Dangerous New World

Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced, according to The London Times, that they would join the group of states developing nuclear technology.

This should be a serious warning to the international community: The expected participation of six Arab states in the nuclear race will transform the Middle East into a focal point of tension that will adversely affect global stability and potentially serve as cause for the outbreak of a nuclear war. The destructive effects of such a war will extend well beyond regional borders.

Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced, according to The London Times, that they would join the group of states developing nuclear technology. However, all made it clear that they would only undertake nuclear development for civilian purposes - but Iraq, North Korea and Iran did the same in the past. The absurdity in the regimes that currently seek to prevent nuclear proliferation is that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will assist these states in acquiring the technologies necessary for the development of fissile material - the primary element in the development of a nuclear bomb. And this is in accordance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which all six states are signatories/members.

The lesson is not being learned. Even when Iraq used its membership in the treaty, and vigorously sought to develop nuclear weapons under its aegis; after North Korea managed to complete the development of the bomb while being a member of the NPT; and as it becomes clear of late that Iran, another member state, continues to develop nuclear weapons - the international community is not taking any action to alter this unacceptable situation.

The failure of the United States to prevent North Korea from completing development of the bomb made it clear once more that whoever hopes for an international mobilization to firmly oppose Iran, will be disappointed. Even when it was clear that Iran's progress toward a nuclear capability would result in the entry of its neighbors and regional rival into a nuclear armament race, the main players in the international arena, who negotiated with the regime in Tehran (Britain, France and Germany), have continued to treat the blackmailing tactics of the Ayatollahs with great leniency.

If indeed the six Arab states, or some of them, do succeed to develop a bomb, this will signal a lot more than a "new Middle East": It will be a new world, significantly more dangerous than the world that existed during the Cold War period. The model of mutual deterrence based on a balance of terror, which constituted the basis for strategic stability until the collapse of the Soviet Union, succeeded mostly because only two players took part in it. The rules of the game between the United States and the U.S.S.R., regarding mutual deterrence, were clear to both sides, and so was the recognition that a nuclear war was futile.

A similar model, of mutual assured deterrence, can be forged, with a great degree of success, between Israel and Iran. The rules of the game that will crystalize between the two, when Iran has nuclear arms, will ensure that the two regimes will avoid making use of the bomb, out of an understanding that this will result in the total destruction of their countries. However, if the nuclear game is joined by other players, it will be impossible to create a bilateral model of deterrence. It will be necessary to develop a number of combined deterrent systems, against a number of players. It will thus no longer be an Israeli attempt to deter Arab states and Iran, but also an attempt by them to deter each other.

The existence of a large number of circles of deterrence - every one with its own rules of the game and different strategic considerations - will necessarily lead to instability. The dangers of miscalculation, of misunderstanding the actions of the opponent and of uncontrolled use of the bomb, will increase dramatically.

Out of this it would appear that the collapse of the nuclear nonproliferation regime should be the most important issue on the agendas of Western leaders. The problem is that most of them have still not linked their lenient policies toward North Korea and Iran, to the expected acquisition of nuclear weapons by other countries.

The behavior of the head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, is even more troubling. He is the person who is supposed to warn against the nuclear activities of member states in the NPT, and encourage the international community to take steps against proliferation. Instead, he is opting to "play dumb" and undertake the role of the understanding, sympathetic inspector. Only recently he announced that in spite the inspections, he is unable to determine whether Iran is marching toward the development of nuclear weapons - using the same attitude of forgiveness and understanding he showed with North Korea in the past.

ElBaradei may set the tone, but the failure belongs to George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac and Angela Merkel. The cost will be borne by us all.