A Young Egyptian's Perspective on Non-Proliferation in the Middle East

By Karim Kamel
posted on February 23, 2014 in Diplomacy, Security/Intelligence

Immersing myself in nonproliferation studies has been a thrilling life journey. Growing up in Egypt, I realized early in life that I live in a highly volatile region, where war rhetoric and existential threats prevailed. I remember thinking: can’t we do something different? Can’t we come up with an alternative to this apocalyptic vision?

After finishing my undergraduate studies majoring in political science and minoring in biology, I discovered that I really enjoy dealing with work that has both natural sciences and social sciences components. In this regard, nonproliferation was precisely the right field for me, and I decided to pursue a master’s degree on the subject.

While working at the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs in Vienna in 2012, I had the honor to meet Dr. Chen Kane, who told me about the Middle East Next Generation Arms Control Specialists Network. The idea of engaging in projects with young specialists from across the region on arms control sounded exciting, and I instantly confirmed my interest in joining.

I’m interested in nonproliferation in the Middle East not only because it fosters peace; I also find it fascinating because it exists in the intersection of science and policy. I not only have to understand the policies of controlling weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but also the materials that comprise WMD, and what technologies contribute to their development, control, and elimination.

Working for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) was the ideal way to utilize my knowledge of science and policy. The CTBTO has one of the most sophisticated verification regimes, and there is a great degree of science that a policy person needs to be familiar with in order to produce sound work. Whenever I was tasked to write a policy memo or draft a speech, I always had to address both the policies and the sciences behind the Treaty, explaining elements of the verification regime and tying them to the broader policy applications. Drawing on my background in both of these fields for my work was enormously rewarding.

The Middle East Next Generation Arms Control Specialists Network is another example of this stunning interaction between science and policy. The group is composed of scientists and social scientists that come together to discuss ways to alleviate the threats of WMD in the region. Being part of the Network has been valuable not simply because it allows us to build connections with experts from across the region: perhaps the best part is sitting in the same room with people who come from different disciplines and backgrounds to discuss arms control issues in an open dialogue.

Working on projects, such as building the online arms control course, with members of the network has been an opportunity to expand the way I think about nonproliferation in the Middle East. It is brainstorming in its most literal sense. There is nowhere where I have felt the strength of flowing ideas that go beyond mainstream rhetoric and attempting to examine solutions that truly challenge “the box” as much as I do when working with fellows from the Network.

Currently, we are working on launching a petition to promote the Middle East WMD-Free Zone. The fact that we have people from across the region who will give the document – which none of us could have crafted alone – so much weight and depth, is truly incredible.


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