Consensus turns into firm action
SOME INTERESTING DEVELOPMENTS are occurring in the Middle East that could see a thawing of relations with Iran and Syria and ultimately a realignment of United States strategic interests in that region.
However, Israel seems perplexed by this change as its arch-rivals are mending fences with the United States. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently aired his grievances at the United Nations General Assembly, urging member states not to believe in what the leadership in Tehran says or does.
He went to the extent of calling Iran’s President Hasan Rohani “deceptive” and more “dangerous” than his hawkish predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. While it may be fair to exercise caution, cold water should not be thrown at these latest efforts.
One must come to equity with clean hands and it does not lie in the mouth of Israel to seek to condemn others for trying to develop nuclear weapons when last Thursday the BBC aired a programme confirming Israel’s nuclear capability.
The crises in Iran and Syria have been about weapons of mass destruction, nuclear in Iran and chemical in the case of Syria. However, Iran is party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty though it has long been suspected of trying to develop a nuclear warhead.
Syria, on the other hand, has agreed to join the Chemical Weapons Convention and has started dismantling its weapons pursuant to a recent UN Security Council resolution supported by its ally Russia.
However, enforcement measures in both cases are routed through multilateral treaty-based arms control regimes. The treaty requires Iran to subject its nuclear energy programme to monitoring and inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In any event, these crises highlight the key difference between the two arms control regimes. The convention is universal, non-discriminatory and binding with equal legal force on all.
Consequently, the Security Council can demand with great moral authority that Syria sign the convention and agree to the verifiable and irreversible destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile and infrastructure.
Even though Russia and the United States have not been able to meet the agreed deadline for the destruction of their own stockpiles of weapons, they have nonetheless led by example.
By contrast, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty still divides the world into those who have and others who must never get nuclear weapons. There is something deeply unsettling about those powers that have large stockpiles of nuclear weapons demanding others must not get any. Of course, Iran has signed the treaty and voluntarily surrendered its right to acquire nuclear weapons.
The twin crises in Iran and Syria have demonstrated the continuing utility of the UN Security Council, which still remains the critical organ for addressing geopolitical upheavals.
The basis of permanent membership and veto is that coercive international action is unlikely unless the major powers are in agreement. Conversely, if and when they do agree, the UN could still translate consensus into action. Both assumptions have now been validated.