article placeholder

North Korea sanctions

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.

article placeholder

Statistic of the day

During the past two decades, the quantity of weapons-usable nuclear material safeguarded by the [International Atomic Energy Agency] has increased tenfold without a corresponding growth in funding.

That's from a great article by Richard Weitz at World Politics Review, on the challenges facing incoming IAEA director Yukiya Amano.

The thrust of the piece -- that Amano is facing some really difficult challenges -- underscores a point that we didn't really make in our coverage of the contentious IAEA elections: that whoever its director is, be (s)he from the global North or South, the IAEA's success will depend mostly on the countries that make up its members -- and, of course, donors.

Point is, IAEA countries will have to pony up.  The Obama Administration has requested a twofold increase in funding from the U.S., which is good, so long as it follows through.  It also makes current director Mohamed El Baradei's request for an 11% budget increase seem eminently reasonable.

On the operational side, the countries that aren't meeting their commitments to the agency -- or are flouting them -- need to either fall in line, or face the possibility that the IAEA be strengthened enough to be able to levy automatic sanctions on rule-breakers, which is an option that Weitz raises in his piece.

Let's hope Amano is getting ready for his tenure to begin in November, but, even more so, let's hope that every country -- from the nuclear powers to the nuclear longshots -- will support him more than they have his predecessor.

article placeholder

Ramases II, rejoice

You did not have arthritis of the spine. Your reputation as a "great warrior" is intact. How do we know? Nuclear power. Specifically:

The United Nations nuclear agency is using its expertise to help archaeologists unearth millennia-old secrets, from the supposed murder of King Tutankhamun to the mysterious death of Great Pharaoh Ramesses II, from Egyptian mummies.


Paleoradiology is a type of science using nuclear technologies – including x-rays and neutron activation analysis – to study artifacts, skeletons, mummies and fossils.

Oh. Science is pretty cool. And the IAEA is about more than just monitoring Iran's nuclear facilities (which, though important, is actually not the only place where the agency works).

(image from flickr user mharrsch under a Creative Commons license)

article placeholder

Obama, Medvedev pledge to reduce nukes, dress the same

Diplomacy in action:

At a signing ceremony, Obama and Medvedev, wearing identical dark suits, white shirts and red ties, pledged to finalise a treaty by the year-end to cut the number of deployed nuclear warheads on each side to 1,500-1,675 from levels above 2,200.

If they both happened to wear the same thing, then maybe they just happened to choose similar target numbers for warhead reductions.

Of course, that's not how diplomacy is conducted. I have to agree with Matt Yglesias that, in terms of negotiating with Russia, the game of huffing and puffing about topics on which neither side is at all likely to budge is far inferior to conducting negotiations on issues about which the two countries may actually come to an agreement. If one of these happens to be fashion, then so be it.

To read this Wall Street Journal editorial, one might seriously conclude that Medvedev doesn't deserve to wear the power suit that befits an American president.

Here's an idea. Set aside the dime-store national psychoanalysis and return to first American principles and interests. This summit rests on a fiction: That Russia is an equal power to the U.S. that can offer something concrete in return for American indulgence.

Here's the thing. It doesn't matter that Russia is not "an equal power." Nobody this side of the Cold War is disputing that. But it doesn't change the fact that Russia and the United States have some interests in common, and other issues in which they differ, but both have a lot at stake. The way to achieve these "first American principles and interests" is not to rail against Russia's autocracy and heavy-handed role in certain small, independent countries in its orbit (the protection of Georgia's freedom may be important, but an American "principle" of the first order?). Reducing Russia's nuclear stockpile, securing its cooperation in fighting climate change -- these are the concrete goals that the Journal scorns. And it's going to take something much more nuanced than "indulgence" -- and, okay, more substantive than matching suits -- to reach them.

A picture of the two leaders from before their historic agreement to wear suits that are more than just almost identical.

(image from The Official White House Photostream)
article placeholder

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.

article placeholder

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.