- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The newly established Union for the Mediterranean is not yet fully formed, but members have already announced rather lofty ambitions for the organization, such as ridding the Mideast of weapons of mass destruction. The union was praised by leaders from the start, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who hailed its grounding focus on “practical projects” - as compared to the previous union established in Barcelona in 1995. However, its nuclear proliferation goals are unrealistic.

The revived Euro-Mediterranean vision began as a proposal during French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s election campaign, and subsequently evolved from ambitions to generate dialogue between the 27 EU member-states, North Africa and Middle Eastern nations. The new Mediterranean organization calls for a North-South co-presidency and a permanent secretariat. In order to equally distribute power and representation, heads of state from each of the member nations will hold a summit every two years.

While the Sarkozy-generated initiative can strengthen diplomatic ties and increase economic interdependence in the Euro-Mediterranean region, it is unlikely that nations will disband their programs. A united quest for disarmament will likely meet the same fate of failure as past attempts made at the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention and the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention.The goal of disarmament has more implications than merely promoting peace - it forces a nation to discount sovereignty and defense and to inherently trust other nations in a less-than-trustworthy international context.

The goal may be timely, with Iran’s missile test expected to exacerbate existing tensions with Israel, and amid speculation over weapons programs in Syria and Israel, but that does not mean it is realistic. For example, to expect Israel to do more than sign the declaration to “pursue a mutually and effectively verifiable Middle East Zone free of weapons,” when Israel continues to face considerable threat from Iran (which would not be part of the agreement) is unrealistic. As for other member states, such as Syria, which is known to have weapons programs, it seems unlikely to yield its weapons capabilities for the greater good.

Rather than fruitlessly attempting to disarm the Middle East of WMDs, members of the Union for the Mediterranean should strive to accomplish more realistic objectives, particularly the creation of a free-trade area in the Euro-Mediterranean region by 2010. These more realistic projects have the potential to coalesce the leadership around a message that leads toward a more peaceful and prosperous region.

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