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North Korea and Burma – Sharing Nukes?

Well, this certainly scares me. North Korea and Burma are growing increasingly close. The two countries re-established diplomatic relations in 2007, and they’ve been growing closer ever since. According to the Bangkok Post, a high-level military delegation from North Korea was in Rangoon in November 2008, where they signed a memorandum of understanding on military cooperation. There are reports from the Democratic Voice of Burma news service that North Korean advisors are supporting construction of a network of underground tunnels throughout Burma. According to DVB, the tunnels are large enough to drive trucks through, constructed to withstand attacks, and intended to house munitions factories.

The fear is, of course, that North Korea is exporting weapons to Burma. Especially nuclear weapons. That is not an unfounded fear. According to the US Treasury, North Korea has already exported weaponry to several Middle Eastern and African states, including Syria, as well as Taiwan and Iran. And the missile tests that took place on the fourth remind us that North Korea remains committed to proving its military prowess to the world.

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Meet your new IAEA chief

Posting will be light today, but I wanted to flag this news:  Yeterday, the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors elected Japan's Yukiya Amano to be the next Director General of the IAEA.  He will succeed Mohammed elBaradei in November.  After six rounds of voting Amano finally secured the 2/3rds majoriry required by the IAEA charter. Here is a just-released IAEA video announcing Amano's selection.

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IAEA elections move closer… their original two candidates.  After six seven many rounds of voting back in April, the agency's board of governors remained split between the respective candidates favored by the West, Japan's Yukiyo Amano, and the global South, Abdul Samad Minty.  Two experienced nuclear diplomats from Europe, one of whom many had hung their hopes for a compromise option, have both now backed out.  So, besides the Spaniard Luis Echavarri, who got four out of 35 votes, we're back to where we started.

(image of Yukiya Amano, 2006)

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Show the IAEA the money!

In a time when the world is focused on potential nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran, when the Taliban can come within sixty miles of the capital of another unstable nuclear country, and when nonproliferation is one of the first words out of many leaders' mouths, one might reasonably assume that the IAEA, the world's nuclear watchdog, would be the one global body that, even in a tight financial climate, everyone would agree should be fully funded. But alas, it's a UN agency, so, unsurprisingly, some countries are balking at contributing the funds that the IAEA needs to do its job. What is surprising is that the United States, for whom the nonsensical policy of "zero growth" was once a mantra, is not among these reluctant donors. In keeping with Congress's refreshing decision to fully repay U.S. arrears to the UN, the Obama Administration has pledged to up its contributions to the IAEA by 20%, a not insignificant amount from the agency's biggest donor. The IAEA has long been seeking an 11% budget increase, but some European countries, as well as Japan, the body's second largest donor, are still trying to push the budget back down to a level of zero growth. The IAEA's Director is understandably frustrated at this situation -- perhaps he is also feeling the stress from the Board of Director's continued struggle to elect his successor -- but, as I'm sure Ban Ki-moon can attest, he might want to choose his words a little more carefully, even when the doors are closed.
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Security Council Reaches DPRK Consensus

Late this afternoon, the Security Council announced that it had agreed on a draft resolution on North Korea.  The Council is expected to vote on the draft on Friday and reports indicate the resolution will include a toughening of sanctions, including the possible inspection of North Korean cargo ships.

Of course, we've seen this movie before.  To wit, this exchange between a reporter and Ambassador Susan Rice at a stakeout outside the council.

Reporter: Given the chain of events that followed the adoption of resolution 1718 in 2006, what gives you confidence that this resolution can halt North Korea's nuclear program and missile ...(inaudible).

Ambassador: Well this is a very strong sanctions regime, I think both in terms of its elements and its inspection provisions. It is currently the strongest provision that is in place if it were to be adopted by the Security Council. But the DPRK will make its own judgment and it will decide what sort of response and what sort of future it has. There is no guarantee, obviously, but it is important for the international community to speak with one voice, it is important for there to be consequences, and this sanctions regime, if passed by the Security Council, will bite and bite in a meaningful way.

I'd say that the fact that you have even China and Russia fully on board what looks to be a tough sanctions regime is a welcome sign of progress.

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CTBT reciprocity from Indonesia?

Matt Yglesias points out that, at a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace event yesterday, the Foreign Minister of Indonesia essentially said that if the United States walks through the door of ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, his country will follow.

This is a shrewd political maneuver, particularly because a statement at a venue halfway across the world likely won't generate as much attention at home than would one made in Jakarta. Such a commitment would also require a greater lift on the part of the United States, which actually possesses nuclear weapons, than of Indonesia, which does not. Indonesia does, however, have the potential to research and possibly test nuclear material, so it would unquestionably be in U.S. interests to make sure another country did not start along the road of nuclear progression.

For all the reasons Matt lays out -- that ratifying CTBT is relatively low-hanging fruit, a short-term good gesture that would advance the goal of non-proliferation -- convincing the eight other countries who would need to ratify CTBT for it to take effect should be an Obama Administration priority (Vice President Biden is reportedly leading the effort to shepherd the treaty through the Senate). Ratifying this ourselves should be a diplomatic and policy no-brainer, so much more clearly so if Indonesia is ready to follow by example. Granted, China and Russia (let alone Iran and North Korea), also CTBT non-ratifiers, probably wouldn't exactly fall like dominoes from this diplomatic reciprocity, but it would at least remove the hypocrisy from the U.S. stance.

Plus, a move by Indonesia would give commentators another positive development in a Muslim country (the world's largest, in fact) to ascribe to the "Obama Effect" of the Cairo speech.

(image of Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda, under a Creative Commons license)