Saturday, May 26, 2018

On de-nuclearization

Across the world we are seeing two varying approaches on denuclearization being carried out by one country. In one instance, the United States has withdrawn from a process that froze and rolled back parts of the Iranian nuclear programme through the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015.
In the other it is moving forward to engage North Korea which has already tested nuclear weapons and is reputed to have a small cache of them, with a view towards dismantling the country’s nuclear capability.
In recent history, countries have given up their nuclear weapons capability for a variety of reasons. South Africa gave up its weapons at a point when the minority white regime that enforced apartheid  was on the verge of ceding power to the black majority, and signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1991.
There was a rivalry between Brazil and Argentina that led to both developing nuclear capacity in the 1970s and 80s, especially in the years they were run by military governments. Their rivalry was largely an  issue of prestige since there was no significant dispute between the two countries affecting their security. However both were signatories to the Treaty of Tlatelolco which committed them to a nuclear free zone in South America.
The two  instituted a bilateral inspection regime in 1991 to ensure that their nuclear programmes were peaceful and in 1995  Argentina signed the NPT, followed by Brazil in 1998, bringing their facilities under the inspection regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
After its defeat in the war of 1991, Iraq was forced to accept a weapons inspection regime under the auspices of the UN. Over the next decade, Iraqi nuclear, biological and chemical weapon capability was systematically dismantled. Yet, the US falsely alleged that the capability was still there and launched another war in 2003 which overthrew Saddam Hussein and devastated  the country.
As for Libya, its programme was in its initial stages which its leader Muammar Gaddafi gave up in 2003, following  an intelligence operations that revealed the Libyan acquisition of nuclear material from the Pakistani scientist A Q Khan and his nuclear black market. Gaddafi and his son Saif claimed that the US had offered him security guarantees, but they were of little avail when western countries like the US, UK and France intervened militarily to overthrow the Libyan leader in 2011.
And then there is Israel which neither confirms nor denies its capability. There is enough evidence, however, to show that the country has a sophisticated nuclear weapons programme with a significant arsenal.
Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Iran have all been signatories to the NPT and did commit themselves not to make nuclear weapons. Israel, like India and Pakistan, has refused to sign the 1967 treaty. North Korea walked out of the NPT in 2003.
The historical record  shows then, that while the US will not hesitate to attack a country without nuclear weapons, like Iraq and Libya, it will think many times before it does so a country with a proven capacity like North Korea.
Speaking after his talks with his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha, US Secretrary of State Mike Pompeo declared  last week that his country would rebuild the North Korean economy if Pyongyang agreed to surrender its nuclear arsenal. The South Koreans and the Americans say that their ultimate goal is the “total, permanent and verifiable” denuclearization of the divided peninsula.
It is well known that the for Kim Jong Un, nuclear weapons capability is linked to regime safety. His interest is not the enrichment of his country, had it been so, he would not have starved its people to create a nuclear arsenal.  
The  Korean  negotiations are a complex dynamic involving Chinese, South Korean and American interests which are not necessarily congruent.  The chances of a quick denuclearization are not very high. The more likely scenario is that Kim will agree to a step-by-step process which could see the dismantling of North Korea’s capability along with the stage-by-stage removal of sanctions. Will someone like Trump who wants to declare quick victory play along?
This is important because of the implications of the recent American torpedoing of the Iran nuclear deal. Most accounts agree that Iran was  still some distance away from making them and that the  JCPOA has frozen the programme, albeit for 15 years. Over time, it was expected, it would have been possible to push Iran to dismantle even this capacity.
Given American behavior in Iraq and Libya, regime security is an important calculation for the mullahs. What is alarming that the same combination that made wanton war on Iraq—Netanyahu, John Bolton and a hawkish American President  are now making the same false arguments about Iran that they made about Iraq in 2002-2003.
Most observers agree that Iran has kept its part of the bargain. But that is where the rub comes in. President Trump feels that the JCPOA and UN inspections cannot guarantee that Iran is not cheating. So, a water-tight agreement is needed that  should be certified not by the UN, but by the US and Israel, as though Iran was some defeated entity.
A cross section of top Israeli security officials believe that the JCPOA may not have been the best deal, but Trump’s action will  only make things worse.  Last October Ehud Barak,  former Israeli Prime Minister and a hawk on Iran had urged Trump to stick to the deal, noting what every sensible critic has observed, that by breaking a commitment, the US was hardly sending the right signal to Kim Jong Un, who of course, actually possess nuclear weapons.
Greater Kashmir May 14, 2018

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