. The MTCR is an informal export control system aimed at preventing transfer of technology and equipment meant for development of delivery systems for WMD, yet it has had no more than partial success in stemming development of such programs by regimes regarded as dangerous. Another clear example of failed containment policies is the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), as starkly demonstrated recently in the case of Iran’s development of a nuclear weapons program despite its supposed adherence to the NPT rules. See: Craig D. Kugler , The Proliferation Security Initiative: The Middle East Context
[4] PSI was initially launched in May 2003 by eleven nations: with the US initiative, together with Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the UK. Its goal is to prevent the spread of WMD,; “weapons of mass destruction” are regarded under PSI as comprising not only nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, but extending also to their delivery systems and related materials. The legal means sought by PSI center on enactment and implementation of laws by countries to prevent the use of their territories, vessels, and airspace for the transport and dissemination of WMD. The political means are aimed at enlisting the greatest possible support in the international community for PSI. The uniqueness of PSI is in its security means. See: : Craig D. Kugler , The Proliferation Security Initiative: The Middle East Context
[5] In September 2003, the PSI group issued its “Statement of Interdiction Principles”. The Statement revolves around the need for cooperation in interdicting WMD and determines, broadly, the manners in which interdiction will be accomplished. “Interdiction” means simply “interception”. The PSI countries have agreed to cooperate in the use of force so as to intercept the transfer of WMD, not only in their own territorial waters, airspace and landfalls, but also outside of them - that is, where they do not themselves exercise “sovereignty”. PSI seeks to implement a common legal framework that will support their efforts, and to institute interchange of information on suspected proliferation activity, all geared to the centerpiece of its activity: interdiction of WMD. See: Ibid.
[6] One important reason for U.S. military intervention in Iraq was indeed the dubious intelligence regarding Saddam Hussein’s procession of WMD, which finally proved to be incorrect. At the moment, Libya has given up altogether its nuclear ambitions and North Korea is in the negotiating process with the United States and other interested parties, including China, in order to terminate its military nuclear project. Iran is the last on the list who so far has not given up its nuclear activities. Western nations suspect that Iran is developing nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian program, although Iran categorically rejects the contention and insists it is intended only for peaceful electricity generation.
[7] According to numerous sources, Israel has made a strategic decision in the mid-1950s that, surrounded by hostile Arab countries; it needed a nuclear bomb as a deterrent. Now it is estimated to have 100 to 200 warheads. Intelligence sources say Israel also has chemical weapons, which arms control experts say provide Israel with a less drastic deterrent than a nuclear bomb. See Timothy M. Phelps and Knut Royce:The Mideast Arms Race Sources: Arab nations spurred by Israel,” In-Depth Coverage , Newsday (New York) April 20, 2003
[8] Arms control experts say Syria, as well as Egypt, Iran and Iraq began to develop chemical weapons only after it they found out that Israel had developed a nuclear capability "the bomb." They believed that Israel would be deterred from using nuclear weapons on Cairo, Damascus or Baghdad if it knew they could respond with a chemical attack against Tel Aviv. Ibid.
[9] According to an analyst, “The Israeli security strategy is to have a full spectrum of responses and to insure that Israel would always be able to provide a more devastating response than any potential adversary. Egypt and Syria are thought to have developed chemical weapons as a deterrent force against Israel. Despite intense U.S. pressure on these countries, they have abstained so far to sign an international treaty banning development or use of chemical weapons as long as Israel continues to refuse to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Cf. Ibid
[10] Israel has been developing missiles since the 1960s. Its extensive and comprehensive missile capabilities include cruise and ballistic missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and the Arrow theater defense missile system. By 1973, it had successfully developed the first-generation ballistic missile with a 500 km range, the Jericho-1. Israel first launched the 1,500 to 3,500 km-range, intermediate-range, two-stage ballistic missile—the Jericho 2—in 1986. It is also rumored to have completed the 4,800 km-range Jericho-3 and its improved space launcher the Shavit-1. See: Gitty M. Amini, “Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East,” Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) Monterey Institute of International Studies February 2003
[11] . It has apparently cooperated with the inspectors and the IAEA has not found evidence of Iran’s supposed violations of NPT restrictions. However, the IAEA and Iran have been in discussion since the latter half of 2002 and will continue to conduct talks in 2003 to address the IAEA’s request for an additional safeguards protocol given suspicions of Iran’s accelerated nuclear efforts.
[12] Iran ratified the CWC in 1997 and the BWC in 1973.
[13] Israel signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1993, but has yet to ratify it. Also Israel has signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and is considering ratification. Israel is not a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), but has pledged to follow its guidelines.
[14] Egypt refuses to sign or ratify the CWC but has acceded to the BWC in 1972. However, given the weak nature of the BWC’s enforcement mechanisms, its compliance with the terms of the BWC is not assured. All of the above information are taken from: Gitty M. Amini, “Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East,” Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) Monterey Institute of International Studies February 2003.
[15] Iran is, in fact, lagging behind considerably, a fact well documented by the various authoritative studies on arms transfers, including the annual reports by the Congressional Research Service and various editions of World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers. These studies show that, for example, the total arms acquisitions by the six countries of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) during the period 1987-1998 was in excess of 52 billion dollars, compared to 2.5 billion dollars for Iran. To give another example, during 1995-1998 period, whereas the Saudis purchased close to 8 billion dollars of arms, Iran’s figure stood at 1.4 billions. See: Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, “Iran’s Military Modernization and the Regional Arms Race.”
[16] Just recently it was revealed that Iran has purchased a number of anti-missile systems from Russia. Specialists believe that these systems have been procured in order to counter eventual American or Israeli strikes against Iran’s nuclear sites.
[17] The sale of some 800 Hs50 sniper rifles by Austria to Iran last year has been objected by the United states and this country imposed sanction against nine companies from China, India, and Austria for supplying Iran with military equipment and technology. The sanctions ban these companies from doing business with US companies, base on the Iran Non-Proliferation act of 2000. These companies have been providing Iran with various equipment in the field of: chemical, missile and aviation technology The companies involved were: China National Aero-Technology import Export Corporation ( Catic), missile builder China North Industries Corp.( Norinco); the chemical equipment group Zibo Chemet Equipment Corp., Hongdu Aviation, Ounion International Economic and Technical Cooperative Ltd. Limmt Metallurgy and Minerals. Two Indian chemical groups were also among the companies subject to sactions: Sabero Organics and Sandhya Organics. . See: Iran Daily, December 29, 2005. p.1.
[18] See my papers: Ali-Asghar Kazemi, “Iran’s New President and the Nuclear Issue,” August 2005; “ Iran: The Price of going Nuclear,” October 2005; and “ Iran and the Nuclear Trap,” November 2005.” See also Ali-Asghar Kazemi, “Iran’s Quest for Regional Hegemony,” All of these papers are accessible from
[19] John Chapman, director of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, told a news conference it was unlikely that diplomatic pressure from the European Union would stop Iran developing its nuclear enrichment program. He further said if Iran ended up with a confirmed, deployed nuclear capability, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia would "reconsider their positions." In his view "It would be desirable for regional states, especially the [Persian]Gulf Arab states, also to express more openly their known concerns about how Iran's possible acquisition of a nuclear capacity would change strategic perceptions and the regional balance of power
See “Iran’s Bomb could fuel Middle East arms race,” October 25, 2005, IISS( Reported by Reuters from London) .
[20] White House spokesman recently said that the United States military action against Iran was not on the agenda but that President George W. Bush would not rule out any option while the international community pursued diplomatic means. It is worth to be noted that Russia and China oppose the referral of Iran to the Security Council saying that uranium conversion is a step short of the actual enrichment needed to produce weapons. See ibid.
[21] The following sources might help researchers for further studies: Lawrence Scheinman ,Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East Threaten the International Community; Michael Donovan, Iran, Israel, and Nuclear Weapons in the Middle East (Center for Defense Information, February 2002); Anthony H. Cordesman, Proliferation in the “Axis of Evil”: North Korea, Iran, and Iraq (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies, January 2002); Anthony Cordesman, Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2001); Anthony M. Cordesman, National Developments of Biological Weapons in the Middle East (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 2001); Shai Feldman, Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control in the Middle East (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997); Khidr Abd Al-Abbas Hamzah, Saddam’s Bombmaker: the Terrifying inside Story of the Iraqi Nuclear and Biological Weapons Agenda (New York: Scribner, 2000); Mehmood-Ul-Hassan Khan, Emerging Geo-Strategic Trends in Middle East and Its Implications for USA and rest of The World
February 25, 2004; John Loftus and Mark Aarons, Another View Of Nuclear Israel And The Middle East Arms Race. Also see the following Websites:
-Center for Strategic and International Studies;
-Institute for Science and International Security.
-CNS, Middle East Resources.