x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Albania offers a lesson to this region

Collective security has worked well for the GCC, which is free of non-conventional weapons. It could also work further afield.

As one of only two Muslim-majority nations in Nato, Albania revels in its pro-western stance. It’s new prime minister, Edi Rama is a dynamic, popular liberal politician. He has big plans for the small country.

Thus, after Bashar Al Assad handed over his chemical weapons and the United States asked Albania to dismantle and store them, Mr Rama saw an opportunity. Indeed, the country has the technical expertise, having dismantled its own communist-era weapons a decade ago. But a furious popular backlash from Albanians brought hundreds on to the streets and forced a U-turn. Albania, Mr Rama said on Friday, would not host the weapons.

A good thing, too. Chemical weapons are awful concoctions: dangerous to manufacture, to own, to use and to destroy. Creating them diverts brains and money from a country. Keeping them causes suspicion among neighbours. And using them leads to international pariah status (although, in the case of Mr Al Assad, little more than condemnation). The countries with the most, America and Russia, say they will destroy theirs. In the region, only Libya and Israel are thought to still possess them.

The idea of a Middle East free of such weapons stretches back to 1995, when the UN adopted a resolution advocating it. Yet since then, no other region has suffered as much from chemical weapons, including Mr Al Assad’s use of them against his own people earlier this year.

What this region needs is fewer weapons of mass destruction. Israel’s nuclear weapons have prompted first Iraq, then Syria and Iran to seek them. India’s nuclear capacity was swiftly matched by Pakistan. If Iran were to get a nuclear weapon, other regional states might seek one. The arms race that started with chemical weapons now applies to nuclear ones.

The loss of Syria’s weapons is a good thing. Libya and Israel should follow. It is ambitious to expect the whole Middle East to be free of such dangerous weapons, but it is not impossible. Albania has a lesson for the Middle East: after the country gave up its chemical weapons, it put its faith in the collective security umbrella of Nato. Collective security has worked well for the GCC, which remains free of non-conventional weapons. It could also work further afield.