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Policy Paper 26: The Middle East Arms Control and Regional Security Talks: Progress, Problems, and Prospects

  • Author(s): Jentleson, Bruce
  • et al.

The record of the Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) Working Group thus far is a mixed one. On the one hand, the very creation of a multilateral process for arms control and regional security in a region where no comparable process ever before existed is in itself a significant achievement. A working agenda then was defined, and by late 1994 a series of initial multilateral agreements had been negotiated for confidence-building measures (CBMs), confidence-and-security-building measures (CSBMs), and other regional security initiatives. Since then, however, ACRS has virtually broken down. The next steps, from negotiation to implementation, for the most part have not been taken. A number of factors have contributed to this breakdown, most notably Egypt’s linkage of progress on the entirety of the ACRS agenda to the conflict with Israel on the nuclear issue. A plenary meeting has not been held for almost two years, and ACRS has gone from leader to laggard among the Middle East multilateral working groups.

Events and developments outside of ACRS also have demonstrated both the new possibilities and the continuing problems for regional security cooperation. Particularly notable achievements have been the 1994 Israel–Jordan treaty, which includes provisions going beyond bilateral security agreements to delineate shared positions on multilateral regional security issues, the military and security cooperation agreements signed between Israel and Turkey, and the March 1996 anti-terrorism summit held in Sharm el-Sheikh. On the other hand, progress such as in the Israel–Jordan and Israel-Turkey relationships also precipitated counter-reactions by Egypt, Syria, and others; the very need for the Sharm summit was caused by the spread and intensification of terrorism; and the April–May 1996 fighting along the Israel-Lebanon border demonstrated the risks and volatility that persist on the Syrian/Syria-dominated front.

The first section of this paper reviews ACRS’ record thus far, assessing the bases both for the progress that has been achieved and for the problems that have been encountered in pursuing greater regional security cooperation. The second section advances a series of policy recommendations for enhancing prospects for getting ACRS back on track.

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