Open split between the US and Russia overshadows NPT review conference

08.05.2015 - Pressenza Budapest

Open split between the US and Russia overshadows NPT review conference

By Bob Rigg*

The opening statement by the Deputy Head of the Russian delegation to the NPT review conference was amended and amplified at the last minute in response to the earlier statement by John Kerry on behalf of the US. Two and a half additional pages were added, articulating a number of questions which will hang over the conference.

The original first part of the Russian statement was relatively bland, possibly in the hope that the US statement would be similarly opaque. It wasn’t, and the Russians then spoke out very strongly.

I shall begin by expanding on what, in my view, are the major issues arising from the US statement, and will then turn to the subsequent Russian statement.

US statement by Secretary of State John Kerry, with brief text from President Barack Obama

On 5 April 2009 the newly elected President Barack Obama, speaking in Prague, electrified the world with his apparently sincere advocacy of nuclear disarmament. Just six years later the same President was unwilling to travel from Washington to New York to address the opening session of the quinquennial NPT review conference. He delegated to his reliable workhorse, Secretary of State John Kerry, who read out a presidential message as unmemorable as it was brief. The word disarmament was used just once, with most emphasis being placed on non-proliferation – stopping “the spread of nuclear weapons”. This then became the central thrust of Kerry’s own statement.

Kerry began somewhat unfortunately by referring to the UN Charter and its pledge to “save humankind from the scourge of war and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”. In today’s disillusioned multipolar post-cold war epoch this all-too familiar US rhetoric is no longer credible. Names such as Hiroshima, Nagasaki, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya are associated in the minds of the world with terrifying orgies of destruction, arbitrary killing, cruelty and injustice. US armed forces have done much and sometimes all of the damage in these countries, some of which were bombed back almost into the stone age. Meaningful US reparations have almost never been paid “to promote social progress and better standards of life in these countries”, most of which were seriously underdeveloped even before they were bombed.

In the absence of the cold war the international community has increasingly come to see the US as it is – a deeply flawed former democracy controlled by family dynasties and the super rich, an unrepresentative and corrupt political system, a gridlocked judiciary often serving politics, not justice, third world income distribution, endemic racism, and an all‑powerful military/industrial complex. Barack Obama and John Kerry are now pied pipers who are being seen by the world for what they really represent. The emperors have lost their clothes.

Remarkably enough, given the controversy the NPT has sparked since its inception, it is described by Kerry as “a pretty straightforward arrangement, nothing complicated. Countries without nuclear weapons will not obtain them; countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament; and all countries will have access to peaceful nuclear energy.” Even before the NPT entered into force the US and other countries had covertly helped Israel to develop nuclear weapons. Israel was followed by India, Pakistan, South Africa, and North Korea. While it is true that in particular the US and Russia have reduced the size of their formerly gargantuan nuclear stockpiles, both still have more than enough sophisticated warheads backed by missiles, submarines and aircraft to destroy the world several times over. This was the origin of the word overkill.

Both Russia and the US are now developing hypersonic super jets that will be able to fly across the world, striking any target within 60 minutes. The issue of nuclear weapons must be considered in relation to the delivery vehicles available to those who possess them. Is this illustrative of the “wary but steady march in the direction of reason towards the promise of peace” that Kerry refers to in his speech? And if Iran is a test case for Kerry’s assertion that “all” countries “will have” access to peaceful energy, not one of his three criteria for the success of the NPT regime can withstand a moment’s scrutiny.

Kerry states: “Verifying compliance with the NPT is not good enough if we don’t hold all parties accountable to [sic] their violations. And North Korea is the most glaring example.” Was the US in violation of the NPT when it assisted Israel to develop its nuclear capability and to train staff from Dimona at US nuclear facilities? Was China in violation of the NPT when it helped Pakistan to become nuclear-capable? Are nuclear weapon states violating the NPT when they relentlessly upgrade and modernize their nuclear arsenals, at enormous expense? Strangely enough, when the nuclear weapon states drafted the NPT, they immunized themselves against IAEA inspections. Is this a satisfactory state of affairs, given that their non-compliance manifestly undermines the integrity of the legal instrument which they pretend to uphold, and which legitimizes their never-ending intrusions into the affairs of lesser IAEA member states?

Because the issue of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East has been the most absolutely divisive issue at all review conferences since 1995, Kerry had to address it, although towards the end of his statement. In spite of the acute tension currently testing the US relationship with Israel, Kerry clearly states that the participation and consent of Israel, which is not named, is a non-negotiable precondition for any NPT deal on a WMD-free zone: “there is no prospect for engagement or agreement absent the agreement of the states involved.” This position is a blow in the face to the many states which have battled for a WMD-free zone, in some cases, as with Iran, since the days of the Shah. The key question is: given the increasing instability of the Middle East, and its lop-sided dependence on the US for military and political support, will Middle Eastern states allow themselves to be marginalized on this issue for the duration of the conference?

Russian statement, by Mikhail I. Uliyanov, Deputy Head of the Russian delegation to the NPT review conference

“We have reduced our arsenal to a minimal level”. Russia later states that it could have reduced its arsenal more if the US had not “undermined strategic stability in the world through undermining global stability”. This important claim will be examined later in this article.

Russia will mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II on Saturday 9 May 2015. For Russia, whose World War II losses, suffered in epic battles viciously fought out across much of the country, could have been as high as 28 million, this is a day for somber reflection. It can also not be forgotten that, if Germany had not been tied down and ultimately defeated by Russia on its eastern front, Germany may well have defeated and occupied the United Kingdom, completing its domination of Western Europe.

Russia’s enormous wartime sacrifices have enduringly benefited Western Europe, which could have honoured this by sharing in the anniversary ceremonies. All political leaders could have been invited to participate in a special non-military event in an appropriate environment, dedicated to remembrance and a celebration of peace, with young people and children in attendance, perhaps accompanied by classical music performed by leading artists from Russia and the west.

Instead of this the west, prodded by the US, boycotted the ceremony, allegedly because of Ukraine, but in reality because they wanted to humiliate Putin. Since the beginning of the cold war the west has systematically played down the crucial importance of the Soviet war effort for allied victory in Western Europe.

If the west had opted to participate in Russia’s anniversary ceremony, in the name of international peace and security, this would have enhanced communication with Russia, and would certainly have benefited the review conference. A golden opportunity to symbolically mend broken fences was missed. The west is far more interested in demonizing and isolating Russia, i.e. in fulfilling the preconditions for war, than in seeking out opportunities to build bridges. This will weigh heavily on the review conference.

There had been a “lack of progress in removing threats to strategic stability”.   This is code for ­­- things have happened which have undermined trust and cooperation between key players. They will be examined later in this article.

The world is “close to a stage when advancement to ‘nuclear zero’ is only possible through the involvement of all nuclear-weapon-capable states without exception.” If this is read together with the claim at the end about servicemen from five NATO states who, in violation of Articles I and II of the NPT, are trained in the use of US nuclear weapons on their territory, and if this is expanded to include all other nuclear-weapon-capable states including Israel, Russia is declaring that, only when all such states act to ensure that the NPT process is truly universal will that process have a shred of credibility. And only then is progress a real possibility.

Russia accords high priority to a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. Israel is the elephant in the room here, as everyone knows. We now know, amongst other things, that State Department and other US govt employees can be prosecuted and jailed if they make public statements about Israel’s nuclear programme. From before its entry into force the integrity of the NPT has been fatally compromised by US hypocrisy and double-dealing on this issue. Whatever Russia’s motives in raising a WMD-free zone in the Middle East may be, it has been THE issue since the 1995 NPT review and extension conference, and still is.

The rapidly growing political assertiveness of the Arab League in matters concerning their region will ensure that this issue will once again be in the forefront of debate, even though there are grounds for suspecting that at least some deep-pocketed Arab states may have ulterior motives for developing dual-use “peaceful” nuclear technology. And there is always the open question of whether, if Saudi Arabia was perceived as being under attack, Pakistan might be tempted to play the role of a nuclear superman.

At this point Russia’s annoyance with Kerry’s statement on behalf of the US breached the dyke, and overflowed into a flood of allegations, almost all of which, as far as this writer can see, are absolutely justified. Read on:

The principal allegation is: US policy hinders further reductions in Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

The supporting arguments are:

  • The US buildup of a global missile system. In addition to US nuclear missiles stationed on the territory of five European NATO allies, the US is busily installing nuclear-capable missiles all along Russia’s borders, and even on ships off the coast of Poland and Romania, it would seem. We can recall how the US nearly triggered a world war because the Soviet Union had installed a few nuclear-capable missiles in Cuba. Imagine how the GOP and the Pentagon would respond if Russia and Iran stationed nuclear missiles along US borders with Canada and Mexico. Putin’s concern is real, and explains why he is behaving as he is. He is not paranoid; US neoconservatives are actually out to get him. The US has been King Kong since WWII. Its preeminence is slowly but surely being eroded. It cannot come to terms with that, and is seeking to isolate China diplomatically for the time being, given its immense economic power, including over the US economy. US neoconservatives want to first isolate and crush Russia, and then to take on China. When Putin replaced the compliant Medvedev and began to flex his muscles, he was initially rewarded for this (it is now fatally easy to forget how he was, under Bush, lionised by western media, and wallowed in accolades – Time magazine man of the year etc.) He was actually being rewarded for standing up to the west. Now he is being isolated and demonized, converted into a political leper. At the recent G20 conference in Australia no one would sit with him over lunch, while everyone wanted to date Obama, who signs off on kill lists every week, defends the surveillance deep state, and preaches nuclear disarmament while supporting massive expenditure on upgrading and modernizing the US nuclear arsenal, arguably in violation of the NPT.
  • The US is blocking negotiations on a treaty on weapons in outer space. This has been absolutely true, for many years now. Leading US military and political leaders have even said that, as far as they are concerned, outer space is the exclusive province of the US. In the meantime the incredible speed with which space-related military and surveillance technologies are advancing make this an ever more pressing issue.
  • The US is circumventing the INF treaty, amongst other things by locating missile launchers off Poland and Romania. This claim appears to be justified.
  • Russia points out that the US is justifying its position on some key issues with reference to “reliable confidential sources”. Although the US is happy to make increasing public use of such sources, it refuses to share such information with those who are then publicly attacked and discredited. This is another large elephant in the room, but one which almost no one is talking about. UNSCOM’s Iraq inspections could only achieve results with the help of satellite and other intelligence available at the time. So UNSCOM entered into a Faustian pact to receive data from US intelligence. By manipulating the intelligence the US intelcom was able to manipulate UNSCOM’s inspections. This is also a central dimension of Iran’s problems with the IAEA, apart from the fact that its current Director‑General Amano was chosen because he had been sniffed over by State Department dogs, and had been identified as no friend of Iran. The IAEA has no independent intelligence-gathering capacity, and has no staff, other than unidentifiable in-house spies, with intelligence expertise (disarmament work is so politically sensitive that all such organisations are penetrated by various intelligence agencies). Because of this Director-General El Baradei (Amano’s predecessor) hired a few senior staff qualified to deal with intelligence-related issues. As soon as Amano took over these positions were axed, in consultation with the US delegation. So when the US or other states such as Israel make damning allegations against Iran which deserve to be scrutinized very closely indeed, the IAEA lacks the professional capacity and quite possibly the will to deal independently with such issues. This is at the heart of the ongoing controversy about the PMD (possible military dimensions) of Iran’s nuclear programme. Most of the information on which these allegations are apparently based is derived from a mysterious laptop which was passed to the IAEA via the US, almost certainly from Israeli intelligence. El Baradei’s specialists doubted its credibility, and felt that its dubious authenticity meant that it could not be used as evidence against Iran. As soon as Amano took office, El Baradei’s specialist staff positions were axed, and the Israeli laptop was resurrected. When Iran was informed of the allegations, it quite understandably wanted to forensically examine the laptop and any other evidence, to assess its credibility. The IAEA refused to hand over the originals, saying that, if it did so, it could compromise the identity of its confidential sources. Extremely serious charges are being publicly levelled at Iran, which has consistently been denied the right to independently examine the evidence that purportedly underpins these charges. The IAEA is proceeding like a kangaroo court. While international disarmament organisations lack an independent intelligence-gathering capacity, they will continue to be abjectly dependent on possibly false intelligence fed to them by national agencies, especially those of the US and Israel. Given the growing array of technological options for falsifying intelligence, this problem can only increase in importance. It goes almost without saying that, if Cuba, Iran, or Russia made serious allegations against the US based on information so confidential that they felt unable to share it with the US, they would be laughed out of court. The IAEA’s intelligence‑handling practices are not merely grossly unfair, they are also highly discriminatory.
  • Russia’s statement also alleges that, in training staff to operate nuclear weapons on the territory of five NATO allies of the US, the US and its NATO friends are in violation of Articles I and II of the NPT. This is a serious allegation of non-compliance, from one nuclear weapon state against another. But as things are at present there will be no follow up. The Board of Governors and the IAEA Secretariat will turn a deaf ear. If serious allegations of non‑compliance can be made with impunity, this calls into question the NPT itself. The lingering question is: if the US made precisely the same allegations against Russia, would they also be ignored by the IAEA? Why is one session of the review conference not devoted to preliminary discussion of such allegations, including from NGOs, that nuclear weapon states and other member states may have violated the NPT? The IAEA would be mandated to impartially investigate all such allegations, and to report back to the next review conference. If the IAEA confirmed such allegations, or found that they could not be rejected out of hand, it would be required to report back to a special session of the conference, whose meetings would be open to all authorized participants.

* Bob Rigg is former senior editor with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and a former chair of the New Zealand National Consultative Committee on Disarmament. He is a freelance researcher and writer specialising in nuclear issues, the Middle East, Central Asia, and US foreign policy.

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