Recent Event: Nuclear Security in the Middle East

On March 29, 2016, during the week of the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS), the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) co-sponsored an event with the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) entitled “Nuclear Security in the Middle East.” The event featured four members of the Middle East Next Generation of Arms Control Specialists Network and was hosted at the CNS DC office. This event uniquely brought together panelists exclusively from the Middle East to discuss NTI’s 2016 Nuclear Security Index and nuclear security in the region.

Using the 2016 NTI Nuclear Security Index as the benchmark for the panel discussion, Michelle Nalabandian, Program Officer for the Scientific and Technical Affairs Program at NTI and a producer of the index, highlighted the scores Middle Eastern countries received and explained the associated factors impacting their low scores. This was the third edition of the Nuclear Security Index that NTI has produced.

Nilsu Goren, a Turkish Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, discussed the NSS process, nuclear security progress and challenges in the region, as well as suggested measures to maintain momentum following the final 2016 NSS meeting.

Dr. Ori Rabinowitz, an Israeli Chevening Scholar and lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, discussed how the index may not correctly reflect Israel’s nuclear security measures. She suggested several measures that both the index authors and Israel can take to increase Israel’s scores.

Farzan Sabet, an Iranian Nuclear Security Predoctoral Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, discussed how the index is less suited to measure nuclear security in countries where executive and security entities are responsible for nuclear security, rather than the legislature whose work is more transparent, and where nuclear programs are highly securitized. He noted the opportunities the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action opens for further cooperation with Iran on nuclear security issues.

El Sayed Ghannam, an Egyptian career diplomat who is currently a visiting fellow at CNS, reviewed Egypt’s position on the index as well as other nuclear security measures the country has adopted. Ghannam reiterated the central role of the IAEA as the sole inter-governmental organization within the UN system with the mandate and experience to deal with the technical elements of nuclear security.

The session closed with the panel chair and Director of the Middle East Nonproliferation Program at CNS, Dr. Chen Kane, asking each panelist to provide one measure their country could adopt to enhance nuclear security domestically. Dr. Rabinowitz’s main recommendation was for Israel to separate its nuclear opacity policy from its nuclear security transparency, stating Israel could implement increased transparency measures without damaging its nuclear opacity. Sabet suggested that Iran should be more transparent on nuclear security measures it already has adopted. Goren proposed that Turkey cancel its nuclear energy deal with Russia, and lastly, Ghannam recommended the maintenance of a voluntary basis for applying additional measures to support the nuclear security architecture.