Missiles and Related CSBMs/Reductions as Bridge-builders at the Helsinki Conference

The Context: Missiles and the Mandate of the Helsinki Conference on a WMD/DVs Free Zone

In May 2010, the 189 members of the Review Conference to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons endorsed holding a Middle East Conference (MEC) in 2012 whose aim would be to create a zone in the Middle East “free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of destruction” (WMD). Delivery systems – or vehicles (DVs) – were explicitly included in the Mandate in paragraph 7(d) which refers to the “full implementation” of the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East. While “all other” WMD comprise biological and chemical weapons, delivery systems usually consist of ballistic and cruise missiles, of aircraft as well as of unmanned aerial vehicles. Missile defense systems could also be included in principle, since they are the ‘technological twins’ of ballistic missiles.

International organizations were asked “to prepare background documentation” for the MEC “regarding modalities for a zone free of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles” (paragraph 7(d) of the Mandate). In my contribution this task is understood as the effort of conceptualizing confidence- and security-building measures (CSBMs) properly as one element of a gradual reduction path towards the ambitious objective of a sustainable WMD/DVs Free Zone.

The Case for Missiles

To be sure, the success of having the Bashar al-Assad regime join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the associated ongoing dismantlement of the chemical stockpiles in Syria after the catastrophic use of chemical weapons on August 21, 2013 suggest: missiles may become obsolete once the warheads are destroyed. The enforced Syrian membership in the CWC may even trigger new and positive dynamics. They might lead Israel to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention, which it signed in 1993. But tackling the issue of Israel’s nuclear capabilities will be rocky and cumbersome and require trust-building efforts regarding all three categories of weapons of mass destruction that carry them. Therefore, the rationale presented here for a prominent role for delivery vehicles in this long process is far from being obsolete.

This contribution emphasizes the importance of DVs and hence missiles, and makes the case: first, for the category of delivery vehicles as having a constructive role to play in the Helsinki Conference; second, that discussions about missiles and related CSBMs allow for a number of conceptual, political, and procedural advantages. Therefore, confidence- and security-building measures will be defined first, while arms control, reductions, and disarmament will be neglected simply for reasons of space. But it is important to note that both elements have to be seen as parts of an integrated and long-term concept. They make it possible to design a gradual reduction of delivery systems leading towards the ambitious goal of a sustainable WMD/DVs Free Zone, as envisaged by the international community in May 2010. Secondly, missiles like all other DVs or WMD have to be seen primarily in a regional context. This implies that in principle conflict formations are paramount to arms dynamics.

Confidence- and security-building measures are understood as being aimed at reducing tensions and the dangers of armed conflict, but also at reducing the misunderstanding associated with military activities. The dimension of lacking clear and timely information especially in crisis situations is of special relevance. Therefore, military openness/transparency is a central element of the concept of CSBMs. It will also be important to distinguish between two categories: first, non-demanding/modest CSBMs include declarations on the no-first use of missiles, the exchange of information on missile projects and activities (especially in times of crisis); second, far-reaching confidence- and security-building measures include the de-targeting and de-alerting of missiles.

As to the potential advantages of missiles, which are part and parcel of the Mandate for the Helsinki Conference, this contribution would like to emphasize: they are a suitable starting point for serious and credible arms control discussions and they may, in the first place in politically explosive relationships, be an immediate de-escalatory tool to manage and decrease deep-rooted mistrust. Because discussions of missiles are less politically loaded than especially talks about nuclear weapons, this can help initiate dialogue at the MEC and serve as trial balloons for exploring further negotiating options. In addition, missiles provide opportunities for initial norm building in a virtually norm-free zone. Since they are indispensably linked to WMD and other DVs, a discussion of missiles can have a spill-over effect into other areas of DVs and warheads). Finally, missiles increase opportunities for trade-offs and bargaining: the Helsinki agenda with a focus broader than the nuclear issue makes trade-offs more likely and provides additional room for bargaining and compromise, based on the principle of ‘give a little, take a little’. At the same time, including all three categories of WMD and of DVs reduces the danger of singling out countries with actual (Israel) or possibly emerging (near) nuclear weapon capabilities (Iran).

The Challenges for Missile-related CSBMs

Two questions need to be answered: first, what can CSBMs achieve and what can they not achieve with respect to the five main arms control/reduction- and MEC-related challenges? Second, what is the constructive potential of CSBMs with respect to the political core challenges? Relevant is in this respect the important but limited role of missile-related trust-building measures in three contexts: the Israeli-Egyptian dyad and the relationship between Israel and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as well as the Israeli-Saudi-Iranian triangle. To be more concrete:

  • As to the Israeli-Egyptian dyad, the question is: how can missile-related CSBMs contribute to constructively tackling the core challenge, i.e. the nuclear problem?
  • As to the Israeli-GCC relationship, the question is: how can missile-related CSBMs contribute to tackling constructively the core challenge in this constellation, i.e. bringing the long-standing Israeli-Arab conflict with its emphasis on the Palestinian dimension and the lack of a formal (diplomatic) relationship between Israel and the Gulf states in line with their comparatively relaxed military situation?

In the Israeli-Saudi-Iranian triangle, it is important to ask: how can missile-related CSBMs contribute to tackling constructively the core challenges, i.e. the highly adversarial relations lacking official dialogue – especially between Israel and Iran, but also between Saudi Arabia and Israel?

In addition, the following five main arms control/reduction- and MEC-related challenges can be identified:

  1. Managing and reducing deep-rooted mistrust (and de-escalating crisis situations);
  2. Providing incentives for a flexible and serious arms control dialogue on the WMD/DVs Free Zone at the Middle East Conference   and at other forums;
  3. Generating potential spill-over effects for talks on WMD and other DVs (such as aircraft) with transparency as the crucial element;
  4. Tackling norm-building challenges in the context of the two existing regimes, the Hague Code of Conduct Against the Proliferation of Ballistic Missiles and the Missile Technology Control Regime;
  5. Exploring opportunities for trade-offs and bargaining on missiles and other delivery vehicles as well as nuclear, biological, and chemical warheads.

The Results: Missile-related CSBMs are of (Limited) Importance

The discussion about missiles as part and parcel of the MEC Mandate has a potential ability to make a solid contribution to meet all those five challenges. At the same time trust-building steps cannot solve basic political problems in state relationships. This is in accordance with one of our core assumptions that in principle conflict formations are paramount to arms dynamics. Nevertheless, DV/missile-CSBMs can contribute to mitigating those conflicts. As argued at the beginning of my contribution, a vital fourth step is to develop mechanisms for reductions and zonal disarmament as well as to make the zone even sustainable.

Ambassador Jaakko Laajava is a trustworthy person and his team at the MEC will select and propose the appropriate confidence-building steps at the right time (for instance as trial balloons).