The League of Arab States (The Arab League)
Established on March 22, 1945, the League of Arab States aims to strengthen political relations and facilitate cooperation among member states, as well as to "safeguard their independence and sovereignty." Pursuant to the Arab Pact, the League's founding Charter, all "independent Arab states" are entitled to membership in the organization. The League currently has 22 members - all of the Arab states; and several non-Arab states have been invited to participate in its activities as observers.
||Keywords: nuclear weapons-free zone, Israel, Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Arab Peace initiative
The League has two primary organs: a Council, on which all members are represented and have equal votes, and a General Secretariat, currently led by Egypt's former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa. In addition, the League hosts a number of subsidiary bodies charged with promoting Arab military, economic, and social cooperation, including the Arab Economic and Social Council. The League has also served as a forum for treaty development among its members: for example, in 1950, they concluded a joint defense pact, pursuant to which they pledged immediate individual and collective action to repel any act of aggression against another member; in 1994, they adopted the Arab Charter on Human Rights; and in 1997, they declared the establishment of an Arab Free Trade Area. The League's General Secretariat is based in Cairo, Egypt.
Recent Development: Arab League Renews Call for Establishment of Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone
The establishment of a nuclear weapon-free ("NWF") zone in the Middle East, long a point of contention between Israel and other states in the region, is poised to elicit renewed debate as parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty ("NPT") prepare for their 2010 Review Conference. In a working paper submitted on behalf of the Arab League to the Review Conference's Preparatory Committee in April, the government of Syria reiterated the League's position that the issue of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East should be addressed within the framework of the NPT, "based on an integrated, comprehensive approach rather than on cooperation with individual states on a case-by-case basis." The League also demanded that the international community take a number of "practical steps" to press Israel to accede to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state and to submit to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of its nuclear facilities. Invoking a resolution calling for universal accession to the NPT and the creation of a NWF zone in the Middle East, which was adopted by the parties to the NPT in 1995 in tandem with their agreement to extend the treaty indefinitely, the League demanded the allocation of a specific time on the agenda of the 2010 Review Conference to consider the resolution. The League also called for the establishment of a subsidiary body to consider proposals for implementing the resolution and of a standing committee to follow up on an ongoing basis.
Neither the terms nor the tenor of the debate regarding the establishment of a NWF zone in the Middle East have changed markedly over the last several decades. Since 1974, the UN General Assembly has passed annual resolutions calling for the creation of such a zone, and the governments in the region have articulated relatively consistent positions on the matter. Israel, the only Middle Eastern state believed to possess nuclear weapons, and one of only four states in the world yet to accede to the NPT, acknowledges that the creation of a Middle East NWF zone would be desirable. It has insisted, however, that the negotiation of a NWF zone occur outside of the NPT framework and only after the conclusion of peace agreements with the other states in the region. The Arab states, led by Egypt, have argued conversely that Israel should accede to the NPT prior to the commencement of peace talks - or, at minimum, as part of the security package in a peace deal.
What makes the Arab League's latest intervention potentially significant is its relation to two other recent developments. First, the fact that it follows upon the Arab Peace Initiative, which was announced at the Arab Summit in 2002 and reaffirmed in 2007 and 2008, provides an opportunity to overcome the sequencing stalemate that has impeded past efforts to create a NWF zone in the region. According to the Initiative, all of the Arab states are prepared to make peace and establish normal relations with Israel upon its withdrawal from the territories it occupied in 1967, its consent to the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the achievement of a just, agreed solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. Because Israel has expressed unwillingness to accede to the NPT regime absent recognition by its neighbors and peace in the region, the Arab Peace Initiative eliminates one significant obstacle to the creation of a NWF zone in the region. Second, the renewed attention focused on Iran's nuclear program may bolster international interest in addressing the question of Middle East nuclear proliferation at the regional level. Similarly, a decision by Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions in exchange for a package of incentives could help, like the Arab Peace Initiative, to obviate some of the concerns animating Israel's current nuclear posture.
Although progress along these paths remains a remote prospect, they represent, together, an opportunity not only to advance the cause of nuclear non-proliferation in the Middle East, but also to give new energy and purpose to the Arab League, whose 2008 Summit in Damascus was a spectacle of disunity.
Omar M. Dajani
McGeorge School of Law
University of the Pacific
1 December 2008
Pact of the League of Arab States, Mar. 22, 1945, art. 2, available at http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/mideast/arableag.htm (hereinafter Arab Pact).
Arab Pact, art. 1.
Although Palestine has not yet achieved independence, it has been a member of the Arab League since 1976. Neither Israel nor Chad is a member of the League, though both countries have significant Arabic-speaking populations.
Observers include Eritrea, India, and Venezuela
Joint Defence and Economic Co-operation Treaty Between the States of the Arab League, Apr. 13, 1950, available at http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/mideast/arabjoin.htm.
Arab Charter on Human Rights, Sept. 14, 1994, available at http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/arabcharter.html
Arab Free Trade Area Agreement, Feb. 19, 1997, available at http://www.bilaterals.org/article.php3?id_article=2309
Syrian Arab Republic on behalf of the States members of the League of Arab States to the second session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Working Paper: Implementation of the resolution on the Middle East adopted by the 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, U.N. Doc. No. NPT/CONF2010/PC.II/WP.2, (Apr. 9, 2008), available at http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N08/300/59/PDF/N0830059.pdf?OpenElement (hereinafter Arab League Working Paper).
Id., para. 11.
Conference. of Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Resolution on the Middle East, U.N. Doc. No. NPT/CONF.1995/32, available at http://disarmament.un.org/WMD/npt/1995RESME.htm.
Arab League Working Paper, at para. 17.
For a historical review of the debates regarding a Middle East NWF zone, see Savita Pande, Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in the Middle East, 22 Strategic Analysis (1998), available at http://www.ciaonet.org/olj/sa/sa_98pns02.html; Gerald Steinberg, Middle East Peace and the NPT Extension Decision, 4 Nonproliferation Review 17 (1996).
For the full text of the Arab Peace Initiative, see http://www.al-bab.com/arab/docs/league/peace02.htm (last visited Aug. 15, 2008).
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