The Global Citizen

Search form

Category: nuclear disarmament

September 26 : International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

The struggle against the nuclear weapon cult and threats it poses to the international peace, security and development, like all struggles against belief systems which have outlived their times, is going to be long and arduous." --K. Subrahmanyam

The United Nations General Assembly has designated September 26 as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. It is being celebrated this year for the second time to “enhance public awareness and education about the threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons and the necessity for their total elimination in order to mobilize international efforts toward achieving the common goal of a nuclear-weapon free world."

Achieving global nuclear disarmament--or at least forms of nuclear arms control--is one of the oldest goals of the UN. Nuclear weapon control was the subject of the first resolution of the UN General Assembly and it is the heart of Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT): "Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."  

Can We Leave Our Children A Better World?

I came across a BBC article last week entitled "What our descendants will deplore about us." The article considers human beings' trajectories in recent memory and what we are doing in our contemporary world that our children and grandchildren may find unbelievable--and in some cases downright terrible. The apartheid of South Africa and the segregation of the United States, for example, are deplorable to us now as many of the ongoing injustices around the world will look unacceptable to our children.

This article got me thinking about what I would put on a list of issues facing the world at the moment and which of them are critical to address if we want our progeny to look fondly at what we've done and the world we leave them. In doing so, I came up with the following as some of the most important goals for the global community to work toward:

Peace through Nuclear Vulnerability

An Indian Agni-II intermediate range ballistic missile on a road-mobile launcher, displayed at the Republic Day Parade (Photo: <a href="" target="_blank">Agência Brasil</a>

It’s not an intuitive argument that a stronger defense can lead to greater insecurity.  In fact, if you were to tell an individual that their government had the ability to create a system that could shoot down an incoming nuclear-armed ballistic missile, they would almost certainly support its development.

This is precisely the mentality of the Indian government as it works to deploy its own national missile shield; it wants assured protection from Pakistan and China. Yet as you may have probably guessed, I believe that this “conventional wisdom” will lead to unintended consequences. 

No state ever wants to be placed into a world order that puts it at a significant security disadvantage to its rivals. It’s important to remember that it would be a rare situation in which a competing state would accept this shift in the balance of power. When one state develops defense against a nuclear strike, it effectively nullifies the unspoken contract of mutually assured destruction, causing a paranoia that it can use nuclear weapons offensively or at least can use its uneven power to leverage its exposed adversaries. For this reason, the development of an Indian ballistic missile defense (BMD) system has a high likelihood of catalyzing one of two scenarios, both of which will neither provide any benefit to India nor will it lead to greater regional stability.

The first scenario is that its competitors attempt to develop more sophisticated weapons designed to outmaneuver its BMD, such as multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVS). These weapons consist of ballistic missiles armed with several warheads in the bus, which can spread to hit multiple targets, eliminating the effectiveness of BMD. This was at one time successfully employed by the Soviet Union to force the United States to spend exorbitant amounts of research funding into (unsuccessfully) improving its systems.

U.S.-Iran Relations Rekindled: Insh’Allah

Courtesy of Al Jazeera America

A deal has been reached; Iran's nuclear program will halt for the next 6 months.

That is the outcome of Sunday's negotiations between Iran and six global powers this past week. During this hiatus, Iran will not enrich uranium past 20% which is the threshold that makes the process of accumulating fuel for a weapon much faster. It also will not produce any more centrifuges, its stockpiles of uranium shall not exceed 7,154 kg (its current stockpile), and any uranium enriched to 20% or more must be diluted or converted below 5%. These stipulations are intended to freeze any progress and provide oversight on their nuclear program, ensuring that any attempt to pursue a nuclear weapon would be promptly detected.

The relief offered in return for Iranian concessions are structured around four pillars: They are limited, targeted, temporary, and a reversible. The deal suspends certain sanctions on gold and precious metals, Iran's auto industry, and Iran's petrochemical industry, providing a potential $1.5 billion in revenue. It will also provide $400 million in governmental tuition assistance directed from restricted Iranian funds for recognized institutions in third party countries to assist students. The lifted sanctions are intended to help the moderate middle class who will help us in the long run by leveraging Iranians most receptive to abandoning or limiting the nuclear program, hopefully building a constituency in Iran for further U.S. rapprochement.

Nuke Negotiation

The talks about Iran's nuclear program started up again today in Geneva. Britain and Russia seem optimistic that a deal that will work for all parties will be reached, but the United State and France remain skeptical about whether Iran truly wants nuclear energy or actually desires nuclear weapons. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been insisting that Iran is not to be trusted, the negotiating table should be abandoned, and sanction should be increased.

Ayatollah Khamenei told hardliners in Tehran that Iran will not give up its right to peaceful applications of nuclear energy. He claimed that Iran wants peaceful relations with all countries but heavily criticized Netanyahu, France and the U.S. for being overly cautious and unwilling to believe the Iranian government. President Obama said it was not clear whether the negotiation will bear any results at this point in time. U.S. lawmakers have been urging the administration to take a tougher line with Iran, agreeing with Netanyahu that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons and presents a threat to the region.

A UN report states that, since President Rouhani took office this year, Iran has stopped uranium enrichment and has not added any more components to the Arak reactor. This may indicate that Iran genuinely wants to come to an agreement to end sanctions, but keep a nuclear energy program in place.

This is a very delicate period of time for all involved in the negotiations and great care must be taken to avoid letting extremists and spoilers ruin chances to resolve the question of Iran's nuclear program peacefully. A peaceful, constructive agreement would be the best possible outcome for addressing Iran's nuclear ambitions. No one really wants war - an end to sanctions would boost Iran's economy and an increase in oil exports will aid the regional and global economy as well. An Iran that is more open to the world is preferable to one that is ostracized and isolated.

Ban the Bomb!

Image: flickr/_Gavroche_

In April 2009 in Prague, President Obama told an adoring throng that he intended "to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." His administration has undertaken some baby steps in that direction. Most notably there has been the New START Treaty with Russia and ongoing multilateral summits on securing all things nuclear from terrorists.

But the president has not convened any consultations with other states to explore how state parties might go about negotiating a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC). A very elaborate and carefully constructed model NWC-the product of dozens of scientists, lawyers, nuclear experts, and former government officials, and based in large measure upon the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)-has been floating around the nuclear policy arena since 1997. Every year since, the UN General Assembly has passed a quite explicit resolution on the matter, calling for "commencing multilateral negotiations leading to an early conclusion of a nuclear weapons convention, prohibiting the development, production, testing, deployment, stockpiling, transfer, threat or use of nuclear weapons, and providing for their elimination."

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been portrayed in recent weeks as primarily concerned with overseeing the destruction of chemical arsenals-today in Syria but previously in both the United States and Russia. But the fundamental raison d'etre of the OPCW, as envisioned in the CWC itself, is not just to authenticate the destruction of existing stockpiles of chemical weapons but also to verify, over the very long term, that they never again re-enter history.

Nuclear Talks in Geneva

New negotiations concerning Iran's nuclear program occurred this week in Geneva. Iran met with the P5+1 countries, the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. During the meeting, Iran officials said they proposed a plan to ease back Iran's nuclear program. The plan focused on specific aspects of the program which EU officials found encouraging. The participants hope to meet again in Geneva in the near future to continue the discussion that. These are the first nuclear talks that have occurred since Rouhani was elected President of Iran.

The results of this meeting will hopefully lead to better relations between Iran and the United States. If Iran opens up about its nuclear program more can be done to ensure that it is in fact a nuclear energy project and will lead to more trust. Eventually both sides can open up formal diplomatic relations with one another, leaving the past in the past and moving on.

The actions and speeches from Netanyahu's Israel are very concerning. Netanyahu is loudly proclaiming that Rouhani is deceitful, and nothing has really changed. Netanyahu is acting as a spoiler to moving forward in diplomacy; he obviously does not want anyone to have any relations with Iran beyond hostile ones. In global politics there can never be complete trust but there is a difference between being reasonable and laying one's cards on the table for all to see. A little trust is required for negotiations to go anywhere, --not blind or unreasonable trust, just a small amount of good faith. If Iran is not consulted, and not treated like an important player in the region why should they not develop nuclear weapons?

The outcome of this initial meeting was very positive and hopefully will lead to further negotiations. The international community can then verify Iran is not developing nuclear weapons, in which case diplomatic relations may improve and economic sanctions can be loosened. 

A Missed Opportunity and Security Council Progress

Good news and bad news came out the UN this week: the rumored meeting between Presidents Obama and Rouhani did not come to fruition but the Security Council did come to a consensus on Syrian Chemical Weapons but the resolution did not mention consequences. Earlier this week Obama and Rouhani had exchanged letters and the language used suggested that they believed a meeting would be beneficial. Compared to the rhetoric of his predecessor, Rouhani appears to be much more moderate and reasonable. He does not deny the Holocaust nor is openly belligerent and obstinate. Obama is also more moderate that his predecessors who refused to deal with Iran in any way and seemed to want war with the country. The meeting, unfortunately, did not take place; Iranian officials explained that they were worried about the political climate in Tehran and how such a meeting would be received.  Secretary Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif did meet and had a constructive discussion. They agreed to a Security Council hearing on the Iranian Nuclear program in Geneva in October. Progress was made in improving US-Iranian relations but a meeting between Obama and Rouhani would have been more meaningful and significant and would have indicated a commitment to rapprochement.       

International Day of Peace: A Day to Reflect

With news media saturated with war coverage and updates on a possible intervention in Syria in recent weeks, Saturday's International Day of Peace was a welcome opportunity to reflect during this tumultuous international climate. It seems that violent conflict is all too common and some states are all too willing to wage war but the International Day of Peace reminds us of the core principle of the United Nations - to promote peace. Specifically, the day is meant, " devote a specific time to concentrate the efforts of the United Nations and its Member States, as well as the whole of mankind, to promoting the ideals of peace and to giving positive evidence of their commitment to peace in all viable ways."

This year's theme is the power of education. In his address in New York, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, "Every girl and every boy deserves to receive a quality education and learn the values that will help them to grow up to be global citizens in tolerant communities that respect diversity." Though we have problems to solve today, it would behoove us all to consider the problems of tomorrow and prepare the next generation to better meet the challenges of war, climate change, and poverty. The needs of children are especially salient in light of the Syrian conflict with an estimate 1 million child refugees. One million children will grow up with memory of the horrors of war and an education will be imperative in addressing the root causes of conflict.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation is Step One, Nuclear Elimination is Step Two

With the intense media attention that Syrian chemical weapons have generated for the last month, now is the time to consider other weapons of mass destruction and the pressing need to eliminate them for good. Chief among such weapons are of course nuclear weapons. While we hope that the Assad regime will sign on to the Chemical Weapons Convention and turn over its stockpiles, Syria is not the only country in the region that has weapons of mass destruction. Syria's neighbor to the southwest, Israel, has an arsenal of 80 nuclear warheads.

Along with Israel, eight other countries have nuclear weapons. Without a doubt, nuclear warheads have the most destructive potential of any weapons yet devised. One has only to look at the terrible consequences of the U.S. nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to understand this; bombs built after World War II are exponentially more powerful. And even though nuclear weapons have not been used since, the long history of near misses, or "broken arrows", shows the extreme danger that looms over all of us as long as these weapons exist.