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Realism, Politics and Culture in Middle East Arms Control Negotiations

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The history of arms control efforts in the Middle East consists of numerous initiatives, but very limited results. From the first efforts to negotiate WMD limits and non-proliferation arrangements in the 1960s, through various regional initiatives, frameworks, proposals, discussions, and negotiations, the obstacles to agreement on mutual limitations remained dominant. Frequent discussions in the UN of a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone (MENWFZ), the multi-lateral Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) talks initiated during the 1991 Middle East Peace Conference, and the regional dimensions of global frameworks such as the NPT, CWC, and CTBT have all failed to produce results.

Detailed analysis of these efforts highlights the impact of realist security-based factors, the structure and process of the interactions, as well as the cultural and domestic political dimensions. The existential conflicts, reflected in protracted territorial disputes and denials of legitimacy and compounded by a fundamental asymmetry, created a zero-sum framework in the region. The region is characterized by a great deal of instability and competition; this situation, in turn, contributed to the efforts to acquire WMD. In terms of domestic politics, the regional cooperation required for arms limitation is often inconsistent with the dominant articulated political interests and regime perspectives. In addition, misunderstandings and misperceptions frequently occur due to the complexities of cross-cultural communications in the Middle East. Numerous dialogues have not narrowed the gaps or transformed the zero-sum frameworks into cooperative ones. Hopes for the creation of successful regional mechanisms for limiting arms depend on overcoming the obstacles encountered in past efforts.


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