An opportunity for EU action in North Korea

North Korean Military Parade (Photo: Korean Friendship Association)

The bête noire of the global non-proliferation regime, North Korea has defeated every effort to rein in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons and illicit arms trade, argues Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the IISS non-proliferation programme, in a new paper for the EU-Non Proliferation Consortium.

Neither sanctions, incentives nor ‘strategic patience’ have succeeded in bringing about anything more than a temporary stall in the development of these weapon systems. There appears to be no prospect that North Korea would barter its nuclear arsenal for diplomatic or economic gain.

Having fewer stakes in North East Asia than the actors in the Six-Party Talks process, the European Union has played, at most, a supporting role, providing aid when incentives were called for and applying sanctions when that was in the script, while consistently promoting human rights.

Yet, suggests Fitzpatrick, if North Korea moves under new leadership towards market reforms, in order to overcome its poverty trap, there may be opportunities for a greater EU role. Whether in conjunction with the EU’s closer relations with South Korea or through finally establishing a delegation office in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, a more direct application of European soft power would better position the EU to assist the Korean Peninsula in future crises and to benefit from any positive turn of events.

Read the paper

IISS Strategic Dossier: North Korean Security Challenges


Hitting the Hay Festival

Mark Fitzpatrick at the Hay Festival

Portrait of the artist as a non-proliferation wonk: Mark Fitzpatrick at the Hay Festival

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

My kids will find it amusing that their wonky father was categorised as an ‘artist’ this past weekend. The occasion was the Hay Festival in Wales, which sprinkles in some policy discussions among the talks on literature and the arts.

I was invited to lead off on a panel on the Iran nuclear issue because I had written a feature article for Prospect in April entitled ‘Iran can be stopped’. At first glance, the headline might have been mistaken for a war drumbeat. To the contrary, my argument in the piece is that Iran can be deterred from crossing the line to manufacturing nuclear weapons; Tehran will be content to have the capability.

The problem is that the capability is getting increasingly worrisome: Iran produces 30% more enriched uranium each month than when I wrote the Prospect piece and has expanded work at the deeply buried facility at Fordow, producing higher enriched uranium that is on the cusp of being weapons usable.

The good citizens at the Hay Festival didn’t want to hear much about that, though – at least not the vocal ones who came to the Iran panel. They were more interested in Israel, and why we weren’t talking about that country’s nuclear arsenal. As chair, BBC World News anchor Nik Gowing tried to keep the discussion on topic, but he had to bow to popular demand.

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Myanmar comes in from the nuclear cold (almost)

Myanmar Defence Minister Hla Min made headlines yesterday with his announcement that the country had abandoned all nuclear activity and suspended military cooperation with North Korea.

‘This is a good news story’ Mark Fitzpatrick, the Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme, told Alexander Nicoll, and he sketched out the background to international concern about possible nuclear proliferation in the country. However, he also cautioned that the General’s comment that was no need for the IAEA to visit Myanmar as there was nothing to inspect was ‘the wrong answer.’

IISS Strategic Dossier: Preventing Nuclear Dangers in Southeast Asia and Australasia


Can Iranian nuclear talks progress at Baghdad?

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses the press following of a P5+1 meeting at the UN headquarters during the 64th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York City, New York September 23, 2009. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

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

The positive atmosphere  surrounding the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 in Istanbul this month will be tested just over three weeks from now in a further meeting in Baghdad. Both sides seem to have embarked on an intensive PR campaign to lighten the mood, dampen the calls for war and demonstrate the willingness to compromise in the upcoming talks over Iran’s controversial nuclear programme and uranium enrichment.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi recently said the Istanbul talks had produced ‘results that satisfied both sides’. ‘At the Baghdad meeting, I see more progress,’ he predicted.

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Why Iranian Public Opinion Is Turning Against the Nuclear Program

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inspects the Natanz nuclear facility

It’s been a busy few weeks for our non-proliferation programme, with developments in Iran and North Korea; and research analyst Dina Esfandiary is the latest to have a major feature published. In the Atlantic, she writes that, with sanctions biting in Iran, opinion polls suggest that the public’s support for Tehran’s nuclear programme is weakening. ‘Western officials and media outlets often say that it wouldn’t matter if the regime changed because support for the program cuts across political lines,’ she writes. However, recent polls – ‘assuming they’re accurate’ – indicate three things about Iranian public opinion: ‘There seems to have been a significant drop in Iranian support for a nuclear energy program, more Iranians are aware of how sensitive the issue is … and less than half of those polled are in favour of developing a nuclear weapon.’

Read the full article


North Korean rocket may shoot down Leap Day deal

North Korean Security Challenges: a net assessmentBy Mark Fitzpatrick, Director Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

The satellite that North Korea announced it will put into orbit on 15 April, the hundredth birthday of regime founder Kim Il-sung, has no military target. Yet it could well destroy prospects for an improved relationship with the US that was set in train just two weeks ago with the acclaimed Leap Day deal.

Under that deal the US agreed to provide food aid in exchange for a North Korean moratorium on nuclear tests, uranium enrichment at one of its facilities, and ‘long-range missile launches’. (The positive momentum started by the deal continued in informal talks in New York over last weekend, when North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator proposed diplomatic liaison offices in both capitals.)

But the moratorium agreement was ambiguous about exactly what activity was to be stopped. At a seminar last night at the Daiwa Foundation, I predicted trouble over this issue because North Korea does not consider space-launch rockets to be missiles. This was the case in April 2009, when North Korea launched the Unha-2, which failed to put a satellite into orbit and was seen as a slap in the face of the new Obama administration.

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The Parchin trap

A couple of weeks ago, we posted what was known about the Iranian military site at Parchin. At the time, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had returned to Vienna, after being denied access to Parchin. IAEA inspectors still haven’t visited Parchin since 2005, and differing reports have emerged about what more recent satellite imagery really shows. In Foreign Policy, Mark Fitzpatrick, the Director of the IISS’s Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme, describes howthe wrangling over Parchin is a microcosm of a larger debate about whether Iran is dealing with the international community in good faith’.

The article is worth a click-through not just for the striking picture of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in goggles. Read it here.


Israeli attack on Iran ‘unlikely’ this year

Another moment of this week’s Military Balance 2012 launch picked up by the press has been IISS CEO John Chipman’s analysis that Israel is unlikely to launch a military strike on Iran this year. In this two-minute video, he explains why he has reached this conclusion.


Test Iran – accept its nuclear proposal

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inside the Natanz nuclear facility

Dr Andrew Parasiliti, the executive director of our US office and corresponding director, IISS-Middle East, has an article on the Al-Monitor website today, arguing that the US and its allies should put Iran to the test by accepting Iranian President Mahmood Ahmadinejad’s offer to halt Tehran’s uranium enrichment programme at the 20% level in exchange for highly enriched uranium from the West for Iran’s nuclear medical research. Such a tactic may be the key to getting early traction in the upcoming negotiations about Iran’s nuclear programme, he writes.

Read the full article here


Dissecting the red lines on Iran

US President Barack Obama and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009. White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson
By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

As Iran gets closer to a nuclear bomb, Israel gets closer to a decision to bomb Iran, and the United States gets more worried about the latter than the former, it is useful to examine what Washington and Jerusalem mean when they talk about red lines.

Both the US and Israel insist that they cannot accept a ‘nuclear Iran’. For Washington, this means Iran not being nuclear armed. This was spelled out most clearly by President Barack Obama in an interview in this month’s Atlantic, when he said ‘it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon’.

Israel, by contrast, says the red line is Iran becoming ‘nuclear capable’.

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