The return of nuclear disarmament ?


A long interlude seems to conclude itself. The nuclear disarmament programme, in particular that of the two great powers disappeared from the political scene for ten years. However the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), in force since 1970, made obligation to the five powers “equipped” with the weapon to forward disarmament. On the other hand, other State signatories are banned from such type of armament, but the right to control the civil form of the atom is recognised.

Since the beginning of the year, in fact since the Barack Obama presidency, the declarations precipitate giving world safety another image.

A dangerous situation blocked for a long time

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, American obsession was to leave bonds imposed by the Cold War. It was necessary to re-examine agreements signed with the Soviet Union at the time of a bipolar world where military parity was set. Actually behind this openly posted objective another discreet range even more ambitious was profiled. It consisted in the release from constraints after the Second World War imposing management of the world with the Allies, within a U.N. framework. The attacks of September 2001 allowed a major opportunity for the United States to be reconstituted as leader against the Axis of Evil and to polarize international alliances around this idea. But for a limited time only, because events in the war against Iraq, subsequently stalemate, will not allow behavior of such a posture in the long-term.

Also, the ABM Treaty signed with the Soviet Union in 1972, whose objective was to limit the antiballistic missile defense system, was denounced by the United States in December 2001 to allow them set up a system of space shield, as unrealistic and financially unviable as the “Star Wars” project from Ronald Reagan, but equally destabilizing.

Iran, suspected of wanting a nuclear weapon, will serve as a pretext for the installation in Europe of an advanced anti-missile system composed of a radar tracking station in Czech Republic and deployment of fixed battery missile interceptors in Poland. This project has poisoned relations between the United States and Russia for more than two years. Russia feeling obviously threatened by this system against which Putin firmly warned in his speech at a safety conference in Munich in 2007. Accompanying enlargement in the West by NATO, it contributes to the slow down of any projection towards real nuclear disarmament. Thus, the START negotiations, aimed at dismantling strategic nuclear armaments and whose first grinding goes back to 1991, remained almost at a dead end during the two Bush mandates. Except for prolongation, this Treaty is supposed to expire on December 5, 2009. As for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it must be revised in May 2010. Actually these two treaties are dependant because the NPT invites nuclear powers to reduce their arsenals, of which 95% are held by the United States and Russia.

Since the Barack Obama presidency, views have changed in Washington, gradually with small touches, evidence of obstacles put forward by those who look back to previous eras.

A new orientation

The day before the United Nations Summit, official announcement of the abandonment of the “anti-missile shield” deployed in Europe constitutes a turning point in Russo-American relations. It is truly a change of course regarding defense, pretext by a revaluation of the “Iranian threat”. Admittedly, a new alternative project, intended to calm Czech and Polish concerns, will be implemented in several phases and will aim at positioning SM-3 missiles intended to counter only short and average range rockets. Moreover Patriot missiles would be deployed in Poland. But nothing would be operational before 2015 or 2018 ; added to the fact that adhesion of the Ukraine and Georgia with NATO no longer seems topical. One understands the concern of countries from ex- Eastern Europe. They already felt betrayed by Western Europe, who over their heads, dialogued with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. This time, they feel let down by the Americans and not thanked for their allegiance to Bush at the time of the Iraq War. It is a sign that something is happening in Washington. One no longer counts on “new Europe” as in the Bush period. “Old Europe” which had approved the shield says nothing and does not seem too annoyed at appearing more credible from now on regarding defense in the eyes of “new Europe”.

But this blow of theater fits in a sky, which was released at the beginning of the year. Speeches and meetings increased which testified to important conceptual parallels in support of convergences. Barack Obama launched an ambitious work site concerning reduction of arsenals and reinforcement of non-proliferation, not hesitating to make military chiefs re-examine their copy considered too timorous. On Afghanistan, NATO already obtained Russian co-operation, which grants the transit of soldiers and military material by air and overland. With this agreement allowing America substantial savings of time and money, Moscow obviously fears the return of the Taliban in Kabul.

Important speeches marked the ground. Obama understood very quickly the desire of Russia to be treated as a major power to dialog with. Only the military field really lends to it. His speech in Moscow, beginning of July, at the summit with Medvedev, following his speech in Cairo intended for the Moslem world, enabled him to affirm that a “great power does not show its force while dominating other countries”. It demonstrated his will to commit himself “to stop nuclear proliferation and contribute to the building of a world without nuclear weapons in the long term”. He also proposed to break with “the idea according to which possession of such weapons confers prestige, or that we can protect while choosing which countries are right or not to hold them is an illusion”.

Resumption of the START negotiations has started and predicts higher arsenal reductions than those initially under consideration by the two parties at the time of the Moscow Summit.

The Iranian stone

This file is not bilateral and therefore partly escapes from the intensity of Russo-American co-operation, while another fourth actor, Israel, is set to dramatize it. Formally, Iran’s signatory of the Treaty of Non-Proliferation cannot extend to a nuclear weapon, but has the possibility of obtaining a nuclear industry at the civilian end. Such is international law. But this law cannot exonerate examination of the regional context. Africa and Latin America are continents where the nuclear weapon was banished. Asia and the Middle East, on the contrary, constitute a zone where military nuclear power already proliferated under various statutes.

Two countries (Russia and China) were seen recognizing the statute of States equipped with the nuclear weapon by NPT. Three other countries (India, Pakistan and Israel) having refused to engage in the Treaty had legally free hands to reach a nuclear weapon. A sixth country (North Korea) left the Treaty temporarily… then came back having acquired nuclear military potential, negotiating dismantling under advantageous conditions. Lastly, two other countries, signatories of the Treaty (South Korea and Japan), acquired the statute of

“ threshold states”, i.e. capacity under short notice (less than a year) to acquire the weapon, without having the slightest reproach. It is probable that Iran, undisputed regional power, aspires to such a statute. The presence of an American armada in its surrounding area leads it there.

The situation is unstable and dangerous, above all because this continent crystallizes the various situations of recognized rights or snatches and singular situations that do not support the emergence of a legitimately accepted rule. A thorough review is essential