METO’s Summer Course on WMD Disarmament and Security in the Middle East

From August 10 to September 7, 2021, METO held its first summer course on WMD Disarmament and Security in the Middle East. The purpose of the course was: to familiarise participants with both the history of the issue and the current challenges in the field of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East and North Africa; to provide skills for analysing WMD proliferation issues; and to identify future scenarios to rid the region of all WMD.

The course of nine sessions was held twice a week for a little under a month. Each lecture lasted an hour and a half. Lectures 2-8 followed the general structure: at the beginning the material of the previous lecture was discussed, students could ask some follow-up questions or discuss an interesting aspect of the problem studied last time; then the guest lecturer gave their presentation, students asked questions, and finally at the end of the session METO course director, Emad Kiyaei summarized the lecture.

During the course, the participants explored the following issues:

1: Course introduction & background on the WMD Free Zone in the Middle East

In the first lecture Emad Kiyaei covered ground on the origins of the WMD Free Zone in the Middle East and the link to the wider geopolitical realities facing the region. During the session, special attention was paid to tracing the transformation of the idea of the Zone, as well as the positions of the states in the region on this issue.

2: World power, WMDs & global non-proliferation conventions

In the second session we were joined by Prof Zia Mian of Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security. He gave us a fascinating lecture on the issues around the international order, in particular: how power works in our present global system; the role of WMDs and efforts to control them in that system; global conventions and arrangements with regard to restricting those weapons of mass destruction in our present order. This session equipped the students with the approach to analyse the events in the Middle East in general and the future of the WMD Free Zone in particular.

3: Nuclear Weapons Free Zones and unconditional security assurances as applied to the Middle East

Our guest speaker for the third session was Dr Tarja Cronberg, Distinguished Associate Fellow at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Dr Cronberg began by stating that once a country abstains from nuclear weapons, logically it seeks guarantees concerning its security. So, the first part of the lecture centred around the question of what kind of security assurances states have and who provides them with these assurances. Then our guest speaker turned to particular cases when states were provided with the security assurances, i.e. nuclear weapons free zones that already exist in the world. Overall, the lecture delivered by Dr Cronberg gave students a deeper understanding of the whole spectrum of nuclear weapons free zones and their conditions.

4: History of regional WMD proliferation & future risks

The guest lecturer for this session was Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian, one of the chief negotiators from 2003-2005 on Iran’s nuclear programme with the European powers, currently a research associate at the Program on Science and Global Security of Princeton University. The lecturer gave a wonderful overview of the political context, both regional and international, in which the idea of a Middle Eastern WMDFZ exists. Students plied the speaker with questions on Iranian, Israeli and American policy with regards to non-proliferation in the region. Ambassador Mousavian in turn presented an in-depth analysis of Obama’s, Trump’s, and Biden’s policies in the Middle East and provided his thoughts on the future strategy of the key regional players.

5: Environmental and Humanitarian Cost of Nuclear War

For the fifth session we were joined by Dr Carlos Umaña, Co-president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear Weapons. The lecture was divided into two parts. First, Dr. Umaña introduced some foundational concepts on nuclear weapons and nuclear technology. Then, their humanitarian consequences (the effect of radiation on health for instance) were discussed. Thanks to our wonderful guest lecturer students were able to form a notion of how nuclear weapons work and their catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

6: Multiple initiatives to achieve a WMD Free Zone in Middle East

Our guest speaker for the sixth session was Dr Chen Kane, Project Lead for the Middle East WMDFZ Project at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), who delivered a presentation on initiatives promoting the Zone, both historic and current. At the beginning of her presentation, the lecturer gave a brief description of the nuclear-weapon-free zones and the obligations of the countries that receive this status. Then, she spoke about existing nuclear-weapon-free zones. After that Dr. Kane outlined the objectives of WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East as well as the challenges to it today. Thus, students were equipped with a great theoretical base on what has been done so far in regards to the WMDFZ in the Middle East and what obstacles are to be overcome.

7: Gender in Disarmament and Security Sector

At this lecture, we were joined by Dr Renata Dalaqua, Project Lead for Gender and Disarmament at UNIDIR, who gave a presentation that covered expert analysis, practical tools, and frameworks to effectively include gender perspectives in the field of disarmament and to apply a gender lens to WMD issues. The presentation sparked a lively discussion among our students, as gender equality issues are often overlooked, and we were very grateful to the lecturer for the valuable information she provided.

8: Advocacy, activism and role of civil society in WMD non-proliferation

The eighth lecture was hosted by METO’s directors Sharon Dolev and Paul Ingram. In the beginning, students shared their thoughts on the course, and we were really grateful to hear such a positive feedback. After that our speakers gave valuable insights on non-proliferation activism to the students. Paul shared pieces of wisdom about international and regional cooperation among states on the WMD-agenda, and the contradiction between protecting sovereignty and mounting tensions. Then Sharon gave an inspiring speech on her activism experience and ways to “create a buzz” about the problem that is to be addressed.

9: Student Presentations

The last session was dedicated to students’ group presentations on various issues that had been covered during the course. The participants worked on either policy recommendations or a design of a public outreach project, activity, or campaign. During the final session students covered a broad field of topics, among them: the benefits of establishing the WMDFZ for the region and its people, the key obstacles facing the establishment of the Zone, and efforts to overcome them, the key elements of feminist perspectives in international security and disarmament. Some students delivered presentations on public outreach projects that were implemented by the participants themselves.

Our summer course had a broad geographic coverage with students coming from 23 different countries. It’s worth noting that 45% of our students come from the region: Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran. As for academic affiliations, there was a significant number of participants studying at King’s College London and the Eastern Mediterranean University (8% and 14% respectively), as well as our METO University Network (20%). It is also worth noting that our course achieved gender-balanced representation with 51% of women participants and 49% of men.

The final grade was based on students’ performance in the following areas: Participation 20%, Essay 35%, Group Assignment & Presentation 45%. As for essays, students were given two options: to write a paper on one of the topics provided or to choose a stakeholder and analyse its stance on the WMD Free Zone. Presentation topics were divided into two groups as well. Students could either deliver a presentation on a particular aspect of the problems covered during the sessions or develop a public outreach project.

It is very important to METO that the participants’ work does not perish after the course ends. That is why our team is currently preparing the best final essays for publication in our METO Student Journal. As for public outreach projects, METO will contact the creators of the best projects, so that we can bring them to life all together.

Having analysed the feedback received, we can surely say that the first course was a successful launch of our Education Programme and we will be incorporating suggestions received in order to make future editions even better. To register for interest in our next course, please click here.