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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Security Implications of the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East

Authored by Dr. Sami G. Hajjar.

December 17, 1998

60 Pages

Brief Synopsis

This monograph addresses the important question of the security implications for the nations of the region of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. The Strategic Studies Institute is pleased to offer the monograph as a contribution to the national security debate on this important issue. The author offers a unique perspective based on extensive interviews that he conducted in the region, and makes specific policy recommendations for U.S. military and civilian decisionmakers.


This monograph focuses on the proliferation of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The weapons and their means of delivery are referred to collectively as weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The author argues that the Arab-Israeli conflict and the lack of progress in the peace process are strong incentives for nations in the region to acquire WMD. Iran-Iraq rivalry is another incentive affecting nations in the Gulf region. The analysis assumes the theme of the inter-connectivity of proliferation issues across regional divides. Therefore, a successfully concluded peace process may not necessarily reverse the proliferation trend as Israel might continue to be concerned about Iran’s WMD capability. The interconnectivity theme complicates U.S. efforts on behalf of nonproliferation in the region.

Relying on unclassified U.S. Government and other open sources, the author documents the Israeli, Iranian, and major Arab WMD programs. Besides outlining each nation’s WMD capabilities, he makes reference to documented use of WMD in the region, considers the reasons why the major regional powers seek WMD capabilities, and examines the nature of the proliferation dynamic in the region.

Based on interviews that the author conducted with Middle Eastern officials and scholars, the monograph offers a regional view on the problem of proliferation. These interviews revealed that the quest to achieve a balance of power, the lack of trust between Arabs and Israelis, and the perception that the United States in its regional role is not evenhanded in its treatment of local actors are the factors contributing to the vertical and horizontal proliferation trends that are making the region highly dangerous and volatile.

Given U.S. vital interests in the Middle East, stemming the proliferation trend is an important policy goal. The nonproliferation and the counterproliferation approaches are examined as they apply to the region. The author makes several recommendations designed to strengthen these efforts and to deal more effectively with the causes of proliferation. The recommended measures include a more focused examination of the capability (deployment), motivation (doctrine), and use (employment) components of the WMD threat, the abandonment of declared statements guaranteeing Israel’s military superiority, and a change in the language designating certain states in the regional as “rogue” or “outlaw.” Also recommended is the creation of a U.S. Central Command Middle East Center, similar to the Marshall Center in Europe or the Asia-Pacific Center in Hawaii, to focus on instruction and research in the area of security and defense issues. Such changes should create a more positive environment in which the nations of the region might be motivated to devise security regimes that could tackle the issue of proliferation.

Access Full Report [PDF]: Security Implications of the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East

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