Europe’s role in global nuclear security

by Jasper Pandza, Research Analyst, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

The threat of terrorists using nuclear and radiological materials will be on the agenda when 54 world leaders convene at the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit in less than two months. Twelve EU countries and President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy are set to attend. Denmark, current holder of the separate rotating EU Presidency, is one of three new countries recently invited by the Korean hosts.

European leaders accept that a nuclear or radiological terrorist attack is a real possibility, but they do not allocate quite the same priority to this threat as the US does. So what role should European nations play in strengthening global nuclear security?

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A good time to talk non-proliferation

The Atomium, BrusselsBy Mark Fitzpatrick, Director of IISS Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme

Sometimes timing can be pivotal. Iran’s controversial nuclear programme has rarely been out of the news in the past six months as we at the IISS have been organising the first EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference, which opens in Brussels later this week. But as this unprecedented assembly of experts on nuclear and other issues kicks off on 3-4 February, concern about the Iranian situation also seems to be at an all-time high – making our wonkish conference of more than usual interest.

The conference comes soon after the EU made its boldest move yet on the non-proliferation front by embargoing Iranian oil purchases, and immediately after inspectors from the IAEA visited Iran for the most senior-level talks in more than three years. The Iran issue will almost certainly be debated throughout the two-day meeting. The last session of the event, at noon on Saturday, should be a fitting climax in that it is devoted exclusively to the Iranian nuclear issue. We are likely to hear good suggestions for finding peaceful solutions.

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Behind the latest Pentagon cutbacks

By Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace,  Henry Boyd, DMAP Research Analyst, and James Hackett, Editor, The Military Balance

Yesterday, the Pentagon made its latest announcement on the US defence budget, outlining proposed force cuts and procurement shifts, and setting the ground for the release of the FY2013 budget request in mid-February. This budget will carry the real detail, and will start the real battles in Congress. US President Barack Obama is trying to save $259 billion over the next five years, as part of a broader plan to cut $487bn over a decade of as part of deficit-reduction efforts. But in this election year, Obama faces the task of carefully cutting the armed forces without providing easy ammunition to the Republican opposition.

Elements of the changes had previously been trailed, most notably when Obama announced new strategic guidance earlier in January, with a shift of focus towards the Asia-Pacific region. The administration plans to reduce defence spending by cutting the size of its armed forces, while maintaining the qualitative edge to prevail in any major conflict in Asia-Pacific. Structuring and sizing the military to conduct ‘two wars’ simultaneously is also being revisited. The aim is now that if ‘engaged in a major combat operation in one theatre, we will have the force necessary to confront an additional aggressor by denying its objectives or imposing unacceptable costs’.

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The Syrian uprising seen from the Arab world

The Gulf States will play a more important role in Syria in the coming months, but their lack of knowledge of the Syrian opposition will prevent them from acting in unison. This was one of the messages to emerge from a talk by Middle East expert Emile Hokayem at IISS-US, which you can watch above.

Focusing on the Arab world’s perception of the Syrian uprising, Hokayem suggested that Gulf nations have few relations with important minorities in the country, such as the Kurds. He admitted there was an undeniable sectarian narrative on Syria in the Sunni-dominated Gulf States and that this had driven a Gulf media war against President Assad’s Alawite regime.

Each Gulf country ‘had their favourites’, he added. ‘If you’re Qatar, you’ve dealt for years with the Assad regime so you’ve developed relationships with senior businessmen’. They also ‘have good relations with the Muslim Brotherhood…but also with key independent opposition figures’. Saudi Arabia by contrast has closer links with tribes and former regime figures.

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A week in the life of American politics

By Dr Dana Allin,  Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy  and Transatlantic Affairs; Editor of Survival

Mitt Romney may win the South Carolina primary tomorrow, which will make the last five days seem – to him at least – like nothing more than a bad dream. But Newt Gingrich has surged ahead in the latest polls, and whatever the results of Saturday’s contest, it is worth taking note of one of the most astonishing – and not in a good way – weeks of American politics in living memory.

Since we have to start somewhere, we might as well start with the Gingrich performance at a candidates’ debate on Monday night, where he doubled down on repeatedly calling Barack Obama ‘the food stamp president.’ The white southern audience gave him a standing ovation.

This was apparently Gingrich’s idea of speaking truth to power, a particularly audacious example in that he was replying to Juan Williams, the black moderator’s, question about whether he can understand the hurt of many black Americans at his use of such racially coded language. For Gingrich continued: ‘First of all, Juan, the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in history.’ (Here he had to pause to soak in the crowd’s approval.) ‘I know among the politically correct you’re not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable.’ The Economist blog dispatched this pose of unusual courage rather neatly:

“A thought experiment: On Twin Earth, does anyone call President John McCain the ‘food-stamp president’? Is it ‘politically incorrect’ there to call him that? Or is it just so tactically weird to pin that label on a white Republican who inherited a huge recession that the idea simply never occurred to anyone? If, back in our world, it’s not ‘politically correct’ and not tactically weird to pin that label on a black Democrat who inherited a huge recession, then why not?’

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NATO responds to shrinking budgets

By Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace, IISS

NATO defence ministers will use their 2-3 February meeting in Brussels as an opportunity to take stock of the Alliance’s ‘smart defence’ initiative, with the initial results of their work to be unveiled at the NATO Chicago Summit in May. Conceived as a response to both US criticisms of its European partners and the current squeeze on defence budgets, the initiative is intended to sustain NATO’s capabilities by means of greater multinational collaboration while allowing for more efficient defence spending.

Addressing the IISS in London on 19 January, Ludwig Decamps, Director of Strategy, Head of the Smart Defence Support Team, NATO, explained that the aim is to present ‘an ambitious but realistic package’ in Chicago. He identified ‘prioritisation, cooperation and specialisation’ as central components of the initiative now being pursued by the Alliance as it tries to maintain defence capabilities and sustain its relevance.

A task force has, said Decamps, identified 200 areas which would be suitable for either bilateral or multilateral programmes under the initiative. These include surveillance, unmanned aerial systems, and counter improvised explosive device development. This work is being refined with potential projects being grouped into ‘clusters’ including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, training, and sustainment.

Decamps said the Alliance had to ‘change the way [it does] business’, and, even more importantly, mindsets had to shift. ‘Multilateral cooperation should become the mainstream’ as the Alliance tries to sustain its capability, he contended. He recognised that multilateral procurement projects had a mixed record, and that this would need to be improved.

A further challenge lay in attempting to resolve concerns over national sovereignty and specialisation. He argued, however, that ‘specialisation is happening, whether we like it or not’, and pointed to numerous European member states that were already ‘salami slicing’ their capacity and readiness. ‘Specialisation by design’, said Decamps, would allow the Alliance to keep a coherent capability across the war-fighting spectrum.

Watch the discussion


Bahrain: between reform and stagnation

Elham Fakhro, IISS Research Associate for International Law and Strategy; and Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Research Fellow at LSE Global Governance

Nearly two months have elapsed since the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) published a report into the unrest that shook this Persian Gulf archipelago last year. Its 513 pages laid bare the excessive use of force, systematic mistreatment, and culture of non-accountability, as the Bahraini government responded to a popular movement that challenged its grip on power. It also found no evidence of any Iranian involvement in the protests, thereby contradicting regime narratives that ascribed them to external intervention rather than domestic grievances. In response, King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, pledged to initiate reforms, and established a national commission to oversee their implementation. Yet the measures taken to date have left unaddressed many of the roots of Bahrain’s political and economic inequalities, and ongoing clashes between protesters and security forces have if anything, intensified.  The result has been the empowerment of radical voices across the political spectrum and the marginalisation of Bahrain’s political middle ground.

Read the full article at openDemocracy


Asia’s energy security

By Dr Sanjaya Baru, Director for Geo-economics and Strategy

As Asia’s rising powers seek to sustain growth and ensure stability, energy security has moved to the forefront of Asian geopolitics. The recent visit by China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar was as much about ensuring energy security for China as it was about China playing a role in maintaining political stability in the Middle East. The visit came against the backdrop of the growing threat of United States-led oil-export sanctions against Iran and China’s need to secure alternative sources of oil and gas. But its unstated purpose was to bolster China’s rising profile in the Persian Gulf and the Muslim world.

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Where the road ends, the Taliban begins

As international security forces prepare to depart from Afghanistan, the latest Adelphi book examines the country’s ability to tackle its security problems, overcome corruption and revive its devastated economy. The government faces daunting challenges, ranging from insurgency and cross-border terrorism to the difficulty of reconciling Taliban figures and combatants into a political settlement. It must also cope with persistent regional instability, with its neighbours tempted to step up their interference in Afghan affairs.

The book also contains a chapter dedicated to maps and infographics explaining key demographic, military and economic issues. In this free sample map, we show how the international community has worked together to help develop Afghanistan’s transport infrastructure despite the ever present threat of IEDs and insurgent attacks.

‘For those of us who care about the importance of Afghanistan and worry about its future and thus for our own safety, this book makes fascinating and essential reading.’ Lord Robertson, former Secretary-General of NATO 

The book will be launched in London on Wednesday January 11 at 12.30-13.30.  Read more


Myanmar: Coming in from the cold?

People in Aung San Suu Kyi masks (by lewishamdreamer from Flickr used under Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) By Oliver Elliott, Editorial Assistant
Could it be the beginning of the end for the sanctions regime on Myanmar? Yesterday Australia became the first country to loosen sanctions with the easing of travel and financial restrictions on some of the country’s leadership. Although only a tentative first step, the move comes as part of a broader push by the West to recognise and reward the reforms being enacted by Myanmar’s government.In December, Hillary Clinton made the first visit to the country by a US Secretary of State in five decades, offering to loosen some restrictions on international financial assistance and development programmes if the current rate of reform is maintained. She also suggested that the US might be willing to consider easing sanctions, which currently include an arms embargo, travel restrictions on political leaders and ban on any American individual or organisation doing new business with the country. Just a month later, British Foreign Secretary William Hague made his own equally historic trip to offer rewards in return for further reform. A few Western businesses are already anticipating a return to Myanmar in the near future.

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