New UNSC resolution on nuclear disarmament: "enjoyment of the benefits of the NPT by a State Party can be assured only by its compliance with the obligations thereunder"

U.S. President Barack Obama presided over the UN Security Council meeting today that adopted Resolution 1887, which notes, among other things, that “enjoyment of the benefits of the NPT by a State Party can be assured only by its compliance with the obligations thereunder”. That is a nice, consensus phrase — and one directed specifically at Iran, which is claiming the right to a full enrichment cycle of uranium for nuclear fuel, but which is accused of not having reported the development of its program in a timely manner.

The SC meeting, and agreement on the resolution, is a very major diplomatic achievement for Obama.

The resolution says that the main aim is, eventually, “a world without nuclear weapons”, which would be a total reversal of the doctrine of Mutually-Assured Destruction that is believed to have kept the Cold War from developing into a hot war.

Resolution 1887 also “Calls upon all States that are not Parties to the NPT to accede to the Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon States so as to achieve its universality at an early date, and pending their accession to the Treaty, to adhere to its terms”. Israel is one of the countries most affected by this clause — as are also India and Pakistan (and apparently also now North Korea). These are countries which were regarded as “threshhold” countries when the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) was adopted in 1967, but which have since reportedly become nuclear weapons states (though Israel maintains its policy of “nuclear ambiguity”). The only states recognized as nuclear powers by the NPT are the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council — pure coincidence, if you believe some of these council members …

Most of these former-threshhold states are not likely to be happy at the prospect that they can only join the NPT as non-nuclear-weapons states.

In any case, it was a rare UN Security Council summit, with 14 of the 15 UN Security Council members represented by their Heads of State and/or Government — and only Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi was absent (though he addressed the UN General Assembly in New York earlier this week, and Libya is currently one of the non-permanent members of the UNSC).

Instead, this SC meeting was addressed by Libya’s UN ambassador, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgam, who told the meeting that Israel’s nuclear sites should be subject to international oversight, or “Otherwise, all the states of the Middle East will say, `We have a right to develop nuclear weapons. Why Israel alone?’ “. Israel has not ratified the NPT, and thus cannot be accused of having violated its provisions. John Bolton, when he was in charge of disarmament matters for the American State Department, said when pressed by a journalist once in Geneva that the U.S. does believe Israel should join the NPT — but eventually, in the far distant future. Another American official later added that this would have to be as a “non-nuclear-weapon State”. This does not, apparently, mean that the former “threshhold” states would have to eliminate their arsenals, but rather that they would not be allowed to assume the title (or perquisites) of nuclear weapons powers.

As remote as they may seem, major documents such as this often become the basis and the justification for major future international policy moves.
The Associated Press counted, and reported that the resolution contains 2,300 words.

It is a document full of nuance.

It was promoted by the U.S., and adopted in a UNSC meeting chaired by the President of the U.S., which calls for all states to “sign and ratify” the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), “thereby bringing the treaty into force at an early date”. The CTBT was, in fact, promoted by the U.S., and which then-U.S. President Bill Clinton did sign in 1996 (after the text of the treaty was finally agreed in international negotiations in which the U.S. actively participate) did not even try to take to the U.S. Congress for approval in 1999, because Republican opposition to curbs they said would be imposed on U.S. sovereignty so clearly indicated that the move would have been defeated.

This resolution also calls for the negotiation of a treaty limiting the production of fissile material — this has been the chief U.S. goal in the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament for years, but it has been held up because the U.S. has not agreed to deal with China’s main concern, which is the prevention of an arms-race in outer-space. The Conference on Disarmament works on consensus, and China’s position has been backed by Russia. Other countries have also objected to other aspects of this proposal, including the fact that the proposed new Fissile Ban treaty would only limit future production of the fissile material needed to make nuclear explosions — meaning that the big and powerful countries would be able to keep the large stockpiles they already have of fissile material, while all others would be left as “have-nots” (just as with nuclear weapons themselves, which is the basis of the objections to the NPT from some countries, including those former “threshhold” countries who have since become self-declared nuclear weapons states, as India did in 1998. This self-definition has now officially been shot down in this new UNSC resolution adopted today).

The UN press release providing coverage of the meeting stated that: “Unanimously adopting resolution 1887 (2009) in its first comprehensive action on nuclear issues since the mid-1990s, Council members emphasized that the body had a primary responsibility to address nuclear threats, and that all situations of non-compliance with nuclear treaties should be brought to its attention … The meeting began at 9:30 a.m. and ended at 11:30 a.m”. All of this, within two hours.

The UN press release also reported that “the Security Council had before it a concept paper conveyed in a letter dated 15 September 2009 (document S/2009/463) from the President of the Security Council [this month, it’s the U.S] and addressed to the Secretary-General [which said that] the Security Council will focus broadly on nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament and not on any specific countries, with the goals of underscoring the global reach of proliferation threats; the broadly shared obligation to respond; the positive steps taken to reduce nuclear dangers; and the Council’s essential role in addressing growing and pressing nuclear threats … According to the paper, the summit is intended as an opportunity to build support for fissile material cut-off treaty negotiations; the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol; ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty; and strategic arms control, including new negotiations over the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START)”.

While the U.S. said that the focus would be broad rather than on any specific countries, the individual statements made by world leaders in the UN SC meeting Thursday did name names — especially Iran and North Korea …

A group of countries including Western Europeans and the U.S. are due to meet again on 1 October with an Iranian delegation in Geneva, Switzerland for “Geneva Talks Two”, a continuation of a day-long meeting held in Geneva in July 2008.

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Continue reading “New UNSC resolution on nuclear disarmament: "enjoyment of the benefits of the NPT by a State Party can be assured only by its compliance with the obligations thereunder"”

Experts call collision of orbiting US and Russian satellites "catastropic"

What more is there to say than this?

Apparently, there is only “little risk” to the international space station — not no risk, just a little one.

Remember the fuss about space debris when China deliberately shot down one of its “weather” satellites (apparently to try to focus attention on China’s belief that it is urgent to negotiate a new disarmament treaty? [See our earlier posts here, and here.]
Continue reading “Experts call collision of orbiting US and Russian satellites "catastropic"”

UN Human Rights Council in Geneva calls for investigation in Gaza

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva strongly condemned ongoing Israeli military operations in Gaza, on Monday, and also condemned Israel’s “grave violations” of the human rights of the people of Gaza, in an emergency session that began last Friday. The resolution also called for the urgent dispatch of an international mission to Gaza and called on Israel to cooperate with it. according to a report by Reuters.

The vote in the 47-member Human Rights Council was 33 countries in favor, with one NO vote (Canada), and 13 abstentions (European countries, Japan, and South Korea).

Russia, China, Latin American and members of the Organization of Islamic Conference countries supported the resolution.

This Reuters report was published in Haaretz here .

Correspondent Gideon Levy wrote today in Haaretz that “When the cannons eventually fall silent, the time for questions and investigations will be upon us. The mushroom clouds of smoke and dust will dissipate in the pitch-black sky; the fervor, desensitization and en masse jump on the bandwagon will be forever forgotten and perhaps we will view a clear picture of Gaza in all its grimness. Then we will see the scope of the killing and destruction, the crammed cemeteries and overflowing hospitals, the thousands of wounded and physically disabled, the destroyed houses that remain after this war. The questions that will beg to be asked, as cautiously as possible, are who is guilty and who is responsible … The public, moral and judicial test will be applied to the three Israeli statesmen who sent the Israel Defense Forces to war against a helpless population, one that did not even have a place to take refuge, in maybe the only war in history against a strip of land enclosed by a fence. Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni will stand at the forefront of the guilty”. This article can be read in full here.

There are already IDF solidiers who have refused to enter the Gaza Strip to take part in Operation Cast Lead, in protest of the killing of Palestinian civilians, according to another report n Haaretz. “On Monday it emerged that [one] soldier has been jailed for 14 days in a military facility. He was the first soldier to be tried for refusing orders since the beginning of the operation. Attorney Michael Sfard, the legal adviser of Omets – a non profit organization for judicial and social justice – said that since the beginning of the Israeli offensive on December 27, eight reservists have sought his advice upon being drafted in the emergency reserves call-up…” This report can be read in Haaretz here.

And, in a letter published in The Sunday Times of London, a group of international law professors — including the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, Richard Falk, who was recently barred from entry into Israel and then deported from Ben Gurion airport — wrote that “ISRAEL has sought to justify its military attacks on Gaza by stating that it amounts to an act of ‘self-defence’ as recognised by Article 51, United Nations Charter. We categorically reject this contention. The rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas deplorable as they are, do not, in terms of scale and effect amount to an armed attack entitling Israel to rely on self-defence. Under international law self-defence is an act of last resort and is subject to the customary rules of proportionality and necessity … For 18 months Israel had imposed an unlawful blockade on the coastal strip that brought Gazan society to the brink of collapse. In the three years after Israel’s redeployment from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire … Throughout this time the Gaza Strip remained occupied territory under international law because Israel maintained effective control over it … As things stand, its invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes … Israel has a right to take reasonable and proportionate means to protect its civilian population from such attacks. However, the manner and scale of its operations in Gaza amount to an act of aggression and is contrary to international law, notwithstanding the rocket attacks by Hamas”. This letter was published here .

Cautious update – satellite shoot-down reduces risk from hazardous chemical

Not 24 or even 48 hours after the satellite shoot-down by a (ballistic) missile fired from a U.S. Navy ship in the Pacific some 130 miles up into space at a speed of 17,000 miles per hour, but days later, there is a qualified statement of success.

The AP reported that “The Pentagon said Monday it has a ‘high degree of confidence’ that the missile fired at a dead U.S. spy satellite in space destroyed the satellite’s fuel tank as planned. In its most definitive statement yet on the outcome of last Wednesday’s shootdown over the Pacific, the Pentagon said that based on debris analysis it is clear that the Navy missile destroyed the fuel tank, ‘reducing, if not eliminating, the risk to people on Earth from the hazardous chemical’. The tank had 1,000 pounds of hydrazine, a toxic substance that U.S. government officials believed posed a potential health hazard to humans if the satellite had descended to Earth on its own. The presence of the hydrazine was cited by U.S. officials as the main reason to shoot down the satellite — described as the size of a school bus — which would otherwise have fallen out of orbit on its own in early March … ‘By all accounts this was a successful mission’, Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in the Pentagon statement Monday. ‘From the debris analysis, we have a high degree of confidence the satellite’s fuel tank was destroyed and the hydrazine has been dissipated’. The Pentagon statement said a space operations center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., is tracking fewer than 3,000 pieces of satellite debris, all smaller than a football”. This AP report is published here.

There has still been no reaction from Russia.

China angry with Taiwan's recognition of Kosovo

In a long and tantalizingly-titled article (“Superpower Divide over Kosovo Widens“), the Associated Press is reporting that China is angry with Taiwan’s announcment that it recognizes Kosovo’s Declaration of Independence.

Did Taiwan receive one of the 192 letters that the Kosovar leadership sent out yesterday asking for recognition?

(And if not, why did Taiwan feel obliged to make this announcment?)

The AP said that “China’s Foreign Ministry criticized Taiwan for welcoming Kosovo’s independence, saying the island’s government did not meet the criteria for recognizing other countries. ‘It is known to all that Taiwan, as a part of China, has no right and qualification at all to make the so-called recognition’, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in a statement posted on the ministry’s Web site. China has good ties with Serbia and expressed ‘deep concern’ over Kosovo’s independence declaration. For Beijing, the announcement conjures up one of its greatest fears: that Taiwan could some day make a similar declaration, something China says it would meet with military force”…

This AP report is posted This here.

First China, now U.S. may shoot down its own space satellite

China shot down one of its own “old” space satellites in January 2007 — apparently with hopes of influencing debate at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, where China has been fighting for years to see work begin on a treaty on the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS).

The U.S. has refused, so far.

Russia has continued supporting China, to the amazement of many diplomats (particularly European), and Russia and China are pursuing their efforts to open discussions on the situation in space.

The two countries apparently fear that the “Star Wars” idea first launched by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan is somehow still behind both the U.S. efforts to deploy an international “Missile Defense Shield”, and the American refusal to discuss this in a disarmament forum.

As condemnation of China’s actions last year coalesced around outrage at the creation of space debris and pollution, China confirmed to Geneva’s Conference on Disarmament that it had indeed conducted an anti-satellite test in outer space, and said that a ground-based medium-range missile was used to destroy an ageing Chinese weather satellite. At the time Germany’s Arms Control and Disarmament deputy commissioner Ambassador Rudiger Ludeking, speaking on behalf of the European Union, told the Conference on Disarmament that the EU “is very concerned about the recent test of an anti-satellite weapon. Such a test is inconsistent with international efforts to avert an arms race in outer space.”

One of the amazing things about last year’s Chinese “test” is that was the first time that a ground-based missile was successfully launched to destroy an orbiting satellite, as Asia Times reported at the time.

Now, in a scenario that could be as much a retort to the Chinese “test” last year as the basis for a thrilling disaster movie, U.S. President George W. Bush has apparently given the order to try to shoot down a faltering U.S. satellite that will fall to earth in the coming weeks. The intention, U.S. officials say, is to help avoid a serious accident. But, it also appears that the U.S. cannot resist the chance to try to meet — if not beat — what the Chinese accomplished by their “test” last year

CNN has just reported that “The U.S. military may try within days to shoot down a failed satellite using a missile launched from a Navy ship, officials announced Thursday. Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon that the window to accomplish the mission could begin in three to four days, and remain open for seven to eight. While much space trash and debris have safely crashed to Earth after burning up in the atmosphere on re-entry, authorities said what makes this 5,000-pound satellite different is the approximately 1,000 pounds of frozen toxic hydrazine propellant it carries. Without any intervention, officials believe the satellite would come down on its own in early March. If it came down in one piece, nearly half the spacecraft would survive re-entry and the hydrazine — heated to a gas — could spread a toxic cloud roughly the size of two football fields, Cartwright said. Hydrazine is similar to chlorine or ammonia in that it affects the lungs and breathing tissue, the general said. The option of striking the satellite with a missile launched from an Aegis cruiser was decided upon by President Bush after consultation with several government and military officials and aerospace experts, said Deputy National Security Adviser James Jeffrey. ‘After further review of this option and, in particular, consideration of the question of saving or reducing injury to human life, the president, on the recommendation of his national and homeland teams, directed the Department of Defense to carry out the intercept’, Jeffrey said. The goal is to hit the satellite just before it enters Earth’s atmosphere and blast it apart so that the hydrazine tank explodes. The smaller debris would be more likely to burn up in the atmosphere. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said there’s nothing the military can do to make the outcome worse. ‘If we miss, nothing changes. If we shoot and barely touch it, the satellite is just barely in orbit’ and would still burn up somewhat in the atmosphere, Griffin said. ‘If we shoot and get a direct hit, that’s a clean kill and we’re in good shape’, he added. Experts said that with three-quarters of Earth covered in water, there’s a 25 percent chance the satellite’s remnants will hit land — and a 1 percent chance they will hit a populated area…” This CNN story is posted here.

Another really interesting part about all this is that CNN reported earlier that “A U.S. official confirmed that the spy satellite is designated by the military as US 193. It was launched in December 2006 but almost immediately lost power and cannot be controlled. It carried a sophisticated and secret imaging sensor but the satellite’s central computer failed shortly after launch. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the information is classified as secret … The satellite includes some small engines that contain a toxic chemical called hydrazine — which is rocket fuel. But Renuart said they are not large booster engines with substantial amounts of fuel. Video images of the satellite captured by John Locker, a British amateur satellite watcher, show it to be about 13 feet to 16.5 feet across. He believes it weighs a maximum of 10,000 pounds. Locker calculated its size with data on its altitude and location provided by other amateur satellite watchers, using the International Space Station as a yardstick. Satellite watchers — a worldwide network of hobbyists who track satellites for fun — have been plotting the satellite’s degradation for a year. They estimate it is now at an altitude of about 173 miles, and Locker believes it is dropping about 1,640 feet a day. Where it lands will be difficult to predict until the satellite falls to about 59 miles above the Earth and enters the atmosphere. It will then begin to burn up, with flares visible from the ground, said Ted Molczan, a Canadian satellite tracker. From that point on, he said, it will take about 30 minutes to fall”. This CNN story is posted here.

So, this satellite — an advanced spy satellite with a “sophisticated and secret imaging sensor” — was launched just weeks before the Chinese “test”. Hmmm, could there have been any link between these events?

The U.S. is taking a risk — but greatly increasing the entertainment value — by announcing its plans in advance. What if the U.S. fails (where China succeeded)??? And, even if the U.S. does manage the “kill”, what about all the space debris for which China was so roundly berated?

AP is reporting that “The military will have to choose a time and a location that will avoid to the greatest degree any damage to other satellites in the sky. Also, there is the possibility that large pieces could remain, and either stay in orbit where they can collide with other satellites or possibly fall to Earth … [O]fficials familiar with the situation say about half of the 5,000-pound spacecraft is expected to survive its blazing descent through the atmosphere and will scatter debris — some of it potentially hazardous — over several hundred miles. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.” This headline AP story is posted here.

For comparison purposes, the earlier CNN report says that “In January 2007, China used a land-based missile to destroy a 2,200-pound satellite that was orbiting 528 miles above Earth. But the impact left more than 150,000 pieces of debris floating above Earth, NASA estimates. The space agency characterizes nearly 2,600 pieces as ‘large’, meaning greater than 4 inches across, which pose a potential threat to satellites and spacecraft. China is responsible for 42 percent of all satellite debris in orbit as of January 1, most of it from that Fengyun-C meteorological satellite. NASA has called it the worst satellite breakup in history”. This CNN story is posted here.

Russia's FM to present proposal for treaty to prevent weaponization of outer space

The very useful Reaching Critical Will newsletter (a project of the Women’s international league for Peace and Freedom) is reporting that “During the 25 January plenary [of the Conference on Disamament in Geneva], Russian Ambassador Valery Loshchinin announced that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would be visiting the CD in February to submit a proposal for a treaty to prevent the weaponization of outer space, the elements of which were ‘proposed by Russia and China together with a group of co-sponsors back in June 2002’. Loshchinin noted it would ‘constitute yet another multilateral measure in the field of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and thus would be a real contribution to strengthening the NPT regime’. The story was picked up by Reuters, in an article that explained the proposal has been circulated to some senior diplomats. Donald Mahley, acting US deputy assistant secretary for threat reduction, reportedly said, ‘We see nothing in the new proposal to change the current U.S. position…. Additional binding arms control agreements are simply not a viable tool for enhancing the long-term space security interests of the United States or its allies’. While the proposals is not yet available to the public, it is said to be based on previous joint statements and working papers made by Russia and China in the CD”. For the texts, see the Reaching Critical Will CD archives here.

Snail's progress at Conference on Disarmament in Geneva

The very useful CD (Conference on Disarmament) Report put out by the excellent ReachingCriticalWill project reports on the conclusion of this year’s CD work by implying that there might have been a very slight movement forward.

Reading this CD Report, however, one gets the distinct impression that what is being viewed as progress is a mobbing situation, where constant attempts are made to isolate and blame China for causing the difficulties in the CD.

China has insisted that it can only agree to start work on negotiating a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT), which the U.S. wants, if China’s top priority, which is the Prevention of An Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS), is also given some attention.

China has been given critical support by Russia — though Western European diplomats have been watching with relish and malicious glee for any possible weakening in Russia’s position (though this has not happened so far).
Continue reading “Snail's progress at Conference on Disarmament in Geneva”

Disabling North Korean nuclear reactors means more than just shutting them down, U.S. says

The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Christopher Hill, who is the chief American negotiator on North Korea, told journalists in Australia over the weekend that teams from the three major nuclear-weapons states (the U.S., Russia, and China) are expected to be in Pyongyang on the evening of 11 September.

Hill told journalists that “We are working very hard to get the teams identified. China, for example, just gave a name of a nuclear scientist who will be coming. We are putting together
our list of people. And so they will assemble in Pyongyang. The purpose is to do a survey of the
sites that need to be disabled pursuant to our agreement. And so they will visit Yongbyon in particular, because “as we already know, even without a declaration , we know that Yongbyon has three of the main sites. That is, the fuel fabrication facilitation, the 5-megawatt
reactor, and the reprocessing facility.  And so the idea is for these nuclear experts to look at these three facilities and “ working with the DPRK experts to figure out how they can be disabled and how to do that disablement before December 31st …
Continue reading “Disabling North Korean nuclear reactors means more than just shutting them down, U.S. says”

U.S. negotiator briefs again – says North Korea will disable its nuclear programs this year

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told journalists Monday evening in Geneva that the just-ended two-day round of talks with North Korea in Geneva was “the fourth of five working groups that we’ve held in connection with getting ready for the next Six-Party plenary. The fifth working group will take place next week in Ulanbaatar in Mongolia between Japan and the DPRK. I would say we had, I think, very good and very substantive talks. I think we have an expectation that, because of this bilateral meeting, that we can look forward to a better chance of success at the next Six-Party plenary. We discussed all issues, of course focusing very much on the bilateral issues but not excluding, of course, the main event in the Six Parties, which is the denuclearization.

And one thing that we agreed on is that the DPRK will provide a full declaration of all of their nuclear programs and will disable their nuclear programs by the end of this year, 2007.

Continue reading “U.S. negotiator briefs again – says North Korea will disable its nuclear programs this year”