Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga: Bargaining over North Korea

Pyongyang

Tensions have subsided on the Korean peninsula since Pyongyang withdrew its Musadan missiles from its east-coast launch site earlier this month, and the US and China have turned their attention to more pressing issues.

But the next time North Korea increases tensions, the United States will again look to China to rein in its ally. And Beijing might look for concessions in return, writes IISS’s Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga for the China–US Focus website.

‘China is able to wield North Korea as leverage because the Obama administration has outsourced its North Korea policy to Beijing,’ he argues.

The Obama administration’s policy of ‘strategic patience’ has failed to accomplish its intended goal of curbing North Korean provocations. Making Pyongyang’s cessation of hostilities a condition for direct US–North Korea contact leaves the United States no choice but to court Beijing for solutions.

It could be time for the United States to approach Pyongyang directly, particularly because Beijing may no longer be interested in bargaining.

‘The US “rebalancing” to Asia has increased Chinese suspicions of US intensions in the region, and thereby reduced Chinese goodwill to cooperate on resolving the North Korea issue, leaving Beijing seeking compensation for cooperation,’ he adds.

‘The United States can decrease the value of North Korea as a Chinese bargaining chip by increasing dialogue with China on US intensions in the region and by reclaiming its North Korea policy through reviving direct talks with the Kim regime.’

Read the full article.


Iran’s Syria policy hurts its regional popularity

Syria

By Dina Esfandiary, Research Associate, Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme and Islam Al Tayeb, Research Analyst, IISS-Middle East

These days, there are not many things that Arabs agree on. In fact, it may be fair to say they agree to disagree more often than not when it comes to regional policy. But Iran, once the darling of the Arab Street, is finding both popular and government opinion turning against it. And at the heart of the matter lies official Iranian attitude towards sectarianism and the Syrian uprising.

For years, Iran, and especially Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, enjoyed the unwavering support of the Arab general public, especially following the 2006 war in Lebanon. Many perceived Iran as the outspoken guardian of the Muslim world; a country that had the guts to oppose compromise in the Arab-Israeli peace process and support Hizbullah in its struggle against Israel. But this is no longer the case, and Iran knows it.

So the Iranian regime is trying to regain some positive influence. It’s partly why Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was in Amman, Jordan, recently to meet Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and King Abdullah II. Jordan’s government welcomed the opportunity to discuss Syria with their Iranian counterparts. But the response was different in Parliament: Bassam al-Manaseer, chairman of the Arab and Foreign Relations Committee of the Jordanian Parliament, called the visit ‘unwelcomed’ and expressed his concerns over ‘suspicious’ Iranian activities in the region.

Read the full article in the Atlantic


Egypt exits non-proliferation meeting

Palais des Nations UN Photo
By Jenny Nielsen, Research Analyst, Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme

Egypt has walked out of talks on the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) this week, over the slow progress on the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East (MEWMDFZ).

The unprecedented move presents a serious headache for the non-proliferation regime. Announcing his delegation’s withdrawal from the Preparatory Committee to the 2015 NPT Review Conference (2013 NPT PrepCom) on Monday, Egyptian Ambassador Hisham Badr warned that despite being a strong supporter of the NPT regime, Cairo was dissatisfied with the international community’s ‘lack of seriousness’ in establishing an MEWMDFZ and ‘very concerned about the ramification of the non-fulfilment of commitments on the credibility and sustainability of the NPT regime’.

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Sarin in Syria: what standard of proof?

Damsascus

Damascus. Photo Credit: Flickr/sharnik.

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme

Yesterday US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said it was likely that chemical weapons (CW) had been used on a ‘small scale’ in Syria. President Obama claimed in August that the use of CW in Syria would change his calculus on US intervention, but the intelligence must be examined carefully to assess whether his ‘red line’ on CW has actually been crossed.

On Thursday, the White House said that although it was likely the nerve gas sarin had been used, the evidence was still too thin and that it needed ‘credible and corroborated facts’. President Obama is being pilloried in some quarters for not following through on his earlier red line. But after the misuse of intelligence to justify an invasion of Iraq ten years ago, the bar for concluding that Assad used chemical weapons must naturally be set high. The standard of evidence should meet at least three conditions: clear-cut evidence of use, meaningful quantity, and purposefulness.

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An A-Z of the NPT preparatory committee

doomsday_clock687

Putting back the Doomsday clock

By Jenny Nielsen, Research Analyst, Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme

Acronym alert! Until 3 May, the Second Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 Review Conference (RevCon) of the parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) will be meeting at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva.

Still with us? The following alphabetical lists provides a flavour of what can be expected at this two-week gathering of states parties to the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Agenda
Unlike some previous PrepComs (e.g. 2007), this session already has one – which should avoid procedural delays.

Boycott?
The Arab League considered boycotting this year’s committee after the 2012 Helsinki conference on the establishment of a Middle East WMD-free zone was postponed. Arab states will now attend, but remain unhappy about the lack of progress on an MEWMDFZ.

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Bushehr quake revives nuclear safety fears

Bushehr nuclear reactor Photo Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran

Bushehr nuclear reactor. Photo: Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran

By Michael Elleman, Senior Fellow for Regional Security Cooperation, IISS-Middle East

Gulf leaders have long been concerned that a serious accident at the Iranian nuclear power plant at Bushehr could expose their citizens to radiation. Bushehr’s location in an area of high seismic activity adds to public anxiety over the reactor’s safety. And on Tuesday, nerves were rattled when a magnitude 6.3 earthquake centred less than 100 kilometres from Bushehr killed at least 37 people, injured hundreds and destroyed homes. The quake was felt across the Gulf in Dubai, Qatar and Bahrain.

Officials tried to reassure observers. ‘The earthquake in no way affected the normal situation at the reactor,’ the Russian company that built the Bushehr reactor, Atomstroyexport, told news agency RIA Novosti. ‘Personnel continue to work in the normal regime and radiation levels are fully within the norm.’ Mahmoud Jafari, a project manager at the plant, insisted to Iranian state media that the quake ‘didn’t create any complications’.

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Trident debate resurfaces

Nuclear Submarine HMS Vanguard Passes HMS Dragon as She Returns to HMNB Clyde, Scotland

Nuclear Submarine HMS Vanguard Passes HMS Dragon as She Returns to HMNB Clyde, Scotland. Photo Credit: Ministry of Defense

By Jenny Nielsen, Research Analyst, Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme

UK prime minister David Cameron has prompted a small resurgence of the UK’s nuclear debate by publishing a letter in The Daily Telegraph on April 3, asserting that the country must maintain and renew its nuclear deterrent system in the face of global instability. But the debate should not end there: as discussed in a recent IISS panel on the subject, the UK must consider the costs of replacing the deterrent and the resulting effects on its conventional military capabilties. No less importantly, it also needs to take into account the implications renewing its nuclear deterrent might have on global non-proliferation efforts.

In his letter, which coincides with the 100th patrol of the four Vanguard-class submarines that carry the UK’s Trident nuclear missiles, Cameron argued that retaining an independent nuclear deterrent is now more important than ever. He contends that ‘the nuclear threat has not gone away … in terms of uncertainty and potential risk it has, if anything, increased’. He also warned that ‘there is real risk of new nuclear-armed states emerging’.

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Yongbyon restart: North Korea’s new threat

Siegfried Hecker examining lathes from Yongbyon machine shop Phot W Keith Luse via Stanford University

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

Among Pyongyang’s recent inflated threats, the announced intention to ‘readjust and restart’ its nuclear facilities is the most worrisome.

If implemented, North Korea will be producing both kinds of fissile material that can create nuclear explosions: plutonium and highly enriched uranium.

The handful of nuclear weapons – from four to 10 – that North Korea presumably already possesses are based on plutonium that was produced at the small 5MW reactor at Yongbyon prior to mid-2007.

Whether it also has uranium weapons is unknown.

Why North Korea abandoned the plutonium programme and instead prioritised uranium enrichment has been a mystery.

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Uncertain chemical-weapons claims in Syria

The Syrian city of Aleppo. Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/watchsmart

The Syrian city of Aleppo

Dina Esfandiary, Research Associate and Project Coordinator of the IISS Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme, has an article in The Diplomat analysing recent claims of chemical-weapons use in Syria.

Syria’s state news agency, SANA, made the first allegations on Tuesday when it broadcast pictures of alleged chemical-weapons victims having difficulty breathing and foaming at the mouth, in what it reported was the result of a ‘terrorist’ rocket attack near Aleppo. The Russian Foreign Ministry then released a statement confirming the opposition’s use of chemical weapons, but presented no evidence to support this claim. An opposition commander also said he had heard secondhand reports that victims were having respiratory problems in response to a chemical attack, but he said the regime was responsible.

What we actually know is patchy, says Esfandiary. Despite ‘proof’ from both sides in the form of photos and videos, there is nothing that shows the attack site, and no indication that any of the victims’ symptoms match those that would result from exposure to mustard gas, Sarin or VX – Syria’s alleged chemical-weapons arsenal – which would have more devastating effects than those reported.

If the use of chemical weapons is confirmed, it could change the character of the conflict because the US and the international community would be pressured to intervene, explains Esfandiary. The US and Europe are therefore rightly proceeding with caution. ‘But if anything, this event reiterates how little is known about the situation on the ground in Syria,’ Esfandiary argues. When the West can be sure of so little, perhaps the real debate should be whether or not it should be arming the rebels.

Read the full article at The Diplomat


The debate about Trident

By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant editor

It was, several older colleagues told me, one of the most thought-provoking discussions they had heard at the institute. With Britain’s ageing Trident nuclear deterrent in the news again – as defence cuts bite and a divided coalition government reviews the options for a replacement system – four of the United Kingdom’s most respected former civil servants came to Arundel House last week and delivered a one-and-half-hour masterclass in nuclear policy.

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