Tag: South Africa

Nonproliferation shortcomings

Pantelis Ikonomou, former International Atomic Energy Agency nuclear safeguards inspector, writes:

The on-going North Korean nuclear crisis, in addition to the previous nuclear crises with Iraq and Iran, demonstrates that we lack a coherent, peaceful approach to respond decisively to major nuclear proliferation threats.

In all three cases, world leaders have wavered between war and diplomacy. The results have been suboptimal.

Iraq: war was an excessive response

In September 1980, Iranian airplanes bombed Iraq’s* French-origin research reactor Osiraq. The facility was partially destroyed. Teheran called the attack a preventive act. Notably, Iraq was a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), subject to international Safeguards inspections, and free of anomaly reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Eight months later, in June 1981, the Israeli air force destroyed the Osiraq reactor. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the UN General Assembly, and the world’s mass media rebuked the Israelis for the attack. Remarkably, the US administration called it an act of defense.

In 2003, the United States accused Iraq of having restarted a nuclear weapons program. Reference was made to nuclear weapons related activities, detected in 1991 during the first war Gulf War. This embryonic nuclear program was destroyed by international inspectors immediately thereafter. The IAEA did not support the 2003 allegations. Nonetheless, the US decided that diplomacy had failed and, without UN endorsement, invaded Iraq with a coalition of the willing.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq did not disclose a clandestine nuclear weapons program. In 2005, the IAEA’s Director General ElBaradei and nuclear inspectors were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Iran: limited diplomatic postponement

Iran’s nuclear program included sensitive nuclear fuel cycle activities, such as enrichment and reprocessing. These were conducted in line with the NPT, but nonetheless contained a possible military dimension. The existence of dual-purpose nuclear activities within the NPT constitutes the Treaty’s Achilles heel. While presumed nefarious intentions can cause heightened alertness, they cannot be legally penalized.

Iran’s steady development of enrichment and reprocessing capabilities caused international concern that slowly developed into a crisis. In the years after 2006, the UNSC imposed economic and trade sanctions, leading to diplomatic negotiations with Iran by the P5+1: the US, Russia, China, UK, France plus Germany. The July 2015 P5+1 nuclear agreement imposes a 10- 15-year reduction and freeze of Iran’s sensitive activities along with gradual lifting of sanctions.

IAEA inspectors are monitoring and verifying the implementation of an agreed plan, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. If Iran breaks out of the 2015 agreement, it would need ten months or longer to produce the nuclear material required for a nuclear weapon, which is enough time for response measures.

North Korea: an on-going threat

North Korea joined the IAEA in 1974, signed the NPT in 1985 and in 1992 signed its NPT Safeguards Agreement. From the very beginning, Pyongyang’s behavior was not consistent with its binding international commitments. Already in 1992, IAEA inspectors found inconsistencies in North Korea’s declarations and the year after North Korea announced its intention to withdraw from the NPT.

Just one day before the withdrawal was due to take effect, the US persuaded North Korea to suspend its decision. Six months later, in December 1993, IAEA Director General Hans Blix announced that the Agency could no longer provide “any meaningful assurances” that North Korea was not producing nuclear weapons.

A US initiative saved the situation. On 21 October 1994, an Agreed Framework was signed between the US and North Korea in Geneva. The UNSC then requested the IAEA to monitor the freeze of North Korea’s nuclear facilities under the Agreed Framework.

In December 2002, North Korea tampered with IAEA surveillance equipment and a few days later requested the immediate removal of IAEA inspectors from the country. Then, on 10 January 2003, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT and in April 2003 declared it had nuclear weapons.

During the six-party talks (USA, China, Russia, South Korea, Japan and North Korea) starting in 2003 on solving North Korea’s nuclear crisis, North Korea was repeatedly accused of violating the Agreed Framework and other international agreements, thus triggering several IAEA and UNSC resolutions.

North Korea’s capability to produce both plutonium and uranium nuclear weapons is rapidly advancing. Its capacity to enrich uranium has doubled in recent years. US and Chinese officials believe that there are more than 20 nuclear bombs in its arsenal.

The best that can be hoped for with North Korea is an immediate freeze of nuclear and ballistic missile activities. A return to zero nuclear weapons capability is a utopian expectation. With only one exception, no non-NPT member with nuclear weapons (India, Pakistan, and possibly Israel) has ever returned to zero nuclear weapons capability or indicated intentions to do so. The one exception is South Africa, which voluntarily destroyed its nuclear weapons in 1990 under IAEA supervision, as apartheid fell.


Though nuclear proliferation is a leading global threat, we have failed to demonstrate sufficient competence in responding.

The rhetoric of terror on both sides combined with the risk of miscalculation or a military error is extremely worrying. It only accelerates a dangerous nuclear vicious cycle.

PS: With apologies to Dr. Ikonomou, this seems an only slightly appropriate place at which to share John Oliver’s view of North Korea and prospects for opening good communications, among other things via the accordion:

*The original mistakenly said “Iran’s.” Apologies for the editorial error.

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New directions for South Africa

Since the end of apartheid in 1994, a coalition of African nationalists, communists, and trade unionists allied with the African National Congress (ANC) have governed South Africa. In the wake of the 2016 local elections, a new contender emerged: the Democratic Alliance. On Friday, the Cato Institute hosted a conversation entitled “South Africa at a Crossroad: Will Growing Opposition Remove the African National Congress from Power?” with Executive Mayor of Johannesburg Herman Mashaba and comments by Richard Tren, Program Officer at the Searle Freedom Trust. Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity Marian L. Tupy moderated the discussion.

[Herman Mashaba, Executive Mayor of Johannesburg]

Despite significant progress in education, healthcare, and economic wellbeing for black South Africans since the days of apartheid, South Africa finds itself in dire straits. The country has fallen into recession for the second time in nine years. The unemployment rate for black youth is above 50%. President Jacob Zuma is embroiled in an email scandal disclosing patronage of the prominent Gupta family, a revelation both Mashaba and Tren identified with a “culture of corruption.”

“The dream of democracy is a dream deferred,” remarked Mashaba. “This is not Nelson Mandela’s dream.”

Following the August 2016 local elections, in which a coalition government headed by the Democratic Alliance beat out the African National Congress for the Johannesburg mayoral seat, Mashaba believes that voters are signaling frustration with the ANC and with corruption.

“In a few years’ time,” he affirmed confidently, “the ANC will be in our history books.”

“Corruption takes food out of the mouth of the poor to fatten the rich, who already live in wasteful abundance,” he continued. Citing his commitment to the creation of an “honest, responsive, and productive government,” Mashaba detailed his initiatives to suspend Johannesburg public servants suspected of corruption. Tren—a white South African—related concerns about ongoing ANC black economic empowerment programs, which he associated with the corruption and cronyism ravaging the country. The ANC’s mandate that mining operations should be 30% black-owned, he opined, was unreasonable.

Tren advised Mashaba not to align himself or the Democratic Alliance too closely with ANC policy in an effort to garner popular support, denouncing the ANC for its habit of choosing “the path of greater government involvement.” President Zuma doesn’t believe in “growing the pie,” he claimed, but rather in “dividing it up and redistributing it.”

In contrast and against the trepidation of at least one audience member, Mashaba praised the Economic Freedom Fighters—a revolutionary socialist political party in coalition with the Democratic Alliance—for their support in helping to pass the Johannesburg municipal budget two weeks ago. “We share the same passion: South Africa,” the self-declared “proud capitalist” insisted.

Among Mashaba’s mayoral objectives are improved social services, care for the environment, pro-poor development, and the safety and security of Johannesburg communities. Although he consistently espoused the importance of supporting small- and medium-sized businesses and cutting red tape, these stances put him at odds with his co-speaker. Tren voiced concerns about the growing welfare state in South Africa and criticized the country’s progressive constitution for its guarantee of “positive rights” such as healthcare and education.

What, then, is the vision for the new, potentially post-ANC South Africa? If the 2016 local elections and Mashaba’s platform are any indication, immediate concerns such as access to basic social services for the poor will continue to figure large in political discourse. Attaining racial equality will exist as an important, but secondary, goal to economic development. In Mashaba’s own words: “Achieving Black ownership is a good [goal], but it has to take place in a stable economic environment with trust between government and business.”

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Mandela, and de Klerk

It would be hard to say anything new about Nelson Mandela after the last day of praise and remembrance.  I met him–very briefly–at a UN cocktail party in 1994.  All I really remember is his assiduous effort to introduce himself to each of the wait staff.  They were thrilled.  So was I.

But there are a few things that might bear repetition, if only for emphasis.  As correct as it is to celebrate Mandela for his pursuit of justice, it was really his pursuit of peace that made him so unusual.  I wouldn’t want to minimize the courage required to stand up against racism in apartheid South Africa, but it took at least as much to stand up to those who thought violence was the only way to bring the system down and then to seek reconciliation with white South Africans in the aftermath.

That would not have been possible but for Mandela’s negotiating partner, F.W. de Klerk.  As the last president of apartheid South Africa, he not only released Mandela from jail but cooperated in converting his country to a one-person, one-vote electoral system that necessarily meant the end of white domination, at least at the ballot box.  He also ended South Africa’s nuclear weapons program, which was meant to help sustain apartheid.

South Africa managed its transition quickly and well, even if I find it hard to admire its post-apartheid politics (and politicians).  The countries I mostly follow in the Balkans and the Middle East are not so much managing their transitions as experiencing them, and things are going slowly by comparison.  It seems to me there are at least four reasons: Read more

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Peace Picks July 22-26

1. Rouhani: Challenges at Home, Challenges Abroad, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Monday, July 22 / 9:00am – 11:30am

Venue: Woodrow Wilson Center

1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20004

Speakers: Bijan Khajehpour, Shervin Malekzadeh, Suzanne Maloney, Roberto Toscano, Ali Vaez, Shaul Bakhash

Six Iran experts discuss President-elect Rouhani’s domestic and foreign policy challenges.

Register for the event here:


Read more

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A good idea

It is difficult to imagine a good reason for the persistence of the Nonaligned Movement, which will hold a summit meeting beginning tomorrow in Tehran.  Its website does not appear to have been updated since the early years of the century, so it is hard to understand what it thinks it is doing.  Hosted by Supreme Leader Khamenei, the week’s meeting will include distinguished representatives like Sudanese war crimes indictee President Bashir, Zimbabwean President Mugabe, Venezuelan President Chavez and North Korean President of the Supreme People’s Assembly Kim Yong Nam. It’s a wonder Bashar al Assad is not planning to attend.

Of course there are also other, far more reputable attendees:  the Tunisian, Libyan and South African Foreign Ministers, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Australian UN ambassador (hard for me to understand what is non-aligned about Australia).  And, most notably, newly elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

If anything good might come out of such a meeting, I imagine it would come from the interaction of these democratic and would-be democratic states with the startling array of autocrats.  I can hope that there is at least a bit of private criticism, as in “Robert, do you think it is in the interest of Zimbabwe that you continue to hold on to power?”  Or “Hugo, tell me how you are doing in the polls.”  But there is a real risk that such a conclave will be seen in some parts of the world as validating the legitimacy of the autocrats and undermining the citizens who oppose them.

That’s where National Iranian American President Trita Parsi’s idea comes in.  He tweeted today that Morsi should meet with Green Movement leaders in Tehran, those brave souls who contested the 2009 presidential election as not free and unfair only to find themselves outgunned, outmaneuvered, beaten and defeated in the streets. A call on Mir-Hossein Mousavi, just returned to house arrest from a stay in the hospital, is one possibility.  Or a visit with younger activists.  Morsi, the product of successful street protests and a serious (if not perfect) election, should want to hear from Iranian protesters, unless he has already switched to his predecessor’s mentality, as the New York Times suggests.

But why only Morsi?  He will be reluctant to do it alone, as he will not want to offend the hosts and put at risk whatever improvement in relations with Tehran he hopes to initiate.  Better if the whole lot of more serious democratic leaders announce their willingness to meet with the Green Movement and others who are not on good terms with the Iranian regime, which claims it is not repressive.

I am not at all sure whether any Iranians would dare accept the invitation, as the consequences for them could be dramatic (and some Green Movement leaders are under house arrest).  But that doesn’t mean the idea is a bad one.  It would at least signal to the host that its more democratic “non-aligned” friends know what is going on.  And it would signal to the Green Movement that the democratic world knows their plight and sympathizes with it.


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Zimbabwe: peaceful transition?

One more interesting session at the Achebe Colloquium today at Brown.  The original subtitle was “Prospects for a Stable Democracy or Dictatorship.”  Robert Rotberg proposed the refocus to peaceful transition, which seems to me right.  One way or another the Mugabe dictatorship is finished.

Alex Vines, Chatham House:  The economy is improved (inflation down), but the political situation is highly uncertain. The peace agreement of 2008 has run its course.  Any election by 2013 will be a tight contest. Mugabe, now 89, likely to stand again (!).  SADC (the Southern African Development Community) is underperforming economically, which is one reason South Africa is engaging on Zimbabwe.  SADC election observers are a good idea.

Blair Rutherford, Carleton University: Who opposes democratic state?  “Those with horns are hard to hide behind grass”:  security forces, diamond and land tycoons, dominant culture of national politics (“politics is war”).  These forces will continue to shape the results.

John Campbell, Council on Foreign Relations:  Elections in Zimbabwe will likely occur in the first half of 2012, followed by bloodletting.  What does the U.S. do to avoid this?  American leverage is weak, maybe nonexistent.  Zimbabwe is a marginal issue in Washington.  Zimbabwe does however impinge on South Africa, where demands for expropriation of white-owned land are growing.  Washington should be engaging with South Africa, SADC and China.  American NGOs and U.S. government should object to Mugabe’s exclusion of international election observers.  USG should commit to holding individuals perpetrating electoral violence accountable.  This would be a policy of skim milk:  words and symbols, no sticks and stones.

Robert Rotberg, Harvard:  The dictatorship will not continue in its current form.  We need a strengthened dialogue and accountability, as suggested by Campbell.  What is happening that suggests a peaceful transition is possible?  Eighty-ninety per cent of the country supports MDC (Movement for Democratic Change), which has serious talent able to run a democracy.  ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, Mugabe’s political party) loses in anything like a fair election.   The country has diamonds and infrastructure, even if it has lost two-thirds of its GDP per capita.  Still it has the best-educated population in Africa.  SADC is more active, Mugabe is aging and ill, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is interested.  But Mugabe is still alive and killing his opposition,  corruption is rife, diamonds make it possible, the Chinese help ZANU-PF, media are government controlled, there is no constitution, ZANU-PF will is experienced and accomplished at rigging  elections (especially the count).  Net assessment:  at best mildly hopeful, until SADC takes a firmer stand.

Chitsaka Chipaziwa, Zimbabwe ambassador to the UN:  No-show.  No surprise.

Vivian Nkechinyere Enomoh, Nigerian Independent Electoral Commission:  Need truly independent electoral commission, fully funded by the international community.

Emeka Anyaoku, Former Secretary General The Commonwealth:  Speaking from the floor, he underlined the historical role of Mugabe, the centrality of the land issue and the resulting support for Mugabe both inside Zimbabwe and in the rest of Africa.  It is not clear that he will lose the election.  Chinua Achebe concurred in that view.

Bottom line:  Prospects for free and fair elections and peaceful transition are uncertain.  It is up to AU, SADC and the Chinese to counter ZANU-PF securicrats and ensure it happens.



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