Beirut Hosts Middle East Arms Conference

By Bilal Y. Saab – According to the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star, U.N. representatives urged Middle East states to hash out their  differences to control international weapons trade, as a closed-door seminar with countries across the region kicked off in Beirut this week.

Everything was off the record in the meeting so we don’t know much about what happened or what was discussed. The Iranians and Syrians, in true ACRS non-participation style (ok, fine, Iran was not invited to the 1990s ACRS process but Syria was and decided not to show up) did not attend the meeting. Maybe they were not invited, but I doubt it. The Europeans and the UN folks like a full house in their conferences.

Also interesting is the fact that the event did not get much coverage in the international media or in the arms control blogosphere (that is why we are here friends, to report on even the most obscure and insignificant developments). Many will dismiss the event as useless and even funny. Middle Eastern countries controlling arms trafficking? Yes, and Bibi just accepted the 67 borders as the basis of negotiations for a two-state solution to the I-P conflict.

We probably should not expect much from the event but the mere fact that it happened, in Beirut my hometown, shows relative progress on arms control in the ME. Kudos to the UN for setting this up. And you know what else would be nice if it also happened in December? The 2012 Middle East conference on a WMD-free Middle East. Yes, Washington wants nothing to do with it and not one official in the State Department doesn’t think that it is causing headaches already (it may turn out to be a circus if the Iranians show up and play the victim role, and if the Egyptians and Israelis resume their old NPT fights), but if only it could happen and re-start the process, that could lead to something (I say could, not would). Process for the sake of process is never good, I get it,  just look at the Middle East peace process, but it’s better to talk than fight.

Photo: Aviation Week.