The final frontier: non-proliferation in space

Computer generated image of objects in low Earth orbit (Image: NASA Orbital Debris Program Office)Guest post by James Acton, Senior Associate, Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Coming just a couple of weeks after the Obama administration announced its intention to work with the European Union on developing a space code of conduct, the special session of the EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference on space and missile proliferation was highly topical.

To ensure freedom of access to space – not least in the face of the increasing problem of space debris – the need for enhanced space governance is widely recognised. However, there is a debate about whether the EU’s draft of a non-binding code of conduct or a formal treaty-based approach would be preferable. Sergio Marchisio, chair of the European Centre for Space Law, discussed legal aspects of the draft code and argued that the EU should be willing to discuss the Russian and Chinese proposal for a treaty in spite of its significant definitional problems. Götz Neuneck, Deputy Director of the University of Hamburg’s Institute for Peace Research and Security, welcomed the draft code as an important step forward but argued that it lacked key arms-control characteristics. He urged the EU to engage emerging space powers, to include ballistic missile defence in discussions about space security, and to study joint monitoring and surveillance. An EU official, however, cautioned against overloading the draft code.

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The EU and the Iranian nuclear issue

Iranian Delegation led by Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi at talks at the IAEA in Vienna 12 July 2011 (Photo: Dean Calma / IAEA)

By Dina Esfandiary, Research Analyst and Project Coordinator, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

The final session of the EU Non-Proliferation Conference, to be held this week in Brussels, will discuss the most pressing problem in the non-proliferation arena at the moment: the Iranian nuclear issue. Three experts will lead a discussion examining the current situation and future policy options for the EU.

This comes just as a team of IAEA experts ended a much-anticipated trip to Iran, which followed the agency’s most damning report to date, in November. ‘Intensive discussions’, characterised as fruitful, were held over three days and the IAEA has announced another visit ‘in the very near future’.

But crucially, the delegation did not visit any nuclear sites. Despite Iranian rhetoric of openness and willingness for a dialogue to take place, including Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi’s stated readiness to extend the experts’ trip if necessary, the Iranian government did not allow them to carry out the discussed visit of the Qom facility. Whether the IAEA was granted access to any of the individuals they sought to interview, such as Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, is doubtful, though that may have been promised for the next visit.

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Trying to stem a nuclearised Mideast

Guest post by Giorgio Franceschini, Peace Research Institute Frankfurt

One highlight of the forthcoming EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference will be the session on non-proliferation and security in the Middle East. The subject is highly topical because states in the region are expected to attend a UN-facilitated conference aimed at the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (which goes by the rather unwieldy acronym of MEWMDFZ) sometime this year.

The obstacles for the establishment of such a zone are enormous. It would require – at a minimum – a viable solution to the Iranian nuclear challenge, and a change of Israel’s nuclear posture, one that would be acceptable to both Jerusalem and its neighbours. A further requirement for an MEWMDFZ will be the ratification of both the biological and chemical weapons conventions by all states in the region – first and foremost, Egypt, Israel and Syria – and a dense web of confidence- and security-building measures in the conventional military realm, especially with respect to WMD-capable delivery vehicles.

But tensions are high and some countries find themselves in the midst of a turbulent political transition. It is therefore not at all clear whether the MEWMDFZ conference will take place at all in 2012; and if it does, it is uncertain which countries will attend.

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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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