Ukraine’s fate puts a big question mark over nuclear disarmament efforts

Special Security analysts have warned that the conflict in Ukraine could embolden Tehran and the North Korean regime in their quest for nuclear weapons. (AFP)
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Security analysts have warned that the conflict in Ukraine could embolden Tehran and the North Korean regime in their quest for nuclear weapons. (AFP)
Special Rubble and flames are seen in Bucha, Ukraine, on Feb. 27, 2022. (Bucha City Council/Handout via REUTERS)
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Rubble and flames are seen in Bucha, Ukraine, on Feb. 27, 2022. (Bucha City Council/Handout via REUTERS)
Special A view shows an apartment building damaged by recent shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 26, 2022. (REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)
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A view shows an apartment building damaged by recent shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 26, 2022. (REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)
Special Ukrainian refugees fleeing from a Russian invasion stand at Nyugati station in Budapest, Hungary, on Feb. 27, 2022. (REUTERS/Marton Monus)
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Ukrainian refugees fleeing from a Russian invasion stand at Nyugati station in Budapest, Hungary, on Feb. 27, 2022. (REUTERS/Marton Monus)
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Updated 28 February 2022

Ukraine’s fate puts a big question mark over nuclear disarmament efforts

Ukraine’s fate puts a big question mark over nuclear disarmament efforts
  • Ukraine inherited a huge arsenal of Soviet-era nuclear warheads which it voluntarily gave up
  • Russian invasion may have long-term implications for future nuclear nonproliferation efforts

IRBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan: As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its fourth day, what is for certain is that the geopolitical repercussions will be felt far away from the European operational theater. Analysts say Ukraine’s grim fate may well have long-term implications for future nuclear disarmament efforts, including in the Middle East.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine gained its independence. Along with Belarus and Kazakhstan, Ukraine inherited a huge arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles, bombers and, more crucially, nuclear warheads, which it gave up.

The government of former president Leonid Kravchuk agreed in 1994 to completely dismantle that arsenal, one of the largest in the world at the time, as part of the Budapest Memorandum, which included security assurances for protecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and political independence in return.

The full title of that agreement was the “Memorandum on security assurances in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.”

Despite all this, Russian tanks are now rolling into Kyiv to topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government, ostensibly for its pro-Western orientation. Ukraine, which aspires to be a member of both the EU and the NATO, is receiving insufficient support and assistance from Western countries to stop the Russian military juggernaut.




A Russian military armored vehicle drives along a street in Armyansk, Crimea, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. (REUTERS)

Some argue that former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi made a similar mistake when he surrendered his substantial stockpile of weapons of mass destruction to the West in 2003, only to be toppled by, and killed in, a popular armed uprising that was given decisive NATO air support less than a decade later.

Ukraine, however, could set a precedent altogether different from serial human rights-violating pariah states such as Gaddafi’s Libya, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or North Korea. It is a democratic and genuinely pro-Western country.

If the West cannot guarantee Kyiv’s security in return for furthering the campaign for nuclear disarmament, then why would unpopular, nondemocratic governments put their trust in similar security assurances in return for dismantling their stockpiles (or pledging to never develop such weapons) in the future?

“In a general sense, the invasion of Ukraine does reinforce the utility of nuclear weapons in protecting states. Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons and was attacked, yet the far more vulnerable Baltic states are (for now, anyway) safe because of NATO’s nuclear guarantee,” Kyle Orton, an independent Middle East analyst, told Arab News.

“Take the Gaddafi precedent. Had he retained his nuclear program and completed it, such weapons could not have prevented a rebellion from erupting against him in 2011. But the stark truth is it could have prevented NATO support for the rebellion, and without external support, it might well have failed, and Gaddafi would have survived,” he said.




The late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi delivers an address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Sept. 23, 2009. (AFP file photo)

Shashank Joshi, defense editor at The Economist, also believes that “the violation of the Budapest Memorandum does show that such diplomatic agreements, and particularly negative security assurances — the promise that you won’t attack someone — are difficult if not impossible to enforce over a period of decades.

“Though Gaddafi did not receive such assurances explicitly, NATO’s role in facilitating the collapse of his regime, which culminated in his murder, is also a precedent that would-be nuclear authoritarian states will keep in mind,” Joshi told Arab News.

In return for surrendering his “weapons of mass destruction” stockpile, Gaddafi was promised better relations between Libya, then an impoverished pariah state, and the West, as well as the lifting of economic sanctions against his country. Nevertheless, by 2009 he seemed to have come to regret the decision, lamenting on a visit to Italy: “We had hoped Libya would be an example to other countries … but we have not been rewarded by the world.”

In Joshi’s opinion, while such precedents “probably make it harder to secure the disarmament of North Korea, it’s important to bear in mind that Pyongyang probably would not disarm even if it did have those guarantees.” By all accounts, Kim Jong-un, and his father before him, leaders of arguably one of the most isolated and secretive countries on the planet today, took note of the Gaddafi episode.




North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) visits a drill for ballistic missile launch by the Korean People's Army on July 21, 2016. (KCNA VIA KNS / AFP)

Now, the West’s collective failure to match its words with action, in the case of a country as like-minded and globally integrated as Ukraine, could serve to further reduce the already unlikely prospect that Pyongyang would ever seriously consider nuclear disarmament in return for international guarantees and sanctions relief.

That said, could the Ukraine fiasco also impact the ongoing negotiations between Iran and the international community to revive the 2015 nuclear accord? Iran now has an estimated nuclear breakout time as short as five weeks, meaning it could build a bomb in that time frame if it decides to do so.

It is unclear if the undoubted failure of the Budapest Memorandum has further convinced some in Tehran that restoring the JCPOA is a futile endeavor. Orton, for one, is highly skeptical that the Ukraine crisis has, or will have, any significant bearing on Iran’s decision making vis-a-vis its nuclear program.




Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps chief Hossein Salami watching a launch of missiles during a drill last year. (AFP/File)

“The invasion of Ukraine has only an indirect bearing on the Iran nuclear talks, really,” he told Arab News. “Russia and the clerical regime are strategic partners, so when Russia feels emboldened against a weak and ineffective West on the strength of its Ukraine conquest, it seemingly reinforces the argument for even more Iran-friendly terms for the nuclear deal.”

Orton added: “But it’s not really a precedent or anything: Tehran’s advance toward the bomb is its own thing, for its own reasons, with its own timeline.”

Analysts further say that it is important to note that if Iran ultimately does opt to develop nuclear weapons, it may not only use them to entrench the regime’s power and deter external threats.

“Much of the debate around Iran’s nuclear program is centered on the question of whether Iran would develop nuclear weapons to use to coerce its neighbors into submitting to it, rather than in defense of Iran,” Nicholas Heras, deputy director of the Human Security Unit at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, told Arab News.

Either way, the regime in Tehran could conclude that developing nuclear weapons is worth the consequences and the risks.

Orton says that even though there are “real costs” for states that “overtly cross the nuclear threshold,” such as North Korea, some countries have concluded that those costs are worth paying.

“India, Pakistan and Israel have had their status and security enhanced by nuclear weapons,” he said: “You can run a global menagerie of Islamic radicals who kill thousands of Western troops, but you are shielded from the cost because of your nuclear coercive diplomacy.”




Russia's RS-24 Yars, a MIRV-equipped, thermonuclear weapon intercontinental ballistic missile, aredisplayed during a World War II victory celebration in Moscow. (Shutterstock photo)

Orton summed up the argument this way: “The incentives we have set, unfortunately, are for states to gain nuclear weapons and hold on to them. Technical expertise, money, state intentions and vulnerability to US sanctions seem likely to be the main constraints on proliferation going forward, not UN-blessed diplomatic instruments.”

In much the same vein, Heras described nuclear weapons as “the most effective deterrent threat against invasion that any state could possess in the modern world.”

“All nuclear weapons-possessing states have clear national security strategies that permit the use of these weapons to defend themselves,” he told Arab News. “This is a universal fact of statecraft in our modern world.”

In the final analysis, Heras said, the debate over nuclear weapons springs from the concern that the more states, or even nonstate actors, that possess them, the greater the likelihood is of such weapons being used in future conflicts.


Blinken begins Middle East trip amid spate of violence

Blinken begins Middle East trip amid spate of violence
Updated 29 January 2023

Blinken begins Middle East trip amid spate of violence

Blinken begins Middle East trip amid spate of violence
  • Blinken will repeat US calls for calm and emphasize Washington’s support for a two-state solution
  • On Sunday, Blinken met with Egyptian youth leaders at the American University in Cairo

CAIRO: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Egypt on Sunday at the start of a three-day visit to the Middle East as violence flares between Israelis and Palestinians, and with Iran and Ukraine high on the agenda.
Blinken heads on Monday to Jerusalem, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing government has stirred concern at home and abroad over the future of Israel’s secular values, fraying relations with the Arab population and deadlock in peace talks with the Palestinians.
A Palestinian gunman killed seven people in an attack outside a Jerusalem synagogue on Friday, the worst attack on Israelis in the Jerusalem area since 2008. On Thursday, Israeli forces killed seven gunmen and two civilians in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, the deadliest raid there in years.
In talks with the new Israeli administration, which includes ultra-nationalist parties that want to expand West Bank settlements, Blinken will repeat US calls for calm and emphasize Washington’s support for a two-state solution, although US officials admit peace talks are not likely soon.
Blinken will also travel to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Netanyahu’s government has proposed a sweeping overhaul of the judiciary that would strengthen political control over the appointment of judges while weakening the Supreme Court’s ability to overturn laws or strike down government action.
Demonstrations
The proposals have triggered big demonstrations against what protesters see as the undermining of judicial independence.
“It’s clearly a measure of the vibrancy of the democracy that this has been contested so clearly up and down across segments of Israeli society,” said Barbara Leaf, the top State Department official for the Middle East, briefing reporters ahead of the trip. Blinken will hear from people inside and outside of government on the reforms, she added.
Leaf said the visit would also build on earlier efforts to restore relations between Israel and Arab nations through the Negev Forum, which takes in areas such as economic cooperation and tourism, but does not include the Palestinians.
Russia’s 11-month-old war in Ukraine will also be on the agenda. Ukraine, which has received great quantities of military equipment from the United States and Europe, has pressed Israel in vain to provide systems to shoot down drones, including those supplied by Israel’s regional adversary Iran.
While it has condemned the Russian invasion, Israel has limited its assistance to humanitarian aid and protective gear, citing a desire for continued cooperation with Moscow over Syria and to ensure the wellbeing of Russia’s Jews.
The diplomats will also discuss US efforts to revive the stalled 2015 deal between big powers and Iran, opposed by Israel, that lifted international sanctions in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program.
On Sunday, Blinken met with Egyptian youth leaders at the American University in Cairo, and told reporters he wanted to strengthen Washington’s “strategic partnership” with Egypt.
Blinken will meet President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Monday, and discuss issues such as Sudan’s stuttering transition to democracy and elections in Libya, the State Department said.


Israeli guards kill ‘armed’ Palestinian near West Bank settlement

Israeli guards kill ‘armed’ Palestinian near West Bank settlement
Updated 29 January 2023

Israeli guards kill ‘armed’ Palestinian near West Bank settlement

Israeli guards kill ‘armed’ Palestinian near West Bank settlement

RAMALLAH: Israeli guards killed a Palestinian near a settlement in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian health officials said Sunday, with the Israeli military alleging he was armed.
Karam Ali Ahmad Salman, 18, was shot dead by “the Israeli occupation near the settlement of ‘Kedumim’,” the Palestinian health ministry reported.
Israel’s army said a “civilian security team” shot a person “armed with a handgun” near the settlement in the northern West Bank.
The Palestinian health ministry reported that Kedumim was built on privately-owned Palestinian land.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War and settlements are regarded as illegal under international law, a charge Israel disputes.
Salman is one of at least 32 Palestinians killed in the West Bank this month, including civilians and militants, according to an AFP tally based on official sources.
A Palestinian gunman killed seven people Friday outside a synagogue in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
In response to the deadly attack, the Israeli government announced a slew of measures including “steps to strengthen settlements.”
The latest violence follows a surge in killings last year.
At least 26 Israelis and 200 Palestinians were killed across Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2022, the majority in the West Bank, according to AFP figures.


Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference

Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference
Updated 29 January 2023

Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference

Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference

ALGIERS: Parliamentary committees of member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Saturday agreed on the need to digitize the OIC’s work and organize periodic virtual sessions and meetings to enhance its work.

General secretaries unanimously agreed during preparatory meetings for the 17th session of the Parliamentary Union of the OIC Member States, which is set to be held in the Algerian capital, Algiers, on Sunday.

PUIC Secretary-General Mouhamed Khouraichi Niass renewed his call for setting up a cooperation mechanism between Islamic and international parliaments to strengthen relations in all fields.

Niass expressed his hope to develop a work program to achieve the objectives of the PUIC’s General Assembly and to exchange scientific and practical expertise to upgrade the performance of the General Secretariat.

On Friday, the ninth meeting of the standing committee specialized in cultural and legal affairs and the dialogue of civilizations and religions was held, where members reviewed a number of draft resolutions related to Islamic sanctities in Muslim and non-Islamic countries, especially the protection of the Al-Aqsa Mosque from threats. 

The committee also dealt with combating religious intolerance and supporting dialogue among civilizations, as well as combating the dangers of xenophobia and Islamophobia around the world.


Challenge for Tunisian democracy: Getting voters to show up

Tunisian prominent activist, Ayachi Hammami, speaks outside a court in Tunis, Tunisia January 10, 2023. (REUTERS)
Tunisian prominent activist, Ayachi Hammami, speaks outside a court in Tunis, Tunisia January 10, 2023. (REUTERS)
Updated 29 January 2023

Challenge for Tunisian democracy: Getting voters to show up

Tunisian prominent activist, Ayachi Hammami, speaks outside a court in Tunis, Tunisia January 10, 2023. (REUTERS)
  • Analysts note a growing crisis of confidence between citizens and the political class since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution unleashed uprisings across the region, and led Tunisians to create a new democratic political system celebrated with a Nobel Peace Prize

TUNIS: Tunisia was once the Arab world’s hope for a new era of democracy. Now it’s in the midst of an election that’s more of an embarrassment than a model.
Barely 11 percent of voters turned out in the first round of parliamentary elections last month, boycotted by opposition groups and ignored by many Tunisians disillusioned with their leaders.
Ten candidates secured seats in the legislature even though not a single voter cast a ballot for them, simply because they ran unopposed.
In seven constituencies, not even one candidate bothered to run.
President Kais Saied is pinning his hopes on Sunday’s second round of voting, which will wrap up his sweeping redesign of Tunisian politics that began when he suspended the previous parliament in 2021.
The new body will have fewer powers than its predecessor and risks being little more than a rubber stamp for Saied.
The president and many Tunisians blamed the previous parliament, led by the Ennahdha party, for political deadlock seen as worsening the country’s protracted economic and social crises.
Some Ennahdha officials have been jailed and the party is refusing to take part in the parliamentary elections, and has held repeated protests.
In last month’s first-round voting, 23 candidates secured seats outright in the 161-seat parliament: 10 of them because they ran unopposed and 13 because they won more than 50 percent of the vote, according to election officials.
In Sunday’s second round, voters are choosing among 262 candidates seeking to fill the 131 remaining seats.
In the seven constituencies with no candidate, special elections will be held later to fill the seats, likely in March. Since Saied was elected president in 2019 with 72 percent of the vote, his support among Tunisians has dulled.
Analysts note a growing crisis of confidence between citizens and the political class since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution unleashed uprisings across the region, and led Tunisians to create a new democratic political system celebrated with a Nobel Peace Prize in 2015.
Daily life for Tunisians seems to keep getting worse.
At a Tunis food market, vendors struggled to sell strings of dates, fish heaped on ice, piles of eggplants and herbs as shoppers lamented rising prices.
Few seemed to think Sunday’s vote would solve their problems.
Successive elections “have brought me nothing,” sighed Mohammed Ben Moussa, an employee of a private company.
The economy is meanwhile teetering.
According to the latest figures from the National Institute of Statistics, unemployment has reached more than 18 percent and exceeds 25 percent in the poor regions of the interior of the country, while inflation rate is 10.1 percent.
Tunisia has been suffering for several years from record budget deficits that affect its ability to pay its suppliers of medicines, food and fuel, causing shortages of milk, sugar, vegetable oil and other staples.
The Tunisian government is currently negotiating a $1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, which was frozen in December.

 


Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people

Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people
Updated 29 January 2023

Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people

Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people

DUBAI: An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.9 struck northwest Iran near the border with Turkiye on Saturday, killing at least three people and injuring more than 300, state media reported.
The official news agency IRNA reported the toll citing the head of emergency services at the university in the city of Khoy, near the quake’s epicenter.
An emergency official told state TV that it was snowing in some of the affected areas, with freezing temperatures and some power cuts reported.
Major geological faultlines crisscross Iran, which has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years.