May 22, 2013 | Policy Brief

New Ideas for Cooperatively Preventing WMD Attacks from the Middle East

May 22, 2013 | Policy Brief

New Ideas for Cooperatively Preventing WMD Attacks from the Middle East

The danger that weapons of mass destruction (WMD) from the Middle East will be used against the United States or its allies has been heightened by several recent developments.  These developments include Iran’s advancing nuclear program and the possibility it will spur a regional nuclear arms race, radical and inexperienced new governments in the region, technological advances increasing terrorists’ ability to create chemical and biological weapons, al Qaeda’s continuing efforts to acquire WMD, and the risk Syria’s massive chemical arsenal will be used again or fall into terrorist hands.

Since World War II, more WMD attacks have occurred in the Middle East and North Africa (Middle East) region than in any other region of the world. In addition to the recent use of chemical weapons in Syria, Egypt used chemical weapons against Yemen from 1963 to 1967, Iraq used chemical weapons against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, Iran reportedly used chemical weapons against Iraq during the same war, Libya used chemical weapons against Chad in 1987, Iraq used chemical weapons against Kurds in 1988, and al Qaeda in Iraq used chemical weapons in 2006 and 2007.

The further proliferation of WMD in the Middle East, with its widespread anti-Americanism, religious extremism, border disputes, ethnic conflicts, unstable governments, and terrorist groups openly seeking WMD, seems all too likely to result in disaster.  A January 2013 report titled U.S. Nonproliferation Strategy for the Changing Middle East provides ideas for developing and implementing a comprehensive strategy to promote nonproliferation cooperation and capacity-building in the Middle East.  The report prompted recent congressional action.

The “Next Generation Cooperative Threat Reduction Act of 2013,” introduced by United States Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) on May 22, would require the President to develop a “comprehensive regional assistance strategy to coordinate and advance CTR [cooperative threat reduction] and related nonproliferation efforts in the Middle East and North Africa” and would appropriate $30 million a year for implementation of it.

With this initiative, Shaheen is taking an important step towards enhancing the U.S.’s cooperative nonproliferation efforts in the Middle East. Many officials and experts in the Middle East recognize the growing danger of extremists acquiring WMD and are interested in strengthening regional cooperation – including across the Arab/Israeli divide. 

Unfortunately, while the need for such regional cooperation is growing, U.S. support for such cooperation has been shrinking. Several cooperative nonproliferation projects with a proven track record of success have recently been cancelled or curtailed for lack of relatively small amounts of funding. 

Madelyn Creedon, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs, told Congress at a recent hearing that much of the Cooperative Threat Reduction program’s work in Russia is “coming to completion.” The program could now fruitfully shift towards addressing the increasingly dangerous WMD challenge from the Middle East.

Orde Kittrie is a professor of law at Arizona State University, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and coauthor of U.S. Nonproliferation Strategy for the Changing Middle East.


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