Since the Second World War and the Cold War, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and fissionable weapons-applicable technology has become one of the most urgent issues for global security. Along with the sectarianism and humanitarian crises that divided the region in civil wars, the Middle East is also the most geopolitically unstable for the threat that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction poses to civilians, both from nuclear weapon states and non-state actors.
In response to the latest chemical attack, which targeted civilians in Khan Shaikoun in southern Idlib, northwest Syria, on April, 4 2017, the US executed a military bomb strike on the Al Shouayrat airbase of Syria on April 6, 2017. A week later, Russia vetoed the UN resolution to condemn Syria for the attack. This demonstrates that the use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria is still not resolved by the members of the UN or The United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
Though there are strong voices from individual states, the United Nations, as an organization, has come to no clear decision. In other words, we are witnessing that the United Nations Security Council serve as a platform for competition between great powers, where permanent members mainly address their own political intentions and strategic interests, rather than ‘maintain[ing] international peace and security’ as is declared to be the main principle of the UN Charter (Article 1).
In recent years, in the arena of mass weapons production, the problem has taken a new shape, as it has emerged that along with states threatening international peace and order, non-states actors, which are mainly based in fragile and failed states, could have access to these weapons, and thus, could cause human catastrophe on a global scale. In order to overcome the current challenges facing the organization (and therefore, the whole world), to save the Middle East from chaos, and to prevent the use of nuclear weapons by states and non-states actors in the region, it is time to launch new reforms of the UN Security Council.
It is necessary to increase membership of the UNSC, including a permanent representative of the views of Middle Eastern countries, from the region. It is crucial that this state be granted permanent membership because permanent members have the power to veto – an essential instrument for demonstrating the position of a state, and for empowering the state to avert resolutions that jeopardise peace and stability within the region and the world.
Nowadays, in contrast to the General Assembly, which has true worldwide representation, the United Nations Security Council has only five permanent members with veto power (China, France, Russia, the UK and the US), and ten non-permanent members elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly. In giving a member seat to Saudi Arabia, the UN would empower the Middle East to respond to regional issues based on the interests of the Middle Eastern states affected, not only those of the current permanent UNSC members.
Saudi Arabia is more interested in the future of the region simply because it is located there. Saudi Arabia’s future is aligned with that of the region as a whole. Because of its historical background, Saudi Arabia also has a better appreciation and understanding of the cultures and values of the Middle East. Moreover, as one of the members of the UNSC, Saudi Arabia could facilitate the development of stronger relationships between the Middle East and the five permanent members.
In order to support my argument, firstly, I will examine the historical context of nuclear armament and disarmament in Iran and Syria. I will demonstrate that the UNSC members’ positions during the meeting of the Security Council are tactical, and are based more on their geopolitical interests than the aim to find solutions for global problems within the UN.
Secondly, I will explain the importance of providing a platform for a regional player such as Saudi Arabia to represent the region’s interests in the UNSC, and to become an active global actor which is dedicated to the peaceful development of the region.
As the historical heart of Islam, Saudi Arabia can represent the interests of all Muslims around the world, not only those in the Middle EastDiana Galeeva
Iran and Syria
The historical development of the Iranian nuclear programme clearly demonstrates that the great powers’—the permanent members of the UNSC’s—positions on this issue within the UN are related to their own political interests and strategies. In 1957 Iran signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the administration of the United States and leased several kilograms of enriched uranium (Perkovich, 2003).
Iran continued to rely on the US and western states throughout the early phases of its nuclear program, founding the Atomic Center of Tehran University, and a research reactor in the 1960s, with enriched fuel provided by AMF, an American company (Kemp, 2003).
Iran also signed agreements with the US in 1974 to purchase eight reactors; and with Germany in the same year to build a power reactor at Bushehr; and with France in 1977, to build two reactors at Darkhovin. Iran bought a 10 percent share in a uranium enrichment plant built by a French company, Tricastin, and bought yellowcake from South Africa, where it financed an enrichment plant. The Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran was formed in 1974 (Gawdat, 2007).
After the revolution in 1979, Iran’s nuclear program came to a freeze as Ayatollah Khomeini believed that it contradicted the main pillars of Islam. However, in the 1980s, Iranian officials restarted the nuclear program. Due to tensions with the US, Iran turned to the USSR and China, and in 1990 signed nuclear cooperation agreements with Moscow and Beijing. After five years Russia agreed to a deal worth $800 million to complete the first reactor in Bushehr.
In 2002 the international community expressed concern with Iran’s nuclear program. In 2006, the Council imposed a series of sanctions on Iran for its non-compliance with the earliest Security Council resolution requiring from Iran to suspend enrichment–related activities without delay (Simon, 2007). After this resolution, the IAEA produced a report stating that Iran had permitted inspections under its safeguards agreement but had not suspended its enrichment-related activities.
This change was especially important since it reflected a unification of the western powers along with Russia and China. The Americans for the first time since the 1979 revolution, decided to negotiate straightforwardly with Iran about its nuclear program. According to the Gawdat (2007) Iranian experts believe that the American policy reversal was a deliberate tactical manoeuvre to highlight Iranian intransigence and to win Russian and Chinese support for a tough UN resolution penalizing Iran.
Iran’s nuclear program
The discussion of whether Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful has remained one of the most lively and important within the United Nations, and is consistent with how the permanent members have interacted with Iran since the beginning. For example, it is evident by examining the speeches of the countries during the 5848 meeting of the UNSC in 2008 (S/PV.5848), that western states (the US, and France) which initially helped to implement the nuclear program, but did not help to develop it after the Iranian revolution, were very critical; while others (Russia, China) reacted oppositely.
According to the French representative, for example, Iran hid a clandestine nuclear programme for 20 years [to 2008] in violation of its Safeguard Agreement and without a reliable civilian use. France claimed that Iran has publicized information on its own initiatives, and has cooperated with the IAEA only periodically since the programme was made public. While the enrichment needed to create fissile material was being undertaken, Iran was also working on different technologies that could be used in combination to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran is also persistently creating long-range missiles. Moreover, the US representative highlighted the latest IAEA report  demonstrates that Iran did not show serious progress in developing a peaceful nuclear program: ‘Iran is hiding weapons work and thereby preserving or establishing options for a nuclear weapons programme’ (2008:16).
The global community has plenty of causes for concern about Iran’s efforts to obtain nuclear weapons capabilities. Iran has been destabilizing the political situation in the Middle East by finding and sponsoring terrorists and militants who have operated in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories. By contrast, the Chinese representative explained that ‘developments regarding the Iranian nuclear issue are mixed’ (2008:17).
On the one hand, the report of the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) explains that the Agency can confirm the non-diversion of declared nuclear capacity in Iran and has no accurate information of potential undeclared nuclear activities in Iran. On the other hand, the report explained that Iran has not suspended uranium improvement.
Welcoming the adaptation of the resolution, the representative of Russia encouraged the council to recognise Iran’s legitimate rights under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and to approach Iran’s programme as it would any non-nuclear party: by calling for a solution to the Iranian nuclear program through diplomatic and political spheres.
The Syrian case
The Syrian case also demonstrates that permanent states of the UNSC are more concerned with their own geopolitical interests than finding a solution for dealing with non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region. Members of the UN have described the repeated use of chemical weapons against civilians during the on-going Civil War in Syria as barbarous.
At the 7893rd meeting of the Security Council (28 February, 2017), with the agenda The situation in the Middle East (S/PV.7893), one French representative asserted that prohibited weapons of mass destruction have been used several times in the Syrian conflict, despite the fact that 192 States are committed to demolishing their existing stockpiles, through their ratification of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction.
There is no consensus between UN Members about who is using the weapons of mass production in Syria, which also contributed to the failure to draft resolutions on the subject (for example, S/2017/172). The US representative stated that Russia and China refuse to hold Bashar Al-Assad’s regime responsible for the use of chemical weapons. Though the Security Council banned the Bashar Al-Assad regime from keeping any chemical weapons in 2013, Al-Assad continues to use these savage weapons.
After a year of investigation, representatives of the United States came to the conclusion that the Al-Assad regime used chemical weapons three times from 2014 to 2015, and that ISIS used chemical weapons once. By contrast, Russia expresses scepticism about the conclusions of the third and forth reports (S/2016/738/ Rev.1 and S/2016/888) of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and urges the United Nations to investigate the cases of the use of chemical weapons in Syria as well.
In addition, Russia expresses concerns that JIM’s conclusions did not take into account the fact that besides the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, there is a widespread use of toxic materials in Syria by the Al-Nusra Front and other opposition groups. China’s position was that the Council in the past reached essential results in terms of abolishing the stockpile of chemical weapons in Syria. Currently, investigations on the use of chemicals as weapons are in progress, so it is too early to make final conclusions.
Moreover, the Council should preserve its union and continue to support the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The United Nations’ Joint Investigative Mechanism therefore must implement its investigation in a professional way, based on fair and objective criteria. Despite the UN’s initiatives, they could not come to a conclusion about how to deal with the following threat.
The response of the permanent members of the UNSC are mostly quite predictable and indeed serve the strategic interests of these great powers, rather than finding solutions for maintaining peace and stability in the world.
Why Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia’s potential permanent membership of the UNSC should be considered in relation to its importance to the whole Muslim world. Saudi Arabia is the heart of the Islamic world, its cities of Mecca and Medina are the cradle of Islam, and the destination of the hajj pilgrimage. It seems sometimes that Saudi Arabia is mistakenly associated only with the wealth it derives from its oil revenues, however, as the heart of Islam, its religious legacy can never be stolen. This is the key distinctive characteristic of Saudi Arabia: its fortune and its blessing.
The expansion of the Two Holy Mosques contributed to the tripling of the amount of overseas Umrah visitors over the last decade, which increased to eight million in 2015. The Saudi’s ‘Vision 2030’ predicts that by 2020 more than 15 million Muslims per year will perform Umrah, and by 2030 they aim to increase this to 30 million every year by improving the quality of services offered to Umrah visitors.
Hajj is one of the main pillars of Islam and one of the main duties for every Muslim to make, and Saudi Arabia is the place where this (hajj) can be fulfilled. Thus, the importance of having Saudi Arabia as a permanent member of the UNSC goes beyond Saudi Arabia as a state. It is more about what the place represents – it is holy to all Muslims in the world.
As the historical heart of Islam, Saudi Arabia can represent the interests of all Muslims around the world, not only those of Muslims in the Middle East. If competitions emerge between the great powers of UNSC (the permanent members), Saudi Arabia could represent the interests of states with large Muslim populations (for example, Malaysia and Indonesia), using veto power, if required, to ensure that the world does not develop or divide only in accordance with the competitive geopolitical interests of the founding powers.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s importance for the Muslim world will also help the UNSC to identify a common understanding of terrorism and extremism. For example, most frequently, Shiite militias are not being considered as extremists. Most discussions in academia focus on Sunni political Islam only, because great powers view the issue from the perspective of their own security.
This identification will also help in dealing with the issue of nuclear armament in the region, as the international community would classify non-state actors (as terrorists or extremists) the same, and would therefore not give them an opportunity to obtain nuclear weapons. In addition, because Saudi Arabia is the heart of the Muslim world, it can help to resolve one of the most alarming problems in the Middle East – sectarianism.
Since 2003, sectarianism became the cause of civil wars, and the emergence of fragile and failed states in place of former regional leaders. Some of the Middle Eastern leaders finally should understand that the sectarianism policies are short-term rather than long-term strategies, which has proven to be unsuccessful. Letting Saudi Arabia, as a holy place for all Muslims, represent the issues of the region and the interests of both the Sunni and Shi’a sects equally, will help to create a peaceful dialog among states in the region, and therefore contribute to the ending of the chaos that continues to this day.
Diana Galeeva is a PhD Candidate at the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University. Her PhD research focuses on theories of power, IR theory, small states, political islam and GCC politics. She was an intern at the the President of Tatarstan’s office - Department of corporation and Religious organizations (2012), Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Tatarstan, legal department (2011), and the Ministry of justice (2010). Diana received her M.A. in International Relations from Exeter university in the UK, and earned a degree in Governmental Law from Kazan Federal University (KFU). She speaks English, Russian, Tatar and studies Arabic and Turkish. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org and @diana_galeeva.