Monthly Archives: July 2009
The IAEA’s Director, Mohamed ElBaradei, published an op-ed in the Guardian yesterday, outlining five global problems that he sees undermining the goal of nuclear non-proliferation. He also suggests an innovative step that needs to be taken, one that reminded me of Jeffrey Lewis’ idea to “multinationalize the fuel cycle.”
Last month, I proposed a key measure to strengthen non-proliferation to the IAEA’s board of governors – establishing an IAEA bank of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to guarantee supplies to countries that need nuclear fuel for their power reactors. LEU cannot be used to make weapons. Some such mechanism will be essential in the coming decades as more and more countries introduce nuclear energy.
My proposal is to create a physical stockpile of LEU at the disposal of the IAEA as a last-resort reserve for countries with nuclear power programmes that face a supply disruption for non-commercial reasons. This would give countries confidence that they can count on reliable supplies of fuel to run their nuclear power plants, and therefore do not need to develop their own uranium-enrichment or plutonium-reprocessing capability.
I’m enthusiastic about the idea, which would seem to navigate the balance between the legitimate pursuit of nuclear fuel and the unacceptable one of nuclear weapons. But my skepticism comes into play when thinking about whether countries would be willing to come to an international fuel bank for their nuclear energy (one presumably run, or at least provided for, by Western or current nuclear powers), rather than develop it themselves. It certainly undercuts the rationale of a country that spurns such an international offer, but would the ensuing isolation be enough to dissuade its own nuclear-nationalistic ambitions?
ElBaradei does stress that “[n]o state would be required to give up the right to develop its own fuel cycle,” but in that case, I’m struggling to see how this fuel bank would replace the model whereby each country undertakes its own nuclear fuel process, and thereby acquires the potential to develop nuclear weapons. And the problem is that this model is not only dominant today, but it’s fraught with nationalistic overtones. Once an issue is made an object of national pride or greatness, as it has in the Iranian case, it’s difficult to undo its symbolic importance. So while I’m a proponent of a multinational organization to monitor and even control countries’ fuel cycles, I’m not optimistic that this will fully deflate the incentives for beginning one’s own nuclear program.
Here’s the ArmsControlWonk himself:
As early as Wednesday this week, the Permanant Court of Arbitration in the Hague will issue a ruling on the boundary and status of Abyei, a resource rich terrotory that lies at the juncture of South Sudan, North Sudan and Darfur.
Control of Abyei (or more to the point, the plentiful oil under its soil) has been a major bone of contention between South Sudan rebels and the ruling National Congress Party in Khartoum. In 2005, both parties signed the Comprehensive Peace Accord, which ended a 20 year civil war. However, a final decision on the status of Abyei could not be reached at the time and the Abyei question was kicked down the road. In the meantime, there has been sporadic violence in the region as militias affiliated with both parties have periodically clashed.
In a valuable report, Maggie Fick and Colin Thomas-Jensen of The Enough Project call the forthcoming ruling a major test of the viability of the CPA. This is certainly true. However, I am not so sanguine of the prospects that both sides can muster the will to pass the test.
The most immediate parallel that comes to my mind is the situation along the Eritrean-Ethiopian border. Like Abyei, the two sides fought each other to a stalemate in a bloody civil war and agreed to kick their remaining border dispute to the Court of Arbitration. When the Court ruled in a way unfavorable to Ethiopia, Ethiopia simply refused to recognize the ruling. Eritrea, in turn, grew increasingly frustrated that Ethiopia could get away with flaunting this international process. Overtime, Eritrea grew increasingly hostile to the international community, which it saw as the guarantor of the arbitration process. Eventually, Eritrea harassed the United Nations border mission out of existance and the situation remains on the brink.
A similar process could very well play out in Abyei. In all likelihood, the Court of Arbitration will rule against the central government. Khartoum could then respond by doubling down on Abyei. The South, in turn, will look to the international community for succor. The big question here is whether or not the international community can summon the will to enforce the Court’s ruling, or at least place sanctions on parties that seek to undermine the ruling.
The key variable here is the United States, which is the driving force behind Abyei status negotiations. U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration is supposed to be in Abyei for the ruling as a show of support. Also, Maggie Fick and Colin Thomas-Jensen recommend the deployment of addition batallions of UN Peacekeepers from the UN Mission in Sudan to Abyei to try and keep a lid on the violence. This makes sense. I just hope it’s not too late.
In other pirate-related news, the end of the monsoon season could result in an increase in size and scope of attacks in the Gulf of Aden.
And while the UN’s head in Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, takes to the Washington Post op-ed page to plea for international support for the embattled Somali government, its opposition, the radical al-Shabab militant group, plays the opposite message, “expelling” three UN agencies from Somalia. I’m all for greater international engagement, but this is exactly why we cannot have the UN caught in the middle.
Kenyan Pundit, a blogger based in Johannesburg, is blogging about rumors of conflict between Kenya’s indigenous Samburu people and government forces. (The Samburu are a semi-nomadic tribe, in north-Central Kenya, and their traditional lifestyle is under a lot of pressure from population growth in Kenya and the loss of cattle-grazing land.) Kenyan Pundit is aggregating news reports and reports from eye-witnesses. Here’s what she has to say:
“Turns out, my cursory research has unearthed more questions than answers. And very disturbing questions at that.
The first stories I came across in the local media, were the typical fighting over resources/pasture/bandits ones.
How six cops can be shot dead by cattle rustlers is a whole other can of worms relating to whether the government is really in charge of North Eastern province and whether it really cares…but I digress.
More recent stories begin to hint at an ethnic element to the fighting talking of organized forced evictions of the Samburu and Turkana from their grazing lands. The local PC appears to be, in not so many words, clueless…”
If you go back through news about the Samburu and the area of Isiolo, you can see a series of shocks to quality of life, including a cholera outbreak, a drought and an elephant die-off, as well as a pattern of small-scale fighting over pasture. Most of this is caused or exacerbated by climate change, and you can see how they’d add up to larger clashes. It makes me wonder – maybe this is one more picture of what global warming looks like?
A brief description of the Secretary-General’s most recent report on Darfur alleges that cooperation between the Sudanese government and the UN peacekeeping force “has improved.” This is true, but considering the low baseline of Sudan’s “cooperation,” it is unfortunately not altogether helpful. As the S-G’s report itself observes, before sounding that somewhat optimistic note:
It is also important to acknowledge that there continue to be instances where Khartoum-based decisions to support UNAMID work are not implemented locally. This relates especially to freedom of movement for UNAMID personnel and customs clearances to allow equipment into the Sudan.
Official government cooperation has never been the problem. Khartoum has typically stated — when not making outlandish threats, that is — that Sudan would comply with the UN Security Council resolution establishing UNAMID, and would work alongside the force to bring peace and stability to Darfur. The problem has long lay in the implementation of this compliance on the ground. And to read that this is still flagging is discouraging indeed.
(image from UN Photo)
Those sanctions that were tightening (ahead of schedule) on North Korea — they are tight indeed. The asset freezes and travel bans hit the officials and companies most directly responsible for the country’s nuclear program. Pyongyang won’t react well verbally, to be sure, but they have to be feeling this one in their pocketbooks.
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.