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.


Bahrain’s Crown Prince discusses bilateral relations with Japan PM

Bahrain’s Crown Prince discusses bilateral relations with Japan PM
Updated 11 sec ago

Bahrain’s Crown Prince discusses bilateral relations with Japan PM

Bahrain’s Crown Prince discusses bilateral relations with Japan PM

DUBAI: Bahraini Crown Prince and Prime Minister Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa met with Japan’s Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo on Wednesday.

The crown prince discussed the depth of Bahrain-Japan relations, emphasizing Bahrain’s commitment to strengthening bilateral relations between the two nations.

Kishida and Prince Salman also agreed to explore opportunities that would aid the advancement of Bahrain and Japan’s strategic partnership in various fields.

The two leaders discussed the latest regional and international economic developments, and issues of common interest.

Bahrain’s PM attended ABE Shinzo’s state funeral on Tuesday and extended condolences to Abe’s wife, Akie Abe, and their family.

 

*This article was originally published on Arab News Japan.  


Kuwait goes to polls, yet again, as opposition groups return

Kuwait goes to polls, yet again, as opposition groups return
Updated 4 min 22 sec ago

Kuwait goes to polls, yet again, as opposition groups return

Kuwait goes to polls, yet again, as opposition groups return
  • Kuwait has held 18 elections since the parliamentary system was adopted in 1962
  • Parliament has been all-male since the only woman MP lost her seat in December 2020

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait will hold its most inclusive elections in a decade Thursday with some opposition groups ending a boycott after the oil-rich country’s royal rulers pledged not to interfere with parliament.
The polls are the sixth in 10 years, reflecting the repeated political crises that have gripped the only Gulf Arab state with a fully elected parliament.
The elections come after Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah announced the dissolution of parliament in June following disputes between lawmakers and the government, the fourth to be named in two years.
Several opposition MPs had been on strike in protest at delays to parliamentary sessions and the failure to form a new government. A core source of friction is MPs’ demand for ministers from the royal family to be held accountable for corruption.
Kuwait, which borders Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran and is one of the world’s biggest oil exporters, has held 18 elections since the parliamentary system was adopted in 1962.
But when he dissolved parliament, Sheikh Meshal promised there would be no interference by authorities in the election or the new parliament.
“We will not interfere in the people’s choices for their representatives, nor will we interfere with the choices of the next National Assembly in choosing its speaker or its committees,” the crown prince said.
“Parliament will be the master of its decisions, and we will not be supporting one faction at the expense of another. We will stand at the same distance from everyone.”
Opposition figures have stayed out of elections over the past 10 years, accusing executive authorities of meddling in the workings of parliament.
One of them, People’s Action Movement candidate Mohammad Musaed Al-Dossari, said he had been persuaded to stand again by the crown prince’s promises.
Sheikh Meshal’s speech “reassured” Kuwaitis and “encouraged the political groups and MPs who had been boycotting to return to run in the elections,” Al-Dossari said.
Thursday’s vote also comes after the country’s emir issued an amnesty last year for political opponents who had been tried on various charges.
Some 305 candidates, including 22 women, are competing for 50 seats in five constituencies. Parliament has been all-male since the only woman MP lost her seat in December 2020.
Women represent 51.2 percent of the 795,920 voters. About 70 percent of the population of around 4.2 million is made up of expatriates.
While the last elections were affected by anti-coronavirus measures, this time candidates have been able to open electoral offices and hold live hustings. Security services have stepped up their monitoring of vote-buying.
The election results are expected to be announced on Friday. The opposition, mostly Islamist politicians, won 24 seats out of 50 in the last polls.


Cleric’s supporters again storm Baghdad’s government zone

Cleric’s supporters again storm Baghdad’s government zone
Updated 31 min 56 sec ago

Cleric’s supporters again storm Baghdad’s government zone

Cleric’s supporters again storm Baghdad’s government zone
  • Al-Sadr’s bloc won the most votes in parliamentary elections last October but he has been unable to form a majority government

BAGHDAD: Supporters of Iraq’s influential Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr again stormed Baghdad’s Green Zone government area Wednesday as the Iraqi parliament holds session on the resignation of its speaker.
Associated Press journalists saw those supporting Sadr waving flags as security forces gathered around them.
Al-Sadr’s bloc won the most votes in parliamentary elections last October but he has been unable to form a majority government. His followers stormed the parliament in late July to prevent their rivals from Iran-backed Shiite groups from forming the government.
With ensuing rallies, clashes with security forces, counter-rallies and a sit-in outside parliament, the government formation process has stalled.
Al-Sadr has now been calling for the dissolution of parliament and early elections and has been in a power struggle with his Iran-backed rivals since the vote.


Kurdish officials: Iran launches new drone bombings in Iraq

Kurdish officials: Iran launches new drone bombings in Iraq
Updated 51 min 4 sec ago

Kurdish officials: Iran launches new drone bombings in Iraq

Kurdish officials: Iran launches new drone bombings in Iraq
  • The Iranian drone strikes targeted a military camp, homes, offices and other areas around Koya
  • Tehran did not immediately acknowledge the attack

KOYA, Iraq: Iran launched a new drone bombing campaign Wednesday targeting the bases of an Iranian-Kurdish opposition group in northern Iraq amid demonstrations engulfing the Islamic Republic, Kurdish officials said.
The strikes early Wednesday focused on Koya, some 60 kilometers (35 miles) east of Irbil, said Soran Nuri, a member of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan. The group, known by the acronym KDPI, is a leftist armed opposition force banned in Iran.
The Iranian drone strikes targeted a military camp, homes, offices and other areas around Koya, Nuri said. Nuri described the attack as ongoing.
An Associated Press journalist saw ambulances racing through Koya after the strikes.
Tehran did not immediately acknowledge the attack. On Saturday and Monday, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard unleashed a wave of drone and artillery strikes targeting Kurdish positions.
The attacks appear to be a response to the ongoing protests roiling Iran over the death of a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman who was detained by the nation’s morality police.
The United Nations Secretary-General called on Iran early Wednesday to refrain from using “unnecessary or disproportionate force” against protesters as unrest over a young woman’s death in police custody spread across the country.
Antonio Guterres said through a spokesman that authorities should swiftly conduct an impartial investigation of the death of Mahsa Amini, which has sparked unrest across Iran’s provinces and the capital of Tehran.
“We are increasingly concerned about reports of rising fatalities, including women and children, related to the protests,” UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric in a statement. “We underline the need for prompt, impartial and effective investigation into Ms. Mahsa Amini’s death by an independent competent authority.”
Protests have spread across at least 46 cities, towns and villages in Iran. State TV reported that at least 41 protesters and police have been killed since the protests began Sept. 17.
An Associated Press count of official statements by authorities tallied at least 14 dead, with more than 1,500 demonstrators arrested.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, meanwhile, said it documented the arrests of at least 23 journalists as the clashes between security forces and protesters heated up.
CPJ in a Wednesday statement called on Iranian authorities to “immediately” release arrested journalists who covered Amini’s death and protests.
Dujarric added that Guterres stressed the need to respect human rights, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association during the meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on September 22nd.


Three killed in Israel Jenin raid: Palestinian ministry

Three killed in Israel Jenin raid: Palestinian ministry
Updated 47 min 21 sec ago

Three killed in Israel Jenin raid: Palestinian ministry

Three killed in Israel Jenin raid: Palestinian ministry
  • The Israeli army confirmed in a tweet that troops were “operating in Jenin”
  • The raids have sparked clashes that have killed dozens of Palestinians, including fighters

RAMALLAH: Three Palestinians were killed Wednesday during an Israeli West Bank raid targeting alleged militants, including the brother of a man blamed for a deadly attack in Tel Aviv, the Palestinian health ministry said.
The Palestinian health ministry recorded three deaths during the raid in Jenin, including Abed Hazem, brother of Raad Hazem, named as the killer of three Israelis in a Tel Aviv shooting spree on April 7.
The Israeli army confirmed troops had shot dead “two suspects involved in a number of recent shooting attacks.”
The Israeli army confirmed in a tweet that troops were “operating in Jenin,” a militant stronghold that has suffered near daily violence. It did not immediately provide further details of the raid.
Since March, Israel has launched hundreds of operations in the northern West Bank, including Jenin and nearby Nablus, in pursuit of individuals it accuses of involvement in deadly attacks targeting Israelis.
The raids have sparked clashes that have killed dozens of Palestinians, including fighters.