The EU facilitated talks on making the Middle East a WMD-free zone and pushed for greater pressure on Iran, but progress on both fronts is limited.
After the qualified success of the 2010 Review Conference on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), there was less intensive diplomacy on the global nuclear agenda in 2011. The EU did, however, prioritise following up on the Review Conference’s call for discussions about making the Middle East a WMD-free zone, which offers a potential (if very fragile) framework to de-escalate tensions around Iran’s and Israel’s nuclear programmes. In July, the EEAS convened a seminar on the issue in Brussels. This was welcomed by disarmament experts as it brought together representatives of all the Middle Eastern states including Iran. In October, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon decided that Finland should host and facilitate a formal conference on the topic in 2012. However, further closed-door talks on the initiative at the IAEA in November were undermined when Iran did not attend and Arab participants launched a series of attacks on Israel. The 2012 conference is likely to be difficult.
Disturbing evidence of Iran’s nuclear ambitions continued to emerge throughout the year. In November, IAEA monitors published a report confirming the scale of Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon. The IAEA board decided to postpone decisions on its response to 2012. This was widely seen as a setback for the Americans and Europeans – led by France – who had called for a quicker response. The EU has responded by planning more stringent sanctions on Iran’s energy industry. The EU’s commitment to sustaining the global architecture for non-proliferation may be further tested in 2012 if tensions with Iran escalate. This challenge threatens to undermine European efforts to sustain the NPT as a whole. Meanwhile, a summit on the Biological Weapons Convention in December highlighted the growing risks of new technologies facilitating a bio-attack. While the European Council agreed a position on strengthening this convention well in advance, it favours incremental confidence-building.