Russia Proposes to Convene Conference on Establishment of a Middle East WMD Free Zone, No Later than 1 March 2016!

by Daniel Rietiker (source:

The Russian Federation proposes to convene a Conference in Moscow, no later than 1st of March 2016, in view to establishing a Zone free of nuclear weapons and other WMD in the Middle East. This derives from a statement of the representative of the Russian Federation during a press conference held last week within the 2015 NPT Review Conference. A corresponding document was deposited at the UN Headquaters in New York last Thursday, 14 May 2015.

Michail Ulyanov, Director of the Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Unit within the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation, explained vis-à-vis journalists that an over-ambitious proposal for a mandate for future negotiations tabled by a group of Arab States was rejected by the States Parties to the NPT Review Conference. Therefore, and considering the failure to advance in the question of convening a Conference during the last five years, the Russian Government decided to take the lead in this issue. Ulyanov noted that it was too early to speculate on the exact agenda and format of the Conference, but he did not exclude that an unconventional, new way could be proposed. Most likely, the Conference will be held under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. Ulyanov was realistic enough  to temper expectations by predicting that no treaty will be adopted in Moscow, but that such a Conference could constitute the starting point in the right direction.

It can be recalled that the idea of denuclearization of certain regions is not new. Different treaties have been concluded so far,

  • Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco, 1967)
  • South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (Rarotonga Treaty, 1985)
  • Treaty on the South-East Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (Bangkok Treaty, 1995)
  • African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (Pelindaba Treaty, 1995)
  • Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia (Semipalatinsk Treaty, 2006)

It is noteworthy that the Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) can, by the ratification of protocols to these instruments, recognize the legally binding nature of the status of the zones and engage not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against State Parties to these treaties nor to contribute to any act that constitutes a violation of the treaty or the protocols.

The establishment of a such a Zone for the Middle East dates back to a Resolution of the 1995 NPT Review Conference. The idea was reiterated, inter alia, in the Final Document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference. Efforts, in particular by Russia, the UK and the US, to convene a Conference have so far been in vain (see here, for a working paper submitted by these States at the 2015 NPT Review Conference).

The Russian initiative has to be welcome. The establishment of a Zone free of WMD in the Middle East, a region suffering more than others from political tensions and armed conflict, is an ambitious project and a long dream. The use of chemical weapons in Syria and the nuclear program in Iran witness of the relevance and importance of having this region free of WMD. Progress in this field is likely to trigger momentum for other burning issues, in particular the status of Palestine or the fight against ISIS.

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