Organized by PAX, BASIC, and the Israeli Disarmament Movement, this seminar discussed the obstacles and opportunities to holding the Helsinki conference and establishing the WMD free zone. Moderated by Wilbert van der Zeiden, senior researcher of disarmament and security at PAX, the panel consisted of Lianet Vazquez from BASIC, Ward Wilson, of the Rethinking Nuclear Weapons project, and Sharon Dolev of the Israeli Disarmament Movement.
Sharing an analytical perspective on the progress and challenges of the process, Lianet Vazquez stated that while the Glion meetings have been successful in getting key parties to come together and discuss the prospect of the conference, several challenges remain towards establishing the WMDFZ. One of these is the Israel’s unwillingness to take part in a conference that
only discusses disarmament and not other regional issues that are of Israel’s concern. At the same time, the Arab states’ unwillingness to meet the Israel demands of talking about conventional weapons and regional security concerns mirrors this problem. Another challenge is posed by Israel’s argument that the conference is within the NPT framework and therefore does not apply to it.
Ward Wilson discussed how nuclear weapons operate as symbols. Because nuclear weapons are actually clumsy and messy weapons that leave a trail of poison behind whether you use them or not, the world needs to be reminded of this fact in order to be able to disarm. In reaching a WMDFZ, Wilson argued that the Middle Eastern parties needs to be reminded that nuclear weapons are symbols and that the value of symbols, much like money, can change overnight.
Sharon Dolev spoke of the need for a public discourse that questions and demands explanation as to why Israel keeps nuclear weapons. The discourse on these weapons today is being held by decision-makers in closed rooms where civil society is not able to critique it.
This lack of discourse is what led the Israeli Disarmament Movement (IDM) to conduct a roundtable discussion with the Israeli government. Through these talks, civil society was able to learn what the government officials had to say on the issue and to map out obstacles.
Moving forward, IDM has more roundtable talks in the making. Civil society needs to think about what carrots can be given to make the zone attractive, while at the same time ardently show that business as usual will not be tolerated.
This event report was written by Arianna Framvik Malik and originally appeared in the News In Review.