Egypt shows NPT frustration in PrepCom walkout

May 10 2013
VERTIC Blog >> Verification and Monitoring
Alberto Muti, London
Last week, the the Egyptian delegation publicly announced its formal withdrawal from the 2013 NPT ‘PrepCom’ meeting in Geneva. The walkout was staged in protest over the failure to set a date for an international conference on the establishment of a weapons of mass destruction free zone in Middle East.
The conference was originally scheduled for December 2012, as part of a set of actions outlined in the final document adopted by the 2010 NPT Review Conference. However, in late November it was announced that the conference would be postponed to a non-specified future date due to conditions in the region and disagreements among the proposed participants. Notably, Iran’s position was not entirely clear, and Israel had not agreed to participate.
In its last statement to the PrepCom, the head of the Egyptian delegation claimed that the lack of progress on the conference constituted a breach of the Action Plan agreed at the 2010 Review Conference and defined it as ‘yet another failure to implement a key NPT commitment.’ Even though the walkout was unexpected, it is not surprising that Egypt would take a strong position on the matter, as its historical role of leadership, both among the Arab countries and in the Non Aligned Movement, has always made it a crucial protagonist of regional arms control matters.
One of the earliest diplomatic initiatives to ban nuclear weapons from the Middle East dates back to 1974. During that year, Egypt and Iran jointly proposed a UN General Assembly resolution calling for the establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone in the region. It is worth noting that at the time Iran was still led by a pro-US ruler, while Egypt was in a state of war with Israel, and had just emerged from the 1973 military conflict. Both states would change positions in 1979.
While the peace treaty with Israel, following the Camp David agreements, dented Egypt’s Arab leadership, it allowed it to establish a strong relation with the US. Egypt proceeded to ratify the NPT in 1981, and in 1990 it formalized the proposal of a regional ban not limited to nuclear weapons, but covering all kinds of weapons of mass destruction.Israel has met the proposal without enthusiasm, stating that a WMD-free zone cannot be achieved without reaching a durable peace in the region.
As Israel and its nuclear arsenal are a key element in the regional strategic balance, it is likely that Israeli participation in any WMD-free zone would be necessary to convince the other regional actors to join. Without it, many states might decide that a WMD option, either as a latent capability or as a real arsenal, still represents the best insurance against future uncertainties.
Despite Israel’s opposition, Egypt has continued advocating for the WMD-free zone proposal in many international fora, and can be credited for some of the most relevant achievements on this front so far. In 1995, during the NPT Review Conference tasked with extending the duration of the treaty, Egypt made it clear that it would not support an indefinite extension unless the Israeli nuclear issue and the creation of a Middle Eastern WMD free zone were addressed. In the end, this pressure resulted in the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East.
This landmark document called upon all states in the region to take ‘practical steps’ towards the elimination of weapons of mass destruction in the region, but did not give any indication as to what kind of steps should be taken. Fifteen years later, in 2010, these practical steps were outlined in the NPT Review Conference final document. At the time, Egypt chaired the Non-Aligned Movement meetings, and would probably have opposed a final document that did not touch on the Middle Eastern issue in a significant way. The 2010 document also openly names Israel (alongside other NPT outliers India and Pakistan), calling for it to accede the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state.
Egypt has often been a proponent of strong international solutions both in arms control and in other areas of international politics, and, as already mentioned, its involvement in the international arena has made it one of the leading states in the region and a prominent member of the Non Aligned Movement since the very beginning. When advocating for the Middle Eastern WMD-free zone, Egypt has insisted that it requires full commitment by all countries, as well as a strong verification system to ensure full compliance.
Egypt, of course, lies in the middle of one of the world’s most troubled regions. The longstanding differences between many of the Arab states and Israel have been a constant source of instability and latent conflict, and Israel’s nuclear and, possibly, chemical arsenals cannot be ignored. Egypt has criticised the preferential treatment Israel has often received by the international community as detrimental to the region’s security. On many occasions, Egyptian officials have remarked that Egypt would not take on new international obligations as long as Israel remained outside the NPT regime. Most notably, Egypt has refused to conclude an Additional Protocol with the IAEA, and has not signed up to the Chemical Weapons convention, maintaining chemical weapons capabilities, possibly to balance Israel’s nuclear weapons.
Over the years, these two tendencies have found a point of equilibrium, resulting in an assertive and strongly independent position that focuses on universality and equality as essential foundations of arms control measures. Egypt has been willing to put forward proposals that would subject it to a substantial level of international control and scrutiny, imposing significant limits to its future strategic choices.
On the other hand, it has been adamant in demanding that others submit to the same conditions as well, before renouncing parts of its national sovereignty.For the past 25 years, Egypt has been one of the key advocates of a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction.
The international community, however, has offered little support beyond formal declarations. As the 1995 Review Conference shows, Egypt is not new to forceful positions in negotiations, yet last week’s walkout is a strong and highly visible sign of its displeasure. If Egypt’s commitment to a multilateral solution remain unreciprocated, it might well decide to re-examine that equilibrium between national and global interests which has guided its foreign policy on the matter so far. 


Last changed: May 10 2013 at 12:33 PM