The Arms Control and Regional Security working group convened after the 1991 Madrid peace conference failed, but it offers important lessons for today.
As the Biden administration formulates its Iran policy, there is an intense debate—in Washington and global capitals—over whether a straightforward return to the Iran nuclear deal will be sufficient to mitigate the perceived threats emanating from the Islamic Republic. Many commentators insist that President Joe Biden must also address Iran’s regional policies and missiles in addition to the original deal.
The Biden team need not start from scratch to launch such a parallel effort. Thirty years ago, the United States led the first comprehensive attempt to address regional security by creating the Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) working group in the wake of the 1991 Madrid peace conference. The talks foundered amid the breakdown of the Israeli-Arab peace process, but they offer important lessons.
To be sure, the region is messier today than it was 30 years ago, with heightened Iranian influence in the region, increasingly complex intra-Arab divides, a complicated role for Turkey, and a bigger Russian presence. Nevertheless, ongoing normalization between Israel and Arab states could enhance the chances for a comprehensive regional security process. Three lessons stand out for the Biden administration as it reflects on what worked—and what didn’t—through ACRS.