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Talking Nuclear: An Arab Debate on Critical Issues

The tumultuous changes in the Middle-East and the social movements which accompanied them have been at the forefront of the ongoing Middle East security analysis. The internal stability of regimes which was hitherto assumed to be intact was washed away by the torrent of the Arab spring inspired by social injustice and gross inequality. Yet, foreign policy, hard security and nuclear proliferation remain salient issues, particularly in a region which has seen unrest in the recent past and a remarkable increase in the number of non-state actors.

The significance of debate on nuclear politics and proliferation in the Arab world rests on three remarkable pillars, namely the political relevance of nuclear capability for foreign policy maneuverability of Arab states vis-à-vis Israel; the possibility of proliferation to non-state actors which presents unprecedented risks to the region; and the possession of nuclear capabilities for peaceful purposes in a region that seeks to maintain energy security for an ever growing population. Whereas, the Arab street may not find nuclear issues to be of paramount importance to deliberate at this current juncture, hard security issues will undoubtedly resurface after the internal dust settles.

It is with this view that a Jordanian think-tank has launched an electronic platform to initiate dialogue on non-conventional capabilities in the Middle East.

“The Nuclear Forum,” aims to engage Arab voices from academia, NGO’s, and the policy making fields to put forth their ideas and opinions on nuclear issues as well as weapons of mass destruction issues (WMD).

The forum, jointly launched by the Arab Institute for Security studies (ACSIS) and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) aims at “establishing a community of scholars with the intention of collecting information, requesting input from them, establishing coordination and highlighting challenges in non-conventional technologies.” In doing so, the Nuclear Forum aims to create a knowledge base for multidisciplinary research, especially in determining the micro-incentives for each of the actors involved and the resulting macro-policies adopted.

The organizers of this initiative claim that this is the solitary electronic forum dedicated to discussing nuclear issues and hard security matters in the Arab world. Although, the views expressed in the nuclear forum reflect the numerous voices and opinions of intellectuals in the Arab world, there has been a significant departure from the official policies of many of the Arab states. Ayman Khalil, one of the moderators of the forum says that a number of radical ideas have been proposed and uncommon policy prescriptions have been put forth by the contributors. He refers to growing calls by Arab intellectuals to reconsidering positions towards international treaties and possibly boycotting NPT review conferences. Dr. Khalil opines that these developments reflect a growing frustration within Arab intellectuals for the plodding pace of development in some of these instruments.

According to the Nuclear Forum, a growing number of policy analysts are calling for Arab states to develop non-conventional capacities to confront a nuclear Iran or a nuclear Israel. These approaches notwithstanding, the forum also receives significant amounts of written contributions reflecting the traditional course of action adopted by the League of Arab States and its member states.

The Nuclear Forum serves as a hotbed for the nuclear energy debate. This public electronic forum provides the time and space for opposing sides of the spectrum to debate and lay out their stances on nuclear energy. Dr. Khalil says: “At a time where opponents and proponents of nuclear energy have a clear difficulty in initiating dialogue and in many occasions engaging in heated debates/conflicts, the nuclear forum provides neutral grounds for a healthy debate between various parties.”

The “Nuclear Forum” claims that opinions received will be published regardless of their “political orientation,” but provided their submissions qualifies “academically.”

The Sponsors of the forum are confident that the emphasis on foreign policy, nuclear and WMD issues will be the foremost priority for the region and its citizens very soon, possibly prior to concluding Arab Spring developments. The Arab world faces an acute divide on some of the most pressing dilemmas in the Middle East: the Iranian nuclear program, the future of nuclear technology in the Arab world and the value of nuclear deterrence in the region are contested by academicians and citizens alike.

It is in this vein that the Nuclear Forum calls for engagement and dialogue within the Arab world and possibly probing Arab public perceptions. Regardless of the motivation driving the forum organizers, vibrant and engaging discussion has the effect of defining and clarifying issues at hand and their ramifications for the public. An effective dialogue among scientists, policy makers, international-affairs specialists and grass roots contributes to the freedom of expression, promotes democratic values and allows for exploring the situation from various angles.